Notice period of 24 hours for disabled to take trains ‘unacceptable’
Shane Ross says plans in place for Irish Rail pilot project to reduce notice to four hours
Fianna Fáil TD Margaret Murphy O’Mahony highlighted the transport difficulties of people with disabilities travelling by bus in Cork. “Even if the bus is disability-friendly, there are towns in which the bus stop is not.” File photograph: Getty Images
It is unacceptable that disabled passengers have to give 24 hours’ notice of travel in order for a ramp to be put in place and a train to be made accessible, Minister for Transport Shane Ross has said.
He told the Dáil plans were in place for an Irish Rail pilot project to reduce the notice hours to four.
Sinn Féin transport spokeswoman Imelda Munster asked the Minister to make full wheelchair accessibility on public transport a legal requirement. The Louth TD said this should include private companies that provide public transport services.
Ms Munster asked whether he considered it acceptable that disabled passengers had to give 24 hours’ notice of their travel plans.
Mr Ross said it was “unacceptable” and that Irish Rail hoped to start the pilot project early in the new year “by guaranteeing staffing across grouped stations and ensuring flexibility to enable staff to move between stations to provide assistance”.
Fianna Fáil TD Margaret Murphy O’Mahony highlighted the transport difficulties of people with disabilities travelling by bus in Cork. She said that if they wanted to travel from West Cork to the city they too had to give 24 hours’ notice.
“Even if the bus is disability-friendly, there are towns in which the bus stop is not. A lot of work needs to be done in this area,” she said.
The Minister said he would seriously consider the National Council for the Blind’s recommendation of a complete review and revamp of public transport services “to increase availability for everyone, including those with impaired vision”.
The National Transport Authority was continuing to roll out its accessible bus stop programme, he said.
Ms Munster said however that “of 144 Iarnród Éireann stations, 34 are unmanned and there are plans to increase that number”.
She called on Mr Ross to give specific commitments “so that people, particularly wheelchair users, are not left sitting on platforms”.
The Minister said unstaffed stations were a matter for the National Transport Authority and the company. But he said “if such stations are having a detrimental effect on people with disabilities, we should look at it very seriously”.
He called on Ms Munster to “acknowledge that we have allocated a greatly increased amount to disabilities”, almost €28 million in capital funding up to 2021, and this was a trebling of the previous allocation.
That would facilitate the continued roll-out of accessible bus stops and fund the upgrade of train stations to make them accessible to wheelchair users.
Ms Munster pressed the Minister a number of times as to whether he would put a policy of 100 per cent accessibility for disabled passengers at train stations on a statutory footing, and said he had not answered the question.
Mr Ross said he wanted to see a transport system that facilitated disabled people in the same way that it treats people who are not disabled.
“We do not currently have the infrastructure or the buses, but we are moving in that direction.”