Deputy Broughan has consistently been asking about the accessibility of public transport and plans for the improvement of this essential public service.  Most recently, Deputy Broughan asked about the accessibility of Bus Éireann coaches operating on expressway and regional services for wheelchairs and the accessibility of bus stops in regional areas.  The National Transport Authority (NTA) replied to the Deputy on March 28th and gave a very disappointing response.

The reply stated “commercial bus operators, who operate a significant proportion of bus services nationally, are not currently required to use wheelchair accessible buses on their routes” and that “the operation of wheelchair accessible bus services requires the provision of wheelchair accessible buses and wheelchair accessible bus stops”.  The NTA says that it “recognises that this situation is not acceptable” and that they “have developed a two-pronged approach” to overcome obstacles.  The NTA says that it is “committed to upgrading bus stops to ensure that all main towns have at least one wheelchair lift accessible bus stop in each direction” but that there are problems with the footpath dimensions in many towns and villages.  “Solutions such as relocating the bus stop to an alternative location may be necessary” but it “may not suit other users”.  The NTA says that it is “in the process of procuring” new low-entry coach-style vehicles but that “it will take time to roll-out the new low-entry coach-style vehicle nationally.”  The NTA says that it plans “to publish proposals” around the regulation of accessibility of commercially operated bus services.  It also says that “it is not possible to provide a definite timeline for the installation of wheelchair accessible bus stops” and that “it will take a number of years to complete that programme at the current rate of progress.”

Following this very disappointing and unacceptable reply from the National Transport Authority, Deputy Broughan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport whether his officials had costed the implementation of a programme making all public transport fully accessible for persons with disabilities in the next five years.  The response from Minister Ross states that the “National Development Plan (NDP) for the period 2018-2027, sets out the national vision and ambition for the delivery of key critical infrastructure over the next 10 years, including in relation to public transport infrastructure.  Investment in public transport will be accelerated under the NDP to support the development of an integrated and sustainable national public transport system.  A number of key new major public transport programmes are being considered under the NDP over the period to 2027.”

The reply went on to say that the Department provides grants to improve accessibility of facilities and infrastructure and that this fund is managed by the NTA.  The grants are available to install accessible bus stops, upgrade train stations, and to introduce “more wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs) into the taxi fleet”.  The Minister says that last year he asked the NTA to provide information on the cost of making public transport services wheelchair accessible and that the information is available at http://www.dttas.gov.ie/public-transport/english/accessibility.

Bus   Stations Bus/Coaches
PSO   Services
Bus   Stops
PSO   Coach Services
Train   Stations Taxis/Hackneys TOTAL
€16.35 m €22.5 m €10 m €76 m €214 m €339 m

The reply went on to say that “the figures provided by the NTA are estimates, due for example to complexities in relation to providing accessible bus stops in rural/regional areas. In addition, the figures relate to Public Service Obligation (PSO) services only, and to Exchequer funding rather than industry costs in the case of Taxi/Hackneys.”

Deputy Broughan says “It is simply unacceptable in this day and age that there are people in wheelchairs around Ireland unable to access public transport.  Many disability advocacy groups have long been campaigning for improvements in accessibility of public transport and the response from the National Transport Authority is simply not good enough.  Less than €125 million to make Public Service Buses and Trains accessible is not an insurmountable sum and the project should be progressed immediately with a much more ambitious timescale for delivery.  Even the €214 million needed to make all taxis wheelchair accessible is also a reasonable target for the Department of Transport.  The NTA’s response that moving a bus stop would inconvenience other commuters is not good enough.  Our public services should be designed with the most vulnerable service users in mind first and foremost and build upon that, rather than having wheelchair users or people with mobility issues as an after-thought.  This can be said of much of design and planning of spaces and services.  The Minister must bring forward measures for Budget 2020 to make public transport accessible to wheelchair users within three years.”