AN Ennis councillor is planning to contact the United Nations Human Rights Council for what he says is an “attack on the rights of those with disabilities” by Bus Éireann.
Ennis Town Councillor Paul O’Shea has criticised the national carrier’s wheelchair accessibility on intercity routes. According to Councillor O’Shea, while the State-funded company has invested in its fleet, that investment has benefited city buses and has not resulted in improvements to accessibility from Ennis to other parts of the country.
However, a spokesperson for Bus Éireann has responded to the claims, saying they are “continually investing in improving access to our existing facilities”.
Councillor O’Shea stated, “We recently witnessed Social Inclusion Week and saw our Paralympic athletes being congratulated by our President and Taoiseach on the great achievement of winning 18 medals, eight of them gold, at the Paralympics in London. Bus Éireann has spent over €30 million on a new bus fleet this year, comprising of 88 new buses. All of these state-of-the-art buses with wifi are wheelchair accessible yet no one on a wheelchair who wishes to travel to another county in this country can access them.
“How serious is this Government about social inclusion when our national bus transport carrier is unable to facilitate passengers in wheelchairs on intercity routes. It beggars belief that all new buses purchased since 2008 are wheelchair accessible, yet a person on a wheelchair cannot get on a bus to Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford or any town from anywhere in Ireland.”
The councillor added, “To add to the insult and indignity for those wishing to travel by bus, Bus Éireann staff are not trained to assist those with wheelchairs on and off buses. Someone must be made accountable for this attack on the rights of those with disabilities. As a public representative, I intend to bring this to the attention of the yet to be appointed Irish representative on the United Nations Human Rights Council.
“This omni-shambles is the responsibility of the Minister for Transport and CEO of Bus Éireann. The bottom line is that we have invested tens of millions in our bus fleet and only those buses in our cities are wheelchair accessible, yet no one will take responsibility to correct this social injustice imposed upon the most vulnerable in society.”
A spokesperson for Bus Éireann stated that all new coaches purchased since 2008 are wheelchair accessible. “Bus Éireann city fleet is 100% accessible. With the introduction of 88 new vehicles in early 2012, total service fleet accessibility is 67%. A number of our inter-city services are wheelchair accessible end-to-end and more are due to be introduced in 2013. Staff are not trained to carry passengers on and off buses, we would assist those passengers who are able to access the coach themselves by storing their wheelchair in the luggage compartment.”
The spokesperson added that they recommend 24 hours booking in advance of journeys being made so that seats can be removed from the vehicle.
“Bus Éireann apologises for any inconvenience this may cause to customers but advance booking is required,” the spokesperson continued, adding that 24-hour notice for a wheelchair booking is fairly standard across Europe.
“All new station facilities are specified to be accessible and we are continually investing in improving access to our existing facilities. Dundalk, Drogheda, Killarney, Waterford, Athlone, Sligo, Cavan, Monaghan, Ballina, Letterkenny, Parnell Place Cork, Ennis, Tralee and Busáras bus stations are fully accessible. These bus stations also have accessible toilets available, together with Rosslare Harbour, Limerick, Kilkenny and Galway.
“Currently, the Sectoral Plan under the Disability Act 2005 envisages that the entire scheduled service coach fleet in Ireland will have been replaced by wheelchair accessible coaches by 2015. Bus Éireann is committed to playing its part in meeting this goal but achieving it is subject to funding for new vehicles being available. Bus Éireann is 100% accessible in cities but not all bus stops are wheelchair friendly outside of cities. They are the responsibility of the local authority.”