It would cost €190m to make every taxi in the country wheelchair accessible, committee hears

It would cost €190m to make every taxi in the country wheelchair accessible, committee hears

Considerable resources would be needed to achieve the desired changes to existing services, including a project €190m cost to make all taxis fully accessible, the committee heard.

Covid-19 and cost limitations have undermined efforts to improve accessibility on public transport for people with disabilities, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Consultation with disability groups on transport issues was not all it could have been before the pandemic, the National Transport Authority (NTA) also said.

Representatives of the NTA and Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) appeared before the Oireachtas committee on disability matters and said that considerable resources would be needed to achieve the desired changes to existing services, including a project €190m cost to make all taxis fully accessible.

Members of the committee raised a host of issues with the state bodies, such as a shortage of wheelchair spaces on vehicles, the expectation that people with a disability would book many hours or even days in advance, and lifts not working at stations.

Hugh Creegan, deputy chief executive of the NTA, said if people saw something wrong and reported it, the NTA would take some form of action in conjunction with the relevant local authority.

CEO Anne Graham said she did not believe there was discrimination against wheelchair users, but that proposals regarding the commercial coach fleet about making them more wheelchair-orientated had been delayed by the pandemic. 

She also said there would be considerable financial outlay and that the sector was currently heavily impacted by the effects of the pandemic. She said low-floor vehicles would help improve the service.

Ms Graham also said that proposals under Connecting Ireland for greater rural connectivity would be put forward later this year, along with a public consultation, and that this would also require funding. 

All of the coaches on the Bus Éireann  Public Service Obligation (PSO) routes are now wheelchair accessible.

Mr Creegan said it would cost €190m to make all 15,000 to 16,000 taxis fully wheelchair accessible and he said cost was a factor — though not the only one — in terms of providing shelters at all 12,000 bus stops around the country.

Responding to questions by Social Democrat Cork West TD Holly Cairns, he said efforts were under way with local authorities to priorities the top 20 or top 30 bus stops in each county that need a shelter and that the main issue was the capacity of local authorities to do related road modifications.

Peter Walsh, Chief Executive of TII, said that user group input had been heard at a number of recent meetings regarding the Metrolink project. 

He also said that since February 2020, when TII launched its Disability Toll Exemption Scheme, around 8,000 vehicles have registered. 

The new scheme replaced the cards that were previously issued by individual toll plazas and also allows qualified able-bodied drivers of disabled passengers to avail of an exemption.

He said recommendations from an accessibility review carried out in 2019 of all TII-controlled, as-constructed, motorway service areas to establish compatibility with guidance with policies such as Building for Everyone and Changing Places Ireland was currently being rolled out.

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