As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport.
Under the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008, the National Transport Authority (NTA) has statutory responsibility for promoting the development of an integrated, accessible public transport network.
Accessibility features, such as wheelchair access and audio/visual aids, are built into all new public transport infrastructure projects and vehicles from the design stage, including the 17 new rail stations built since 2007.
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 due to be delivered under the NDP over the period to 2027. As with all new and recently developed public transport projects, these programmes will be fully accessible as part of the normal design.
However, work remains to be done in terms of the retro-fitting of older infrastructure to make it accessible for people with a disability. In particular, gaps remain in relation to railway infrastructure and facilities as most of the rail network was originally developed during the Victorian era.
To address infrastructural legacy issues, my Department funds a programme of accessibility improvement grants, managed by the NTA, to upgrade existing and older infrastructure and facilities, including the upgrading of train stations to make them accessible to wheelchair users. In this regard, I secured a trebling of the funding provided for the Accessibility Retro-fit Programme to €28 million for the period 2018 to 2021, as part of the 4-year capital envelope for public transport announced in Budget 2018. In 2018, €1m was provided for rail station accessibility upgrades and this has been increased to €3m for 2019. With this increase in funding it is envisaged that larger projects will be undertaken at railway stations including the installation of lifts and bridges to allow easy access "across track" platforms for wheelchair users. There will also be a continued investment programme under the NDP to fund retro-fitting of older existing public transport facilities to enhance accessibility.
I provided additional funding to Irish Rail last year, for the development of a dedicated "app" to support customers who have mobility or sensory impairments. The app will allow users to pre-book a journey that confirms that they will have assistance by a member of Irish Rail staff at their departure and arrival stations and provide them with support in an emergency.
I am advised that Irish Rail is taking a number of other measures to improve access for people with disabilities to rail and DART services. These include the company introducing a new improved Accessibility Policy. This involves a new zonal system for the DART, Maynooth and Northern Commuter lines that is designed to provide better service and quicker response times to passengers who require assistance. This policy divides the stations on these lines into zones, with each comprising one to four stations. One station in each zone will always be manned and will provide support to other stations in that zone. Full details are available on the Irish Rail website. Following a successful pilot, Irish Rail has reduced the notice period for providing assistance to customers on the DART from 24 hours to 4 hours and has also rolled this out to the Maynooth and Northern Commuter lines. The company hopes to reduce this notice period further.
Irish Rail is currently training Customer Service Officers (CSOs) for deployment on all inter-city routes, with all services planned to have a CSO in place by the end of 2019. This will mean that all services with a CSO on board will be able to ensure ramp assistance is available. It is intended that this will eliminate the requirement for advance notice on all inter-city routes.