Written Answers. - Public Transport.

Tony Gregory

Question:

226 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Public Enterprise if EU funding is being utilised for the acquisition of the additional 150 new buses for Dublin Bus; the long-term objective in percentage terms for wheelchair accessible buses; and the specific difference in costing between wheelchair accessible bus and a non-accessible bus. [1880/99]

Deirdre Clune

Question:

229 Ms Clune asked the Minister for Public Enterprise the action, if any, she proposes to take with regard to Bus Éireann's decision to purchase 150 buses inaccessible by the disabled in view of the fact that both Government and EU funding is being used to purchase the buses and this could be in direct contravention of Government policy of inclusion and mainstreaming of services for disabled people as well as a recent EU agreement prohibiting use of Structural Funds for programmes which exclude disabled people. [2107/99]

I propose to answer Questions Nos. 226 and 229 together.

I can confirm that the EU is part funding the purchase by Bus Átha Cliath of 50 double decker buses and that the balance of the funding for these 50 and for the purchase of a further 100 buses is being provided by the Exchequer.

It is and always has been my policy that transport operators, and in particular the State transport companies, should provide the highest possible degree of accessibility within the overall resources available to them. I am committed to bringing about a situation where public transport facilities are fully accessible to all at the earliest possible date.

Regarding the additional 150 double decker buses, these are required urgently to meet the traffic congestion problems in Dublin as part of the Government's commitment to implementation of the Dublin Transportation Office short-term action plan. They are of key importance in providing adequate services on the quality bus corridors which are now being developed.

When orders were being placed last year for the additional buses, low floor double decker buses were only beginning to come into operation in the UK. In the circumstances Bus Átha Cliath did not have a sufficient degree of experience with the new designs to justify the placing of such a large order for the purchase of low floor double deck buses.
However, progress is being made. Models which may be suitable have increasingly been brought into service in the UK in the past few months. Earlier this week I discussed the issue of low floor accessible busses with Glenda Jackson MP, Transport Minister at the UK Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and took the opportunity to see one of the London low floor double decker buses myself. I also discussed the matter with the head of unit for disabled passengers in London Transport and met the driver of the bus who outlined the features in detail. I understand that some modifications are to be carried out and I made the point that the experience with actual operation in London will be beneficial when Bus Átha Cliath are undertaking their evaluations.
Bus Átha Cliath are currently arranging to obtain vehicles from DAF, who are supplying the London buses, and from Volvo and Dennis, with the objective of conducting six month pilot trials. Details of the testing programme are being developed by Bus Átha Cliath. My Department has already discussed the pilot testing proposals with the EU Commission who share our commitment to accelerating the improvment in accessibility to public transport.
The first of the vehicles for these trials should arrive in a couple of months and, depending on the results of the pilot tests, Bus Átha Cliath should be in a position to begin ordering accessible double-decker buses from 2000.
In addition to the progress being made with low floor double deck buses there have been other developments in this area. For example, Bus Átha Cliath has six low floor single decker buses now in operation on route No. 3 (Belfield to Drumcondra). My Department provided significant funding towards the cost of these buses. The company has also recently announced that it plans to purchase a further 20 fully accessible 33 seater midi buses as part of its 1999 fleet replacement programme.
Bus Éireann has a further ten low-floor vehicles on order. These vehicles are due for delivery in 1999 and will be put into service on Bus Éireann's Cork and Limerick city routes.
Each of the companies, Bus Átha Cliath, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann, have now established user groups representative of people with disabilities. The input from these groups gives the companies very valuable assistance in their ongoing programmes of improving the suitability of their services for mobility-impaired customers.
In relation to the difference in costing, I am informed by the CIE companies that the average cost of a low-floor bus is approximately 15 per cent greater than the cost of a high floor equivalent.
However, I want to stress that I am committed to having public transport facilities fully access ible to all at the earliest possible date. At a recent meeting with Bus Átha Cliath I was informed that from now on they expect to be replacing their fleet with low floor double deck buses.