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Dublin: 12 °C Wednesday 23 October, 2019
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'We aren't considered important': Wheelchair users dismayed over continued lift breakdowns on train line

‘If people were treated the same way because of their skin colour or religion, the country would shut down.’

Bernard Mulvany, his daughter Sophia and son Liam handing out information leaflets at Clontarf Road station yesterday.
Bernard Mulvany, his daughter Sophia and son Liam handing out information leaflets at Clontarf Road station yesterday.
Image: Access for All Ireland

DISABILITY ACTIVISTS HAVE said it is unacceptable that wheelchair users are often left unable to access trains due to lifts being out-of-order.

Campaigners have said if other groups were treated in the same way, there would be uproar. 

Regular Dart users may have received an ‘Access for All’ information leaflet in recent weeks.

Bernard Mulvany set up the campaign in response to continued lift breakdowns on the train line. He wants to raise awareness of accessibility issues and gather public support, asking people to raise the issue with politicians and Transport Minister Shane Ross. 

His nine-year-old daughter Sophia, who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, has encountered a number of problems when trying to access trains. 

Mulvany said that in some cases, the Irish Rail website and app incorrectly state that lifts at certain stations are working, only for them to be out-of-order when a person arrives at the station.

He said that on Friday last no lifts at Dart stations were listed as being out-of-order on the app. He said this was unusual as a number of lifts are often not working on any given day.

Mulvany called the Irish Rail helpline to confirm whether or not any lifts were broken. He said the staff member he spoke to told him all lifts seemed to be working, based on the information she had to hand.

He said this would be “brilliant” if true but that he was sceptical.

“I told her, not that I disbelieve you but I’m going to jump in the car and check. I knew of at least one station (Seapoint) where the lift was meant to be out of action for weeks.”

Mulvany, who ran as a People Before Profit candidate in Clontarf in the local elections, said he visited or phoned a number of Dart stations and was told there were issues with at least six lifts.

“It’s fairly prevalent that lifts are not working,” he said, adding that he was aware of accessibility issues at eight stations yesterday.

He said it’s vital that the information given to passengers by Irish Rail (Iarnród Éireann) is accurate. He is aware of some people ending up stranded at train stations or having to completely change their route because a lift is unexpectedly not working.

People who need assistance accessing a train are required to give Irish Rail four hours’ notice. Mulvany believes this to be unfair but said even when people do so, some still run into difficulties. He said if other groups had to give notice of when they wanted to access public transport, there would be uproar.  

People with disabilities aren’t really considered all that important at times … If you said that a person had to give 24 hours’ notice to access public transport because of the colour of their skin or their religion, the country would shut down.

“For some reason, if a person is in a wheelchair or has a disability, it seems to be okay – we can impose this on a person with a disability.

“It’s not okay anymore, we’re supposed to be a progressive, equal society.”

Mulvany said his family has run into many issues accessing trains in recent weeks, telling us: “This has annoyed me so much, it’s been a lovely summer but we just can’t jump on the Dart and go somewhere.”

‘I feel caged’ 

Advocate Sean O’Kelly is also involved in the Access for All initiative. He is a wheelchair user and founded the A Day in My Wheels campaign.

He said he has stopped using public transport where possible due to a number of bad experiences, including being left stranded on a platform at Clontarf station three years ago because a lift was not working once he got off the train.

“I refuse to use public transport, and I shouldn’t feel like that. I really, really should not feel like that. Feeling caged, feeling uncertain about public transport,” O’Kelly said.

access Bernard Mulvany, Sean O'Kelly and Liam Mulvany. Source: Access for All Ireland

He added that it’s not the fault of Irish Rail workers, saying more needs to be done at policy level to ensure people with disabilities get the same access to transport as everyone else. 

“I do hold out hope. But in order for that hope to be maintained policy needs to change. I’m not giving a dig at the men on the ground … it’s policymakers that need to have their act together.”

O’Kelly said that when lifts are out-of-order, it doesn’t just affect people with disabilities, but also parents with buggies and the elderly, for example.  

People vandalising lifts 

When asked about the situation, a spokesperson for Iarnród Éireann said the company is “undertaking a programme of preventative maintenance at the moment to address some lifts where we have experienced issues with recurring faults and misuse”.

“We apologise for the issues experienced, particularly in locations where there have been recurring issues, and recognise the impact this has on accessibility of our stations.”

The spokesperson said lift issues “predominantly arise from misuse, which in turn has impacted on ongoing reliability”.

We are also rolling out a lift call system which will ensure lifts are monitored to prevent access to those who seek to vandalise or damage equipment.

“Both the current works and lift call will improve reliability of lifts (as they have, for example, at Howth Junction).

“However we do require, and there will be, a more significant programme of investment in lift replacement over the coming years, which will see new and more durable units installed.”

O’Kelly said if a person thinks vandalising a lift is a joke with no consequences, they should “think again, put yourself in our shoes”. 

The Irish Rail spokesperson said a lift at Seapoint Dart station that has been out-of-order in recent weeks as a result of major works is due to be back in action on Friday. A lift which had been out-of-order at Blackrock station is due to be working from today.

They said there is an escalator issue at Tara Street station due to recent flooding, but the lifts are operational. Portmarnock station lifts are not in use, but the spokesperson said there is full access to both platforms as there are ramps in place. 

“It can be that there are very brief faults resolved quickly and we appreciate that where a customer is affected by this it is extremely disruptive,” the spokesperson said.

Mulvany said ramps are not a valid alternative to lifts in many cases, stating: “That’s a bit of a cod. They’ve installed ramps, but most stations still need a working lift, elderly people may also need it. And some people don’t feel safe in wheelchairs on long ramps.”

The Irish Rail spokesperson said the company’s app, website and station information screens are updated regularly “to ensure customers can plan when issues arise”.

11687 Shane Ross_90571029 Transport Minister Shane Ross Source: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

They said that in most instances, broken lifts are fixed on the same day or within 24 hours. “However, where specific part replacement or major works / repairs are required, it can take longer,” they added. 

The spokesperson said accessibility “will be enhanced further with the development of a new accessibility app”, which is currently in the pilot phase.

Mulvany and O’Kelly have called on Transport Minister Shane Ross to intervene. A spokesperson for the Department of Transport said neither Ross nor the department are involved in the day-to-day operations of public transport.

“These are a matter for individual transport companies, Irish Rail in this case, in conjunction with the National Transport Authority (NTA),” the spokesperson said. 

They added that the department funds a programme of accessibility improvement grants to upgrade existing and older infrastructure and facilities, including upgrading train stations to make them accessible to wheelchair users.

The retrofit programme is managed by the NTA. 

When addressing the Oireachtas transport committee in June about its report ‘Accessibility of Public Transport for People with Disabilities’, which was launched last November, Ross said he was committed to improving accessibility across public transport.

“Since becoming minister I have sought to take actions that will have a meaningful effect on the lives of people with disabilities, including increasing funding for accessibility programmes, giving a voice at the highest level of decision-making to those with lived experience of disability and ensuring that my department has an active Accessibility Consultative Committee to ensure that accessibility actions are monitored and advanced.

“There are some very positive things happening, but I am fully aware that more needs to be done,” Ross said, adding that his department will be “working very closely” with the National Transport Authority “to progress the accessibility agenda”.

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Órla Ryan

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