The “Let’s Talk…Cleaner, Greener Transport” conference took place in the Mill Park Hotel, Donegal Town on April 4th, 2018 and was chaired by well-known RTE correspondent for the North West, Eileen Magnier and featured a range of guest speakers.

The event centred around an innovative pilot project that saw six local taxi and hackney operators swap their regular diesel-powered vehicles for either a fully electric, plug in hybrid and hybrid car for six weeks.

One of Donegal’s most experienced public transport operators, who recently took part in an innovative trial to use sustainable transport to ferry Renal Dialysis patients to Letterkenny Hospital, said there was no better place to conduct the test than the roads around the hills Of Donegal.

The conference heard in a video presentation Inishowen based transport operator Jackie Holmes, who has been transporting Dialysis patients to Letterkenny University Hospital for almost 40 years, that the nature of our rural county, and the weather we experience, made for the perfect place to conduct this ambitious programme.

6 drivers changed their regular cars for new vehicles supplied by both by Toyota Ireland and Nissan. The results were extremely interesting indicating both substantial financial savings and significant reduction in emissions.

The operators who took part in the trials were Jackie Holmes from Inishowen, Ryan Dorrian, from Ballybofey, John O Donnell, from Ranafast, Derek Vial in Killybegs, Donal Cullen from Carrigart/Downings, Charlie Gildea from, Letterkenny and Liam Conneely, Killybegs.

Fiona O Shea, Manager at SITT/Local link, coordinates and manages transport for the National Transport Authority -Transport for Ireland; under the Rural Transport programme now branded Local Link, all HSE Day services throughout the county and all non-emergency acute transport including renal dialysis for Letterkenny university Hospital outlined

the nature of renal dialysis transport; it is a service that is required 7 days per week, 52 weeks of the year with the only down day being Christmas Day. Patients travel from all over Donegal with a select few travelling to Derry and Omagh.

There are 68 people receiving dialysis at present which in turn amounts to approximately 20,608 return journeys clocking up over 1.3 million km annually.

She stated that the taxi and hackney operators are an unrecognised front line service as they are out in all weathers and do not miss a day no matter what. To that end, their vehicle is critical to the success of their work. It must be reliable, efficient and cost effective for all conditions while being comfortable and suitable for transporting vulnerable people.

West Donegal based transport operator owner John O’Donnell,  who had been driving Dialysis patients to Letterkenny for over 20 years, during his presentation said he and the other trialists took on the challenge with the new technology cars as they were aware of the pending phasing out of diesel vehicles in the future and they wanted to get gain more knowledge on what alternatives could be used, as well as helping to have a positive impact on the environment.

He stated: “Overall it was very successful pilot and we are glad we had the opportunity to participate. It is very important to be involved and knowledgeable on what is happening; policies as they are decided, what it means to our industry and how we are going to be affected by them, but for us to be able to change to sustainable transport there are a number of elements that need to be addressed.”

The event was chaired by RTÉ’s Eileen Magnier and also featured guest speakers Kevin Brady who is Principal Officer leading the Heat & Transport Energy Policy division at Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment; Laura Behan, Head of the Climate Change Unit of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport; Dr Brian Caulfield, an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, Trinity College Dublin; Fiona O’Shea Manager at SITT/Local Link Donegal; Shane Prendergast, programme Executive for SEAI’s Electric Vehicle Grant Programme; Declan Meally, Head of Department with responsibility for the Emerging Sectors in SEAI; Ranafast based Public Service Vehicle Operator, John O’Donnell and Head of Taxi Regulation for the National Transport Authority (NTA), Wendy Thompson.