Written Answers. - Public Transport Accessibility.

Brendan Smith

Question:

27 Mr. B. Smith asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications if his attention has been drawn to the widespread concern in relation to the lack of proper access to most public transport vehicles for wheelchair users; the proposals, if any, he has to address this urgent problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3411/97]

Successive Ministers for Transport have made it clear that they wish to see the highest possible degree of accessibility to public transport services for wheelchair users and other people with mobility impairments, having regard to the resources at the operators' disposal. That is also my policy in this area. The development and implementation of specific proposals for accessibility enhancements is a matter for transport operators themselves.

In response to that policy, the CIE companies in recent years have made considerable efforts to make their services more accessible to passengers with mobility impairments. A very significant degree of accessibility has already been achieved on the railway and the two CIE bus companies continue to give a high priority to accessibility requirements in the course of their fleet replacement programmes.

The single most difficult challenge facing bus operators in this regard is that of making their services fully accessible to wheelchair users. Because of the additional costs and possible operational limitations associated with buses which are fully wheelchair accessible, neither of the CIE bus companies has vehicles of this kind in operation on mainstream scheduled services. However, I understand that both companies are undertaking initiatives to test low-floor buses under normal operating conditions. I warmly welcome this practical evidence of their commitment to the search for an affordable and operationally-proven strategy to meet the needs of mobility-impaired and disabled customers on a cost-effective basis.

My colleague, the Minister for Equality and Law Reform, has received the report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities. The report is being considered at present by an inter-departmental task force established by the Minister for Equality and Law Reform which has been asked to draw up a plan of action based on the report's recommendations. My Department is represented on the task force which, it is anticipated, will have prepared its plan of action by mid-year. Until the task force has reported and the Government has been given an opportunity to consider its recommendations, it would be premature to enter into any commitments in relation to either the report's individual recommendations or possible future developments in public transport accessibility policy in general.