Dáil debates

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Accessibility of Public Transport for People with Disabilities: Motion


6:25 pm

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

On behalf of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, I thank all who spoke on the motion for their thoughtful and considered contributions on all of the issues raised. I will bring their comments and concerns to the Minister and I hope that we can put some of the recommendations into action. I thank the Chair of the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy O'Dowd, all the committee members, and Senator John Dolan, who championed this issue. I thank all of those who contributed to the report, in particular those with disabilities who have shared their experiences of using public transport.

I can say with certainty that we are all united in wanting a public transport system which has the needs of customers with a disability at its centre. To achieve this requires a multifaceted approach and the active engagement of all the key stakeholders. It involves not only the physical infrastructure, but also measures such as ticketing and information systems, travel assistance schemes, disability awareness training for staff, and contact and complaints handling systems. Crucially, it requires the early and ongoing involvement of people with lived experience of disabilities and their representative organisations in the planning and design of public transport infrastructure and services.

The individual transport operators, both public and private, the NTA and local authorities, given their respective roles and responsibilities, must each play their part in delivering an accessible public transport system. This requires co-ordination and a joined-up approach. The NTA, with its functional responsibility for promoting the development of an integrated, accessible public transport network, has a key role to play. The NTA’s new position of transport accessibility manager, will act not only as an internal spokesperson in the NTA for customers with a disability but will also have responsibility for co-ordinating the accessibility programmes of transport operators, reviewing and auditing accessibility plans of transport operators, advising on the development of transport operator training programmes, and co-ordinating the access officers across all public transport operators.

The Minister, Deputy Ross, in his opening speech set out some positive developments which have taken place and are taking place. Many of these are being brought about as a result of the transport operators themselves identifying and acknowledging the need to improve the service they provide to passengers with disabilities. Others arise from commitments and actions under a number of whole-of-government strategies and plans, in particular the national disability inclusion strategy and the comprehensive employment strategy for people with disabilities. These commitments and actions are monitored at a national level by the NDIS steering group and the CES implementation group, respectively. At a departmental level, the public transport actions for which the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the NTA and-or transport operators have a lead role are monitored and reviewed by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport's accessibility consultative committee, ACC. Membership of the ACC is drawn from organisations representing people with disabilities, members of the disability stakeholders group, key agencies under the aegis of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, as well as other relevant State agencies. The ACC’s work programme updates and minutes of meetings are available to view under the public transport section of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport website, www.dttas.ie/public-transport/engIish/accessibility.

One important aspect of the accessibility consultative committee is the opportunity to engage directly with transport operators and relevant agencies. During the past year, several of the transport operators have made presentations to the ACC at which members have been able to raise policy and high-level issues of concern. I understand that the feedback from these has been positive and that a key theme emerging is the importance of communications, both in terms of raising awareness of the good things that are happening and in letting people know when things are not working as they should. This engagement at the ACC complements the work that goes on at the disability users groups that each public transport operator has in place. The groups provide a forum for operators to consult and update disability organisations on accessibility proposals and developments, as well as for disability organisations to have operational and other accessibility issues addressed. This is all positive and it should be welcomed. However, the testimony to the joint committee hearing of those living with disabilities is a crucial reminder to all of us that we have some way to go before we meet our obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as ratified by the Government in March of last year. Article 9 of the convention provides that state parties "shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas". Article 4.2 provides that "With regard to economic, social and cultural rights, each State Party undertakes to take measures to the maximum of its available resources and, where needed, within the framework of international cooperation, with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of these rights". We must therefore plan and strive for the progressive realisation of these rights. These are challenges to achieve in the context of our legacy of public transport infrastructure, in particular our Victorian-era railway stations.

The report of the joint committee acknowledged that the achievement of a publically accessible public transport system will require resources, including time and monetary investment. Therefore, the committee recommended several measures to improve accessibility of public transport services in the short term. Many of these measures do not require new or upgrading infrastructure. Some concerns were raised about proper utilisation of accessibility features that already are in place. Reference was made to practical steps that staff can take to make a journey more accessible for people with disabilities. The committee report is a welcome addition to other Government strategies mentioned earlier that are aimed at improving the lives of people with disabilities. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, has asked me to assure the House of his commitment to play his part as Minister with responsibility for the policies and overall funding of public transport to achieve this aim.

I wish to thank everyone involved. From reading the committee report it is obvious to me and to many others that those who use public transport services in particular have real concerns. I agree with Deputy Lahart with regard to Dublin Bus. The company has made vast improvement throughout the city not only in the buses but in how the staff approach people with disabilities. I have had several experiences on some local buses. Often it is down to the person who is driving the bus to facilitate people and to give them time. This may require pulling up at the right time and giving people the opportunity to take their time to get on the bus. Sometimes it is difficult. I have witnessed this myself. A friend of mine who has a disability is in a wheelchair. We had to wait for three buses to pass before my friend could access a bus with a wheelchair.

I thank the officials of the Department for their time and effort in putting this together. I intend to bring back to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, the concerns raised this evening.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.