Thursday, 16 December 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
2. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the specific policies he plans on implementing in 2022 to bring down the cost and accessibility of transport for persons with disabilities in view of the recent publication of the Cost of Disability in Ireland research report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [62300/21]
In light of the publication of the Cost of Disability in Ireland research report last week, I would be interested in the Department's specific policies the Minister plans on implementing in response to this report.
It is a detailed report containing 202 pages. I do not expect the Minister of State to have read it yet, but it is something she and her senior officials should read over the Christmas break. I look forward to hearing what her plans will be.
The Minister for Transport has responsibility for policy and overall funding for public transport. The National Transport Authority, NTA, has statutory responsibility for securing the provision of public passenger transport services nationally and for promoting the development of an integrated, accessible public transport network. The NTA works with the relevant public transport operators responsible for day-to-day operational issues to make public transport accessible. The Department of Transport and its agencies are progressively making public transport accessible for all, and especially for persons with disabilities, in both urban and rural areas. This is being done by ensuring new infrastructure and services are accessible from the start and by retrofitting older infrastructure and facilities to make them accessible for persons with disabilities, persons with reduced mobility and older people. The Department provides dedicated, ring-fenced funding to the NTA for its multi-annual public transport accessibility programme.
In addition, through the funding from the Department of Transport, the NTA provides a gamut of supports to assist persons with disabilities to travel independently on public transport. For example, the travel assistance scheme provides assistance for people who need it to use public transport or plan journeys on Dublin Bus, Luas, Go-Ahead and DART services. It is a free service run by Dublin Bus and is available within the greater Dublin area for people aged 18 and over.
In addition, the just a minute, JAM, card has been available for use on public transport services since 2019 and enables people with a communication barrier to tell others discreetly and easily that they need just a minute. Furthermore, disability awareness training is provided by all public transport operators to their staff to assist persons with disabilities to travel on public transport services.
I am aware of the concerns outlined in the report on the cost of transport for persons with disabilities, which are primarily related to more personalised or individualised transport requirements, which in many cases have an important role to play. Of course, specialised non-public door-to-door services do not form part of the public transport sector for which the Department of Transport has statutory responsibility.
The findings from this report are quite stark. It outlines extra costs annually of between €9,500 and €11,500 a year for a person with a disability, and transport costs are included in the amount. I accept that some of the costs are for the adaptation of cars, but they also include the use of taxis. There has been a 37% increase in the cost of taxis for people with a disability because of the lack of public transport accessibility.
I do not deny the strides that have been made, as the Minister of State outlined, but the report's findings detail current costs. I ask all Ministers and the Taoiseach for a response to the report from each Department and, similar to the approach with the climate action plan, that a clear plan will be put in place on how each Department will tackle any increased costs for people with disabilities in any area under its remit.
I assure the Deputy that my Department is actively engaging with the relevant agencies and Departments to strengthen the public transport offerings throughout the country by providing additional funding for increased public transport services. The Government has committed to using the research into the cost of disability to inform future policy direction, and the national disability inclusion strategy, NDIS, steering group, chaired by my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, will consider actions required by Departments on foot of this report. The Department of Transport and its agencies will continue to play their part in making public transport accessible and will, through our membership of the NDIS group, work with the other Departments that have responsibility for individualised, personalised transport support schemes. I could list the other initiatives on which we are currently working, but they are in the reply.
Key to where I and other Members of this House want to get to, and where I hope the Government wants to get to, is that every single policy is disability-proofed across the Government in the same way we are or should be focusing our climate policies. This report is another long overdue wake-up call on the challenges faced by persons with disabilities. The stark reality of the significant costs incurred involuntarily by them is quite staggering - an extra 25% annually on top of the average industrial wage. That cannot continue. It is something I will push in all Departments every time I have a Minister or the Taoiseach in front of me in the coming months and years.
I hear what the Deputy is saying. The NDIS steering group will be key in this area to ensure a whole-of-government approach. The NDIS sets out the overall framework for the equal participation of people with disabilities in society. It aims to improve the lives of people with disabilities and contains precise, measurable actions and timescales for delivery. The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has overarching responsibility for the implementation of the NDIS. The strategy contains six public transport related actions for which the Department, the NTA and public operators have lead responsibility. The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth is leading the establishment of a working group under another action to consider the integration of disability transport and mobility support services. Monitoring of the implementation of the strategy is being overseen by the NDIS, which comprises key Departments. This will be an all-of-government approach.