Dáil debates

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Accessibility of Public Transport for People with Disabilities: Motion


6:05 pm

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the report and thank the committee for all its work. I have been looking over the recommendations. Some of them are very good and they are all very relevant. However, since I have come into this Dáil we have been through several strikes and disputes with Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus and the Luas. These have usually related to pay claims by the workers or, in the case of Bus Éireann, to the defence of their jobs because many of them were to be let go. In the course of debates on these issues, the Minister, Deputy Ross, made it very clear that he does not have a chequebook or deep pockets to deal with public transport. There are some great recommendations in the report such as having every bus stop immediately adjacent to a kerb, ensuring that access is available and that all ramps are working at every station, ensuring that all signage is working and that signage is provided in the Irish language, engaging with research, and undertaking research with people with disabilities. It goes on and on with some very good, innovative and necessary ideas to deliver real equality and real and proper access for people with disabilities. The first page of the recommendations recognises that achieving a fully accessible public transport system will require resources including time and monetary investment before recommending that a number of measures be taken to improve accessibility of transport in the short term. I have to wonder how we are going to be fixed in the long term because Deputy Ross does not have a chequebook or deep pockets.

As we pointed out repeatedly during those debates in this House, the subvention given to public transport by the Irish State is appallingly low. It is one of the lowest in Europe and our subventions for cities are also among the lowest in Europe. People with disabilities will be among those who will be most affected by that subvention being so extraordinary low and by our hurtling towards more and more privatisation of public transport. With regard to the area in which I live, cuts to the frequency of buses in Ballyfermot, each of which only has one wheelchair space, means longer and longer waits for people who need wheelchair accessible buses. The point was made earlier by Deputy Broughan that two people with wheelchair needs cannot travel together because there are not enough dedicated spaces on buses for them. The drivers do not have the authority to enforce the requirement that those spaces be kept free. One does not want to end up in a situation in which passengers are fighting with each other over whether prams get priority over wheelchairs.

We have an appallingly bad service generally, but it is even worse for people with disabilities. I want to read a letter I got yesterday:

I am writing to you in regard to the report above that is to be discussed in the Dáil tomorrow. I am a wheelchair user from Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal. I have applied to do a degree in Applied Sports with Business in Sligo IT. Bus Éireann customer service has told Sligo IT that it has no accessibility on the route between Ballyshannon and Sligo.

I would like to ask that you will speak on my behalf tomorrow. I survive [and I suppose one suffers on it as well] on disability allowance and do not have a car. I rely on the good will of family members to take me shopping, to the doctors, to physiotherapy etc. as do lots of other people in my situation.

Under the Equality Acts 2000-2004, I should not be discriminated against, I should be able to use public transport to meet my needs, in this case I would like an accessible bus to be put on Route 480 Ballyshannon to Sligo return so that I can independently attend college.

I have started a petition to achieve this and am trying to highlight the need for accessible transport nationwide.

It is unfair that people with disabilities, where the route is accessible have to give 24-48 hour notice to book a place. Wheelchair users in Ireland are not treated equally and most often hide away in their homes because society has [put up] so many barriers against accessibility. I hope that [you] will stand up for the people on this human rights issue and equality for all and help bring down the barriers.

That letter is from Vicky Matthews in Ballyshannon. I read it out because Vicky's situation needs to be repeatedly highlighted in order to remind ourselves of the reason reports like this are designed and the urgency in respect of funding for proper public transport. On the ideological argument against privatisation, the report states that private bus routes are under no compunction to provide disability access. That is outrageous. There are many private companies that have a licence to go up and down on our main routes without providing disability access or wheelchair spaces.

There is also the question of what is actually happening at the moment. We are running campaigns in many areas to stop the destaffing of DART stations. They are taking the security and the human beings out of DART and railway stations because they are trying to make things ticket and machine-ready so people can just move in and out without staff. That is a crazy manoeuvre when we are trying to facilitate people with disabilities. We have to stop destaffing DART and train stations. Human beings must be accessible to people with disabilities who need them.

The father of one disabled daughter makes a point to me that frequently the lifts in stations are broken and they often have to call the fire brigade to get them fixed or get people out of them, because the maintenance is so appallingly bad. Everywhere we turn, the problems mount up in terms of the subvention that is needed to make public transport work properly. We need more subvention. We need to end the habitual drive towards privatisation, as if it was going to be the cure for everything. A cursory glance at what has happened in other countries will show us that it disimproves public transport. We need more and improved public transport with real access and real equality. That starts with real investment not just in the quality but also in the quantity of public transport that is available for all, in particular for people with disabilities.


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