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Equality Tribunal finds Bus Éireann discriminated against disabled passenger

The bus company has said it has taken the findings of the tribunal on-board and is already working to address the issues raised.

Karol Doherty competing in a rowing event.
Karol Doherty competing in a rowing event.
Image: Rowing Ireland

A SIGNIFICANT PERCENTAGE of Bus Éireann’s fleet is still not fully accessible to all passengers despite the Equality Tribunal’s ruling earlier this year that the company discriminated against a disabled man.

Karol Doherty, a Paralympic athlete from Donegal, filed a complaint against the bus company for failing to provide accessible transport on the Derry to Dublin route between April 2010 and April 2011.

The tribunal found in his favour, awarding him €1,000 for the distress caused by the company treating him “less favourably” and failing to provide “reasonable accommodation in relation to its bus service”.

Doherty told the tribunal that he had difficulties getting on and off the bus because the driver could not use the vehicle’s wheelchair lift. He said he had to drag himself onto the steps of the bus “on his bum” in a way that was “unhygienic, degrading, humiliating and very embarrassing.”

Although Bus Eireann had claimed it had fulfilled the requirements set out in the Equal Status Acts, the company said it did not dispute any of the facts as stated by the complainant.

“Continual discrimination”

In a statement to TheJournal.ie today, the company said it is committed to providing a fully accessible public transport system and will take the findings of the Equality Tribunal on board.

Doherty advised the tribunal that another company had been able to provide adequate facilities at short notice on the same route. The two companies share the service so depending on the time of day, it could be a Bus Éireann bus or a Translink bus that shows up.

Translink uses double-deck coaches with low-floor vehicles which Bus Éireann has now purchased for use in 2012.

Doherty, who competes in rowing and handcycling, said it is continual discrimination every time he wishes to use the service, which is particularly important to him as there are no rail or air connections to his home in Donegal.

The tribunal found that Bus Éireann failed to consult with Doherty about his requirements and that it was “unduly difficult” for him to avail of the service.

A revamped fleet by 2015

About 50 per cent of Bus Éireann coaches are fitted with wheelchair lifts but not every driver was trained in their use at the time of the hearing in June. The company also noted that the lifts could not be used safely at some stops along the route in question.

The cost of the renovations required to ensure the lifts can be used at all locations are “high”, the tribunal conceded.

However, the company hopes to have a fully accessible fleet by 2015, it said in a statement to TheJournal.ie today.

All of Bus Éireann’s city routes are 100 per cent are accessible and the Dublin to Derry route will soon be accessible end-to-end.

A spokesperson for the firm added that a further 88 new vehicles will be brought into service early next year.

However, there may still be stops along certain routes that will not be accessible but the responsibility to revamp these lies with local authorities – and not Bus Éireann.

Accessible stops are necessary to enable Bus Éireann customers who are mobility impaired to get on and off our vehicles safely, particularly those customers who need to use the wheelchair lift to access coaches.”

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