Dáil debates

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Accessibility of Public Transport for People with Disabilities: Motion


5:55 pm

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

This report came out of a series of hearings of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport where the committee heard from interest groups, charities, transport providers, disability activists and transport service users about the challenges of, and possible solutions to, the serious issues faced by people with mobility issues and disabilities in accessing transport. I thank all those who appeared before the committee for their contributions, particularly those with disabilities who offered us a valuable insight into the challenges and frustrations they experience day in, day out in accessing the most basic of services, transport. I also acknowledge the transport providers who appeared before the committee for the work they have undertaken to date. I hope this report will lead to significant progress in the near future.

Transport offers a vital lifeline to people because it allows them access work, education, healthcare services and a social life. In other words, it facilitates independence. The report makes some useful recommendations: ensuring equal access to transport is a key issue. I submitted an amendment to strengthen this recommendation which was accepted. It calls on the Government to adequately fund and provide a clear policy plan to move towards full accessibility on all public transport, including a breakdown of funding and project timelines.

The report also recommends that the needs of people with disabilities be central to all future transport planning. Periodic reviews, required targets for providers and research are also recommended. While the long-term goal is a move to full accessibility on transport the report also makes short-term recommendations. These include ensuring that passenger information is available in accessible formats on all stages of a journey, ensuring that journey delays and information are visually and audibly available, that there are sufficient staff to assist and enough ramps at train stations. The committee recommended the establishment of transport hubs that would provide information to transport users should they encounter difficulties or should they require additional information and support, or if they wish to complain about a service. We hope this will address some of the frustrations expressed by transport users at the committee hearings about cancellations, being unable to access transport, running into difficulties and finding it difficult to access assistance.

The report also recommends improved communications by transport providers in cases of cancelled service or delays and a commitment that they will ensure that disabled passengers are facilitated in cases where replacement services are not suitable for their needs. The matter of the cost of transport for persons with disabilities is key. People who are disabled have an increased risk of poverty, some persons with disabilities are reliant on the State and if the State fails them they are in a very vulnerable position. The report calls for a review of the free travel pass to ensure that all persons with disabilities are entitled to free travel and not just those in receipt of certain State payments.

I also submitted several amendments in respect of the matter of cost.

The amended report now calls on the State finally to implement the transport support scheme. This scheme was supposed to replace the motorised transport grant and other supports that the State had cut, but it does not appear to be functioning. The report also highlights the need to ensure that the additional requirements of people with disabilities in rural areas and their additional costs are recognised and taken into account during transport planning.

A recurring theme at the committee was the frustration experienced by transport users who have to make arrangements days in advance. If someone wants to take a trip on a Wednesday, he or she has to give notice by Tuesday and if somebody wants to travel at the weekend, he or she has to give 48 hours' notice. Persons with disabilities are expected to put up with bizarre situations that able-bodied people would find simply unacceptable. The report recommends that this notice period be done away with by ensuring that all public transport is fully accessible all of the time.

Along with Government and State companies, commercial operators are also subject to committee recommendations. We call on them to provide fully accessible services and to fulfil the same requirements as semi-State companies. This includes Bus Éireann's express service, which receives no State funding. We are calling for higher standards for commercial operators to be implemented by the NTA. This will be paid for from the operators' profits. We also call for such standards to be requirements for public service obligation, PSO, and other State transport tenders.

The report also makes a series of recommendations regarding accessible taxis. We want to see an increase in the number of accessible taxis and requirements on companies tendering for State transport contracts. We are calling for reporting services to address reports that some accessible taxis will not provide services to wheelchair users.

The recommendations, however, are only as strong as the political will behind them. In order to ensure that real progress is made on the issue, we need real commitments from Government and Government agencies to ensure that sufficient funding is provided. While some progress has been made, particularly within Dublin Bus, many of the more complex issues with regard to public transport still need to be addressed. Recent decisions, such as the decision to remove staff from train stations, must be reversed as they are causing undue hardship for people with disabilities.

It is hard to have confidence in this Government, however, when its previous form shows very little in the way of action. The Government made a commitment to ratify the optional protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This shows that while the Government might appear to be on board, in practice it is unwilling to grant people with disabilities their full rights.

The final three recommendations deal with accountability and monitoring. This is vital because without these recommendations the report runs the risk of sitting on a shelf gathering dust. The key part of these recommendations is the imposition of sanctions on non-compliant service providers if they fail to provide an adequate service by, for example, leaving passengers stranded or refusing to take a booking. Other key parts are the provision of redress for such passengers, the establishment of accountability measures for the NTA including the devising of key performance indicators for various aspects of transport accessibility and ensuring monitoring and the publication of quarterly figures detailing provision failures. Closely linked to this is recommendation No. 16, which calls on the Government to provide regular updates to the committee as laid out in various Government policy documents. These documents should include detailed timelines, implementation status and outcomes. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport will report to the committee every six months on the progress in implementing each of the 15 recommendations in the report.

I look forward to seeing real progress on this report. All of the people who contributed to this report and the committee members are determined to get things right. Unless there is Government will behind this, we will have wasted our time. Let us, in 2019, make sure that equality is central to everything we do from now on. I look forward to seeing progress on this report. The only way this will happen is if the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport prioritises it. This report should be taken into consideration in the planning and development of new infrastructure and in all efforts to make transport more accessible. We must accelerate the rate of progress to ensure that our society is inclusive and to break down the barriers that people with disabilities currently face every single day.

I have a couple of minutes left. Deputy Broughan had raised the issue of the new fleet-----


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