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€25k left unallocated for wheelchair-accessible taxis

Irish Wheelchair Association believes that, even with grant aid, VAT and VRT on accessible taxis and cabs are “prohibitively” high.

Image: Steve Johnson via Flickr/Creative Commons

OVER €25,000 in grant money to help put more wheelchair-accessible public service vehicles on the road has gone unallocated, despite such vehicles currently making up just over 5 per cent of all service vehicles.

One quarter of a million euro was made available under the Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) Grant Scheme, the latest round of which ran from February to May of this year. The scheme provides both new and existing taxi and hackney drivers with payments of up to €15,000 each for the purchase or conversion of a WAV.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act thanks to TheStory.ie show that only 15 of the 58 applicants met the conditions as laid down by the National Transport Authority (NTA), with all but one receiving the maximum grant of €15,000. Only one of the successful applications came from a taxi company.

“One such example (of those who failed to receive a grant) would be applicants that were unable, for whatever reason, to secure the necessary finance to purchase the vehicle,” said a spokesperson for the NTA.

When asked where the €25,812.50 which remained unallocated would be spent, the spokesperson said that it would be “reassigned under the Accessibility fund which is being managed by the Authority on behalf of the Department of Transport Tourism and Sport.”

Of the 15 grants, nearly half went to taxi drivers in Dublin and Cork. These two counties already boast the most WAVs in the 26 counties, according to figures on the NTA website for May 2012. Four additional grants were made to taxi drivers in Galway, which has the fifth most WAVs in the country.

While Cavan, Roscommon, Longford, Monaghan and Tipperary have the lowest number of WAVs, there were no successful applications received from any of these counties. Now in its second year, the only of these counties to have received a grant previously was Tipperary, which increased its total from three to four vehicles.

Tony Maher, the National Transport Manager for the Irish Wheelchair Association, told TheJournal.ie:

We’re not surprised to see a low uptake for this scheme.

While not believing the applicants to be at fault, Mr Maher believes that the high costs of VAT and VRT on vehicles of this type are prohibitive, adding that they are calculated not only on the cost of the vehicles, but also on the cost of the resultant conversion.

Figures on the NTA’s website which break down public service vehicles by category and county for both January and May of this year show that Dublin, which received five grants under the latest scheme, had already increased its number of wheelchair accessible taxis by 12 during this period. Galway, which received four grants, had seen an increase of five.

Donegal on the other hand, which received no grant this year, had one less WAV in May than it had in January, dropping from 22 to 21.

When asked whether the current grant system works to ensure that the counties most in need of more WAVs are catered to, the NTA spokesperson said that applicants were free to apply from any of the 26 counties. They said:

Every applicant had an equal opportunity to avail of the grant provided they met the terms and conditions of the grant.

Mr Maher described the situation as “very grim indeed” and said that he sees little incentive for drivers to purchase a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.

“If you’re a business person, why would you bother when you can buy a saloon for around €10,000,” he said, before adding that the current scheme is failing to make “one jot of difference” nationally.

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Paul Hyland

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