Dáil debates

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Accessibility of Public Transport for People with Disabilities: Motion


6:15 pm

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I join Deputy Brendan Ryan in commending our colleague from the other place, Senator John Dolan, for his sterling work on behalf of a number of bodies in this space. I also thank our signers this evening for communicating our contributions to those outside. I welcome the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport on accessibility of public transport for people with disabilities. Much has been said and I do not want to repeat it. I acknowledge, as others have done to some degree, the significant advances that have been made in the last ten or 20 years in respect of the provision of facilities with people with disabilities and special needs in mind. One of the great leaders in this has been Dublin Bus. I raised an issue last year in respect of the livery of Dublin Bus. The company took great pride in the depth and breadth of its public consultation on the design and colour of Dublin Bus vehicles. The colours are designed specifically with those who have visual impairments in mind, so they know from a long distance away that a Dublin Bus vehicle is on its way, as all of us do. These are small but significant gestures to people with disabilities. Clearly we need more, and I will come to that. Certainly compared with 20 years ago, the fleet itself has been enhanced considerably. I always find Dublin Bus drivers to be exceptionally courteous and hard working in their attempts to parallel park the bus up to the new kerbs. The new kerbs cost a significant amount. They are permanently in place now. I was surprised to read that additional training is needed for them in terms of providing close-to-kerb pick-up opportunities for people with disabilities.

I acknowledge that this is an issue that arose in committee, and so it must be something that is required.

I also acknowledge the role that Dublin Bus plays in supporting people with special needs. The public consultation dimension of BusConnects last year was very interesting. One of the great problems that much of the public expressed with the BusConnects proposals, which had nothing to do with Dublin Bus, was the challenges it would pose for people with disabilities, special needs or mobility problems. Instead of seamlessly taking one route to their place of work, leisure or training, those people might have to disembark, connect elsewhere and then connect again to get to their destinations. More than any other group in our society, those with mobility challenges and those with disabilities would have been disadvantaged most by the proposals put forward. Fianna Fáil highlighted that in all of our submissions to the National Transportation Authority, NTA, and we hope that it has taken that on board. If nothing else, and there was much more, the BusConnects public consultation phase highlighted quite accurately issues that would affect those with disabilities and would pose significant challenges for some people. Indeed, those matters were highlighted quite quickly by those working in the area of disabilities.

We often laugh at the real-time bus stop signage, but it is an advance, and it is providing more information for people of all abilities about the bus service. Clearly, there are challenges and this report points them out. We have not mentioned bus shelters, but they are a basic element of the bus service. Everybody uses them. Luas stations also have virtually no cover for anybody, whether fully able-bodied people or those with mobility challenges. This report affords us an opportunity to look at this.

The report contains recommendations on how to improve the bus services. I am focusing on bus services, but I only have a short time in which to speak and perhaps it is useful to focus on just one or two things. I have mentioned buses stopping immediately beside bus stops. I hope that when we review this in the future this will be happening. I believe it is not an issue for Dublin bus drivers, but it may be something they have to be reminded of. One of the great outreach endeavours Dublin Bus engages in which parents have told me about concerns children or young adults with special needs. If they are able to travel independently to their place of work or training, Dublin Bus has a well-used facility where an assigned employee goes to those individuals and coaches them through the procedure of taking a bus, including how to find the bus stop and finding the route. They also accompany those individuals on the route until they become comfortable with it. This is just one of the unheralded public services that Dublin Bus provides.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but we should remind drivers to ensure that a passenger is fully seated and is in a safe place before a bus takes off. Drivers should clearly state the route number and destination as passengers board, and also declare when the bus arrives at each stop if an automated announcement is unavailable. These ideas are easy to implement and would cost nothing, but they could make a significant difference to the quality of people's experience of public transport.

On rail, the report refers to the need for ramps, lifts and emergency call buttons to be provided and the need to ensure that they are functional at all stations. Other Deputies have mentioned the dwindling number of staff at some stations. I have heard about this through constituents and people I know. In most cases it is not related to publicly funded public transport but rather taxis. People come out of an event at night and simply cannot get a wheelchair-friendly taxi. They can be standing around literally for hours, yet the State has invested quite a significant amount of money in grants for public service vehicles to ensure they are equipped for that purpose.

I will not take up time for the sake of it. I have made the points I wanted to make. I welcome the report, and will welcome the Minister of State's response in terms of how the Government intends to implement some of its key measures. Some of these measures are very easy to implement, while others will require some degree of investment.


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