Picture: https://www.disability-federation.ie/

Over 80% of people have said that public transport access in Dublin is not accessible to people with disabilities, in a recent poll conducted by Dublin Gazette.

Just 18% of voters said that they believed public transport was accessible to all in the capital, with over two thirds – 80.5% – saying that better supports need to be given across the transport network at time of publication.

This poll comes a year after the already delayed ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Ireland.

In response to the poll, some of our readers shared their own experiences.

Mandy wrote: “I’m disabled, my elderly Mother & I both have a free travel pass, but end up having to [pay for] taxis because there is no bus service in Newtown Park [in South Dublin].”

On Facebook, Mary said: “I have balance problems and use a triwalker. The buses don’t pull into the kerb.

“The driver doesn’t put down the step even though a friend told me they are meant to, and they pull off before you have an opportunity to sit down.”

There have been reports that lifts are frequently out of action at stations across the capital, which means that for those less able, they are unable to use these services as a result.

Others have cited that there can be a lack of space on bus services for wheelchairs if there is more than one wheelchair user on board, or if services are oversubscribed with standing passengers.

Responding to queries from Dublin Gazette, Minister for Transport Shane Ross has said that several initiatives are in place to try and make public transport more accessible across the city.

Minister Ross said: “Since becoming Minister for Transport, I have listened to people with disabilities as they explain the difficulties they encounter in accessing public transport. In response, last year I appointed people with relevant experience of disabilities to the boards of the National Transport Authority, Irish Rail, Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and CIE.

In addition, I have required The National Transport Authority (NTA) to appoint a new Transport Accessibility Manager.

“The role and responsibilities of the Transport Accessibility Manager will be wide ranging, including: establishing a formal engagement process with key disability representative groups; developing and monitoring an improvement plan for existing services; assisting in the development of the Retrofit Programme and ensuring accessibility is built into all new public transport infrastructure; co-ordinating the accessibility programmes of transport operators and their Access Officers and establishing a contact and complaints handling system for users of public transport who have a disability.

“In terms of public transport in Dublin, accessibility features, such as wheelchair accessibility and audio/visual aids, are built into all new public transport infrastructure projects and vehicles from the design stage. Newer systems, such as the Luas rail network, are fully accessible as are the 17 new rail stations which have been built since 2007. All Dublin Bus services are wheelchair accessible.

“Approximately 50% of the Dublin Bus fleet now has a space for both a wheelchair user and a buggy and this will move over the coming years to 100%. Dublin Bus runs the Travel Assistance Scheme, on behalf of the NTA, in the Greater Dublin Area to help people with disabilities to use public transport. An assistant can accompany a person for a number of times when they first travel, and advise on planning trips on Dublin Bus, DART and Luas. The Travel Assistance Scheme is free.

“Irish Rail is seeking volunteers to assist it with testing a new smartphone app to address some of the key communication breakdowns that occur when providing assistance to persons with disabilities. Last year, Irish Rail reduced the advance notice requirement for wheelchair users from 24 to 4 hours, across the DART network and on the Maynooth and Northern Commuter lines. Obviously it is hoped that eventually there will be no need for advance notice.

“The NTA has engaged with the NOW group which developed the Just A Minute (JAM) Card with a view towards the introduction of such a card or a badge (similar to what Transport for London uses) or a combination of both.

“In addition, a number of key new major public transport programmes are being considered 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. There will also be a continued investment programme under the NDP to fund retro-fitting of older legacy public transport facilities to enhance accessibility.

“I fully appreciate the difficulties and frustrations that many people with disabilities experience while accessing public transport and I assure you that I am doing everything in my power as Minister for Transport, to address these difficulties as swiftly and effectively as possible.”

In response to queries on this topic from Dublin Gazette, a Luas spokesperson said Luas lines are inspected every morning, and that they do their best to communicate any access issues or faults present to customers across the Luas app, Twitter, website and the passenger information displays at each stop.

In addition to this, a spokesperson said: “All Luas customer-facing and customer care staff are trained in disability awareness.

“We have also set up a focus group for Luas customers with disabilities which meets every quarter.”

Barry Kenny, communications manager for Irish Rail, told Dublin Gazette that they are working to enhance accessibility at DART stations throughout the capital.

He also said that Irish Rail work to have both web and station updates on any accessibility issues, particularly with lifts.

Kenny said: “We have been working to enhance access and are currently developing an assistance app in response to feedback from the Iarnrod Eireann users Accessibility Group. It follows from the DART Accessibility programme, which was introduced in 2018.

“While we are working to enhance accessibility at DART stations, it must be remembered that accessibility on railway systems which originally were built in the 19th and 20th centuries is something which is experienced in many European cities. 

“While all DART stations are accessible to platform and via mobile ramp all DART services are accessible, less than 10% of Paris stations are accessible, and a third of London stations are accessible.

“We have been working to enhance access, and are currently developing an assistance app, and have been inviting mobility and sensory impaired customers to participate in testing of this new app for persons with disabilities.

“The creation of this app is a direct response from feedback from the Iarnród Éireann users Accessibility Group. It is a follow on from the successful DART Accessibility programme, which was introduced in January 2018.

“The programme was designed to provide assistance to customers requiring it through the establishment of station zones, which involved full-time staffing of thirteen hub stations for each zone across the DART network, each with a dedicated assistance phone line.

“Staff at each zone respond to assistance requests for the hub station and between one and three other adjacent stations.

“This has resulted in 99.9% of over 20,000 requests for assistance on the DART being successfully provided so far this year.  While we aim to provide assistance at all times, and without notice, we advise a four-hour notice period for DART and Commuter at presence, and are working to reduce this further. 

“Again, it should be noted that current EU standards state 48-hours notice, illustrating again the wider European context of the need for progress in this area.

“The introduction of the app will offer customers the opportunity to book their assistance through the app, rather than phoning for assistance.  It is also intended to give greater confidence to customers using the service by confirming assistance, and reminders to rail employees that assistance has been booked. 

“We have both website based and station based updates on any lift issues, with certain stations having experienced some vandalism issues with lifts, necessitating full renewal of lift systems.

“Additionally, on Intercity services, Iarnród Éireann has begun to roll out new Customer Service Officer roles across trains on the national network, which will continue throughout the year.  Ultimately, this will mean assistance will be available at all times on Intercity trains as the new roles are deployed.

“The programme was designed to aid customers requiring it through the establishment of station zones.

“Staff at each zone respond to assistance requests for the hub station and between one and three other stations.

“This has resulted in 99.9% of over 20,000 requests for assistance on the DART being successfully provided in 2018. While we always aim to help without notice, we advise a four-hour notice period at present [but] are working to reduce this.

“The introduction of the app will offer customers the opportunity to book their assistance through the app.

“It is also intended to give confidence to customers using the service by confirming assistance and will send reminders to rail employees that assistance has been booked.”

To find out what your local election candidates and local councillors think of this issue, take a look here.