Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Ceisteanna (56)

Imelda Munster


56. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to provide additional investment to improve accessibility on public transport for persons with disabilities given the widespread deficiencies which result in many persons being unable to avail of public transport services in their area or to travel without great difficulty. [15825/16]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (18 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

I ask the Minister about his plans to provide additional investment to improve accessibility for people with disabilities on our public transport given the widespread deficiencies of which we are all sadly aware and the inequality of access. Is the Minister aware that one in four people with a disability does not use public transport for accessibility reasons? Is he also aware that most rail and bus services require 24 hours' notice in advance of travel for a wheelchair user in order to provide the service?

The Minister has two minutes to respond and a minute for a supplementary.

I thank Deputy Munster for her question. It is a good question and there is quite a lot behind what she has to say about the disabled. I will answer first of all about the improvements and then I will suggest what I think. I acknowledge that much remains to be done.

Accessibility improvements to public transport services are being advanced in the context of my Department's sectoral plan under the Disability Act 2005, Transport Access for All.

The plan sets out a series of policy objectives and targets for accessible public transport across all modes and significant progress has been achieved in recent years. Transport Access for All was first published in 2006 and updated in 2012. It is scheduled for review and update in 2016-17.

The sectoral plan is premised on the principle that through accessibility improvements to the public transport system for people with disabilities, access for all people will be improved. This is being done as extensively as possible having regard to the availability of resources.

My Department funds an ongoing programme of accessibility improvement grants to upgrade existing public transport infrastructure and facilities. This includes funding in 2016 for accessibility upgrade works at a number of rail stations, including Connolly Station, for accessible bus stops and bus stations, and for a wheelchair accessible taxi grant scheme.

In addition, measures to provide for full accessibility is built into all new public transport infrastructure projects and vehicles from the design stage and newer systems, such as the Luas, are fully accessible.

My Department also provides funding to the NTA for a rolling programme of bus replacement and refurbishment of the Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann PSO fleets both in the greater Dublin area and nationally. This has enabled 100% of the Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann city fleets to be wheelchair accessible, as well as approximately 65% of Bus Éireann coaches, which are wheelchair accessible by lift, and this will increase as the coach fleet is replaced.

The Deputy has one minute for a supplementary question.

On a point of correction - I stand to be corrected myself if I am wrong - I understand that only 50% of Bus Éireann coaches are wheelchair accessible.

The Minister referred to the Department's plans. Are they existing Department plans or are they the Minister's new additional plans? The previous Department plans had widespread deficiencies, as we know. Disability access is one area of the Minister's new portfolio where he could really make a difference. I had thought initially that I had two minutes to speak on that and I was going to outline examples of people who, owing to lack of accessibility to public transport, end up spending the day making what would normally be a one-hour journey. On the buses, for example, wheelchair users are being told on an almost daily basis that the drivers are not qualified to operate the lifts and wheelchair users are being left by the side of the road as the public transport bus drives off without them-----

-----because there is no access on to the bus.

I would just ask-----

I am sorry; I have to stick within the standing Orders.

What plans does the Minister have because this is shocking inequality? It really is terrible in 2016. What new plans does the Minister have to correct the inequality of this and the serious deficiency?

The Minister has one minute to respond.

There may be a misunderstanding on Bus Éireann. My understanding is the Bus Éireann city fleets are all accessible. The Deputy is correct that the ones outside the city fleet are not universally accessible. We might have been at cross-purposes on that. I take her point; it is one of the gaps that is not acceptable. Bus Éireann coaches are in a similar situation; they are not accessible. Those gaps will need to be bridged.

There are other areas that I have only really discovered since I researched the Deputy's question. I have to admit I was under the impression that things were rather better than they were until I started to research her question over the weekend. There are other areas, particularly on the railways, which she did not touch on, where there is a huge gap in the accessibility for disabled people. I gather that Iarnród Éireann is slowly carrying out a limited programme that is enabling some disabled people to access stations by making them wheelchair friendly.

There are other areas that concern me, which the Deputy has not mentioned. There is a huge gap with commercial vehicles. The commercial vehicles do not seem to be up to the same standard for wheelchair accessibility as are the State vehicles.

I intend to address that issue in the near future. I gather that the NTA is already looking at ways for imposing a similar and much more demanding standard on them.

For the benefit of the House, it is important that I reiterate the new Standing Orders relating to Priority and Oral Questions. There is six and a half minutes for each question, of which 30 seconds is allowed for the introduction, two minutes for the Minister to reply and four minutes overall for supplementary questions and replies with a one-minute limit on each supplementary question. I know it is difficult for the Members to get used to the new procedures but I ask them to try to stick within them. I can give Deputy Munster one more minute, providing she sticks to it.

I spoke about the lifts being out of order. In my constituency, covering Louth and east Meath, I know of a gentleman who is a wheelchair user. He attempts to travel from Laytown to Drogheda on an almost daily basis. He is one of those people left at the side of the road as the public bus drives off.

The Minister spoke about taxis. I know the target for having taxis accessible for wheelchair users and people with disabilities is between 60% and 70% by 2017. As of April 2015, it was at 5%. What plans does the Minister have to follow through on that because we would need to make a huge percentage improvement in order to reach that target by 2017?

I am now moving on to Deputy Ryan's question.