Transport and mobility

13.1 Providing forms of transport that would be more accessible is not just an issue of interest to people with disabilities. It would benefit a wide range of other people as well, including people with prams or buggies, elderly and young people and people laden down with shopping. Unfortunately, Ireland has lagged behind other countries in making its transport system more accessible for everybody, with especially harsh consequences for people with disabilities.

13.2. Transport companies have introduced modifications to some of their vehicles but frequently claim that the costs are prohibitive and the changes would benefit only a small number of people. However, the costs of suitable rolling stock are decreasing as more and more countries require transport operators to make their systems accessible to all customers. The European Union is drafting proposals for common rules on the construction of minibuses, buses and coaches and Transport Commissioner Neil Kinnock recently published a Green Paper on public transport which stresses the need for more accessible systems. Furthermore, accessible transport offers operators the prospect of increasing revenue through increased numbers of passengers once systems are recognised to be available to all potential users. In overall policy terms, accessible transport will allow more people with disabilities to continue living in their own homes and communities, creating savings in other areas such as health and social services.

13.3. Unfortunately, the experience of people with disabilities has been largely negative. There is a long catalogue of difficulties facing them when they attempt to use all forms of transport. As well as problems with vehicles, they include those caused by the absence of video, audio and braille information about accessible services and timetables. Such problems combine to dissuade people with disabilities from attempting greater use of public transport.

13.4 Many journeys on public transport require the use of different services which means that any break in the chain makes the whole journey impossible for people with disabilities. In order to address this and other problems, a coordinated approach is required to all forms of transport and the information services that accompany them.

13.5 The Commission therefore recommends that all new and used rail rolling stock and road vehicles ordered for public transport (including those ordered by private operators) from January 1st, 1997 must be accessible to all users. The Government should take measures to ensure that no licences will be issued for the transportation of people unless these vehicles meet the accessibility criteria. In addition, at least 80% of all transport and transport services purchased by Health Boards from 1st January 1997 for transporting clients must be wheelchair accessible.

13.6 On the information front, the Department of Transport Energy and Communications should provide an information centre about the accessibility of all services. It should be available through a freephone number, on Aertel teletext and in alternative media to print. All terminals and stations should also provide visual, audio and, ideally, braille information on arrivals and departures as well the accessibility of specific services. A clear map of stations or terminals and their facilities should be sited at their entrances and at ticket offices. The buildings, of course, should all be made fully accessible.

13.7 Ease of access also depends on the attitudes of the community as well as those transport staff. The Council for the Status of People with Disability should develop a public awareness programme as well as staff training programmes c customer care. This training must, where possible, be conducted by people with a disability.

13.8 The Commission also recommends that a National Mobility Training and Advice Centre should be established immediately. It should offer advice on mobility aids for all categories of people with a disability as well as training and orientation for people with disabilities themselves. Local training could be sub-contracted out to non governmental organisations but minimum standards must be set by the National Disability Authority. Such training should include the use of public transport and the rules of the road to prepare a person with a disability for using whatever aid they require.

13.9 The Commission welcomes the appointment of a person with a disability to the board of CIE and hopes this will set a precedent for other state and semi-state boards. In relation to transport, consultation with people with disabilities and their representative organisations is essential at all stages in the planning and delivery of services. Community Action Plans should include a local structure for the planning and implementation of accessible transport services. This structure should be· based on the local structures of the Council for the Status of People with a Disability and include representatives of the Council, the National Disability Authority and transport companies.

Authority and transport companies

13.10 The free travel pass scheme, administered by the Department of Social Welfare, is available to some people with a disability. Whilst it covers a spouse it does not automatically cover a companion and can restrict the days and times of travel. Parents of children with disabilities who hold the free travel pass may have to pay. For children living far from the special schools they attend this can often mean travelling 6 to 12 hours per week unsupervised. This is not acceptable.

13.11 Many people with disabilities need a companion to travel with them. The Department of Social Welfare should introduce a standard Disabled Persons Public Transport Travel Pass which should automatically cover a companion and should not restrict days and times a person can travel on public transport.

13.12 The Commission also recommends an immediate increase in the present Mobility Allowance to bring it up to a minimum of £40 per week and that it should be index linked.

Rail Transport

13.13 An accessible rail network depends primarily on the design of the rolling stock (train carriages) and on the surrounding infrastructure. Stations have proved to be as inaccessible as rolling stock, making it frequently impossible for people with disabilities to get to the correct platform or to board or alight from trains.

13.14 larnrod Eireann has stated that any new rolling stock it purchases will be accessible to all. Meanwhile, it provides one wheelchair space in the dining car on mainline trains. That is a less than adequate interim solution: not all services have a dining car and those that do have no provision for a second passenger in a wheelchair. It is also impossible to manoeuvre or park a wheelchair and toilets are totally inaccessible on mainline trains.

The newer rolling stock on the suburban DART and Arrow services is wheelchair friendly but these systems are inaccessible to some other people with disabilities. DART and Arrow feeder buses are inaccessible to wheelchair users, thereby breaking the transport chain for many potential users of suburban rail.

13.15 Stations throughout the rail system are a major problem with overhead bridges, wide gaps between platforms and trains, and, more recently, the addition of security gates at some stations. On the DART system, only 15 of the 35 stations are accessible from both sides of the tracks. Some people with disabilities have keys to locked gates but others have to rely on station workers to allow them in. On the Arrow system, most stations are unmanned and a communication device is out of reach of wheelchair users.

To make the DART system fully accessible would cost an estimated 2 to 3 million pounds but there are no plans to implement that.

13.16 larnrod Eireann has undertaken to make the planned new Light Rail Transport system fully accessible.

13.17 There is also a serious lack of information available on trains and within stations. Without onboard visual aids, people with hearing impairments have no way of knowing what station the train is approaching while people with visual impairments have no way of knowing unless announcements are made.

People with learning disabilities also have great difficulty travelling alone on trains.

13.18 The general recommendations already made about rolling stock and making all stations, terminals and information accessible to people with disabilities will help to alleviate these problems. Accessibility should apply to all facilities in stations and terminals, including buffets, left luggage, Fast Track services, telephones and toilets.

Buses

13.19 Buses are the most widely used form of public transport, so their accessibility is particularly important for people with disabilities. In many rural areas, in particular, they are the only regular form of transport available.

13.20 Irish bus companies say they are in favour of accessibility but claim that accessible buses cost more to buy, incur extra running and maintenance costs, and create longer delays at stops. Finding accessible bus models to suit Irish conditions should prove possible, however, given technological advances and the experiences of other countries such as Finland. In the US making existing buses accessible was found to be not as expensive as transport companies claimed before the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990.

13.21 The Commission recommends that every CIE, Bus Eireann and Dublin Bus depot should have at least one accessible bus by June 1, 1997. The Department of Transport Energy and Communications should subsidise the additional cost of such vehicles: thereafter, the bus companies should bear the cost of replacement vehicles. The Commission also recommends that Ireland should ensure that the forthcoming EU directive on buses and coaches requires them to be accessible to all citizens.

13.22 A pilot accessible bus service (the Omnilink) began in Dublin in May 1995 with five City Imp size buses. Each has a remote controlled ramp, a kneeling facility, two wheelchair bays (also suitable for prams and buggies) and seating for other passengers. It has not been successful, however: the service was not properly advertised and, consequently, was under-utilised. Only one of the buses is in operation and the other four are in storage.

13.23 The Commission recommends that the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications and Dublin Bus provide the necessary funding to ensure a viable Omnilink pilot project by advertising and running it properly. Each should provide £250,000 towards the cost and the results of the pilot should be published.

13.24 Among the other problems people with disabilities have with buses are shelters without seating and, for people with visual impairments, the difficulties of ascertaining whether a bus is coming and whether it is the one they want. The Commission recommends that a limited amount of seating be included in the design of bus shelters. In addition, there should be discussions with the Council for the Status of People with Disability about providing destination and timetable information in braille in shelters. Consideration should also be given to erecting bus shelters in rural areas.

13.25 Many of the buses used as school transports are old and an adaptation programme should be started in 1997 to make them accessible to all students. EU funds should be sought for the programme which should be completed in five years.

13.26 School buses which sometimes carry up to 70 children of disparate ages are not supervised unless this is done voluntarily by parents. An inadequate number of buses for special schools - which usually carry at most 10 to 12 children - have escorts. The procedure for employing escorts is an ad hoc one and, with the dangers of abuse allegations, should be examined closely. Proper and adequate training must be given to escorts.

13.27 Research should be carried out into the possibility of using school buses outside times when they are required for transporting students. They could be used to take people with disability and others to day care centres, day activity centres, shops and so on. This research should examine the improvements in the quality of life that the use of these buses could bring to many individuals. The results should be published.

13.28 "Special" transport is provided by some organisations catering for people with disabilities but is usually limited to their own activities. This transport provides a useful function although it obviously cannot fulfil the role of making people with disabilities full and equal participants in all aspects of life. It must also be recognised that the name of an organisation on the side of a bus or coach along with the word 'ambulance' can and does identify people with a disability as different, underpin the view of disability as a medical condition and carry a stigma.

13.29 Where possible, all transport, which caters for people with disabilities should have an escort on the bus as well as the driver. Both the escorts and drivers should be properly trained and have Garda clearance before they are employed.

13.30 There are a number of other options for providing transport services for people with disabilities which could be examined. These include:

  • Vantastic; set up in Dublin in 1995, this involves two accessible vans and eight trained drivers and can be booked for regular or one-off trips. However, the scheme has been dogged by financial difficulties.
  • Service Routes; bus services open to everyone but specially adapted for people with mobility impairments. Using smaller than average vehicles, the routes usually go into housing estates and up narrow roads. They could be of particular benefit to rural areas where the basic problem with public transport is its unavailability. Service routes could be set up as joint ventures between private operators and voluntary or statutory groups.
  • Post Buses; these collect and deliver mail and carry passengers, using vehicles like estate cars, Land Rovers and mini-buses. They run on a published route and to a timetable and could also provide a valuable service for people in rural areas and people with disabilities if accessible vehicles were used.
  • Social Car Schemes; they provide volunteer drivers (who receive a petrol allowance) for people with disabilities, usually for short trips. One such scheme was successfully run around Letterfrack in North West Connemara;

Cars

13.31 The private car provides optimum mobility for many people with a disability who see it as the key to their quality of life. Where they cannot drive, a car in the household aids their mobility and freedom. In rural areas a car is often the only method of transport which a person with a disability can use.

13.32 Technology has enabled more and more people with disabilities to drive adapted cars. But there is no fully equipped centre in Ireland with information on the latest technology for vehicle adaptation and driver assessment. The Council for the Status of People with a Disability should investigate the feasibility of setting up, in conjunction with the Northern Ireland authorities, a Driver Assessment Centre to make available to people throughout Ireland the latest technology in these areas.

13.33 There are some generous concessions for drivers with disabilities although they do not compensate them in full for the extra costs they incur. The present VAT and VRT rebates on cars for drivers with disabilities should be retained and the maximum rebate increased from the present limit of £7,500 and linked to the Consumer Price Index.

13.34 The medical criteria governing eligibility for drivers' concessions should be examined in consultation with the Council on the Status of People with a Disability and the National Disability Authority. This examination should review the present regulations and bring forward proposals for future regulations. The Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal, currently administered by the National Rehabilitation Board, should be continued.

13.35 The present disabled drivers badge should be replaced by one that is acceptable within the E.U. It should be issued to the driver concerned and should be transferable when they are travelling in a car other than their own.

13.36 The Department of Social Welfare should replace the present motorised transport grants operated by the Health Boards with a new first-time grant for motorists with disabilities. This should be:

  • Payable to first time purchasers who qualify under the criteria governing eligibility for drivers with disabilities;
  • Sufficient to cover 75% of the net cost of a standard new car (after rebates);
  • Restrict any means test to the driver only.

13.37 The vast majority of people with disabilities who do not drive do not receive concessions as passengers although, as already noted, having a car in a household is essential to many people with disabilities. Present VAT and VRT rebates on cars for passengers with disabilities should be retained at the present limit of £12,500 and linked to the Consumer Price Index.

13.38 The Commission welcomes the 1996 Finance Act amendment of the rule "that an adaptation of a car/van for the use of a disabled passenger must amount to 20% of its cost" to 10% of the original cost of the car and recommends that the percentage be reduced to zero over the next three years. Those not eligible under the criteria above should be entitled to a rebate of duty on 200 gallons of petrol/diesel in a calendar year on journeys on which they are a passenger, provided they are registered with the Council for the Status of People with a Disability.

13.39 As with drivers with disabilities, the medical criteria governing eligibility for concessions to passengers should be examined in consultation with the Council for the Status of People with a Disability and the National Disability Authority. A badge for passengers with a disability should be introduced for people who qualify under any of the above schemes and should be transferable to any car in which they are a passenger.

13.40 The problems faced by people with disabilities in getting motor insurance have already been covered in the chapter on insurance (Chapter 8).

13.41 To get maximum benefits from a car both drivers and passengers with disabilities need to park close to their destination. The lack of designated parking spaces, and the abuse of those that do exist, frequently thwart them. At present it is up to each local authority or private developer whether they provide designated parking spaces and there is a wide disparity in practices.

13.42 The Department of the Environment should produce before the end of 1997 a three year plan for the introduction of country-wide regulations on street and local authority parking spaces for people with a disability. They should cover the dimensions, number and sitting of spaces and should exempt holders of the new badges for drivers and passengers with disabilities from payment of parking fees. Local authorities should provide a ratio of 1:25 of on street parking spaces for drivers/passengers with disabilities by the end of 1998. Penalties for improper use of these parking spaces should be severe and strictly enforced. All regulations introduced by the Department of the Environment should be compulsory on all local authorities.

13.43 Private car parks (as in multi storey car parks and shopping centres) also provide a limited number of car parking spaces for drivers with disabilities. However, these are most often abused by members of the general public who are not aware of the necessity of having these spaces.

13.44 The Commission recommends that planning laws should specify that a minimum of 1:50 parking spaces be set aside for drivers/passengers with disabilities in private developments. Management of these developments should ensure the correct use of these parking spaces.

Taxis and Hackneys

13.45 In some ways taxis and hackneys are the ideal form of transport; they operate door-to-door, can be summoned by telephone or fax, and can be used by most members of society. However, they have two major disadvantages; cost and the lack of wheelchair accessibility.

13.46 The majority of wheelchair users welcomed the arrival of 90 wheelchair accessible taxis in Dublin and the decision of Dublin Corporation that new licenses require wheelchair accessibility. This development has not been reflected in other cities and towns nor in rural areas with hackney services.

13.47 The Commission recommends that all local authorities should take cognisance of the needs of people with disabilities when issuing new licences and that taxi drivers should not be licensed without taking a training programme in the care of passengers with disabilities.

Air

13.48 By and large airports cater reasonably well for passengers with disabilities. Aer Rianta has been to the fore in projecting a positive attitude to accessibility and runs disability awareness training programmes. Parking and set-down spaces at Irish airports are readily available for people with disabilities. Within the airports, stand-by wheelchairs and buggies allow people with mobility impairments to cover long distances. Visual and audio information is available.

13.49 The introduction of airbridges and lifts have made boarding aircraft easier for everyone. However, airbridges are only available at Shannon and Dublin Airports. A lifting device on the catering truck is used in Cork Airport and there are plans to introduce a similar device at Dublin Airport at gates which do not have airbridges.

13.50 Aircraft, however, remain problematic. Carriers argue that in order to remain competitive they must seek maximum passenger loads and this leads to narrow aisles and miniature toilets. The Commission recommends that all aircraft have an onboard chair available to allow people with disabilities to access the facilities. All safety announcements on board planes are made by voice and some thought must be given by airlines to including people with a hearing impairment in these procedures.

13.51 Many people with disabilities have had major problems with one Irish carrier which restrICTS the number of passengers with disabilities on each flight. This causes problems for people leaving from rural airports where the number of flights per day is limited.

13.52 Some carriers also require that passengers with disabilities and their doctors fill in a medical form. Some of the questions to be answered on this form - which is also used for people suffering serious illnesses - are insulting to people with disabilities. We welcome the discussions that have taken place between Aer Lingus and the Commission in an effort to resolve this problem and hope that these discussions will continue with the Council for the Status of People with Disabilities.

13.53 The Commission recommends that the completion of a medical form should not be requested of people with disabilities by airlines unless a person is undergoing medical treatment. It also suggests that Irish airlines propose to lATA that separate forms be used for people with disabilities and for people suffering illnesses to ensure that only the information required for ensuring a smooth passage for people with disabilities is requested.

Sea Travel

13.54 Because of our island situation, ferry accessibility is very important, both for Irish people with disabilities travelling abroad and for the growing number of tourists with disabilities from Britain and the Continent. The ferry terminal at Rosslare is fully accessible and similar standards should apply to all other ferry terminals.

13.55 Most of the existing large ferries between Ireland and Britain and the Continent are only accessible with difficulty for people with mobility impairments. There is usually a small lift from the car deck and a cabin suitable for a wheelchair user. However, the ferries may not be accessible to people with sensory disabilities as there seems to be a lack of braille and all announcements are made by voice.

13.56 Internal ferries such as Tarbert-Killimer and others are inaccessible to wheelchair users and others unless they stay in cars.

13.57 The Commission recommends that only ferries which are accessible to all should be licensed to carry passengers.