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Fines could be introduced to deal with Dublin Bus passengers who refuse to fold up buggies for wheelchair users

The Oireachtas Committee was told recently that everyday people are refusing to fold up their prams to allow wheelchair users on board.

Image: Mark Stedman

TRANSPORT MINISTER SHANE Ross will look at introducing fines for bus passengers if they refuse to fold up buggies to make space for wheelchair users.

Last week, the Oireachtas Transport Committee was told that every day, people are refusing to fold up their prams on Dublin Bus to allow wheelchair users on board.

Dublin Bus worker and vice-president of SIPTU’s Transport Sector, Stephen Hannan called for new regulations or possibly legislation to force commuters to fold down buggies to make room for wheelchair users.

“What is the use in having wheelchair accessible buses if the wheelchair [users], disabled people, can’t use them?” Hannan told the committee, adding:

I am going through this every day of the week – people are not listening to me. A person there in a wheelchair tries to get on and there are two people with prams that refuse to fold up the prams because they don’t have to. The people can’t access these buses.
That is how simple that is. They should be made fold the prams – whether it takes legislation or not to do this, something needs to be done to protect the disabled people.

The case of one wheelchair user being turned away because priority space on the bus was taken by a woman with a buggy was previously highlighted by TheJournal.ie.

Fines if necessary 

In an interview with TheJournal.ie, Shane Ross said while he “doesn’t want to introduce a ‘them and us culture’”, if necessary, fines could be introduced.

“We have increased fines for those using disabled spaces. I don’t want to introduce a confrontational culture, but if fines work, let’s do it – sure,” he said.

His comments come as he announced the appointment of five board members with personal experience of disabilities to transport authority boards, such as Irish Rail, Dublin Bus, and the National Transport Authority.

Newly appointed board member to Irish Rail, writer and advocate for those with disabilities, Suzy Byrne, said this has been an issue for wheelchair users both in Ireland and abroad for many years, stating:

We have to look at supporting drivers because drivers very much feel either they can’t ask or when they do ask they can’t actually make anybody do anything. We need to look at bus design to ensure that both parents and those with disabilities can use the bus.
We also need to ensure that buses don’t leave the garage if the ramp doesn’t work. Friends of mine have been left at bus stops soaked to the skin because when the bus arrives they can’t get on.

Drivers cannot compel passengers to fold up buggies

A statement from Dublin Bus confirmed that under its current policy all buses have a designated space that can be used by wheelchair users.

“All new bus types since 2010 and future purchases will have both wheelchair space and a buggy space. This space can also be used by customers with buggies, but wheelchair users have priority over everyone else for the use of the wheelchair space as this is the only place in which they can travel safely.

“If a wheelchair user wishes to board a bus and there is an unfolded buggy in this space, the driver will request the buggy owner to fold their buggy but cannot compel them to fold them.”

Dublin Bus said it was part of an Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) and Transport for Ireland (TFI) awareness campaign last year which aimed to highlight to all customers that wheelchair users have priority over others in the use of designated space on all buses and how important it is to vacate this space for wheelchair users.

However, Elaine Howley, who is a member of the Disability Federation of Ireland and who has just been appointed to the board of Dublin Bus, said there needs to be more public awareness campaigns rolled out to hammer home to passengers just how their behaviour impacts on wheelchair users.

“No one sets out to make a bus inaccessible to someone, or to get in someone’s way,” she said.

Lack of public awareness 

Ross said there can also be a “lack of awareness” from the transport companies when it comes to issues facing passengers with disabilities, something he hopes the new board members can raise with management.

“It is not just the case of drawing a line and saying, ‘there’s space there now’ [for wheelchair users on the bus]. People don’t behave like that,” said Ross, adding that awareness campaigns should also be rolled out.

“I would prefer not to be introducing legislation every day, I would prefer if people behaved in a civilised way to each other, but if they don’t we’ll do what’s necessary,” he said.

When asked about possible legislation, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said this week that he did not think new laws are the answer.

“I’m not sure making it a crime is the solution,” he told TheJournal.ie, adding:

We want to make sure that as many of buses as possible are wheelchair accessible. We want out buses and trains to be wheelchair accessible and also the stops and stations have to be as well because obviously they have to be to get onto the train or bus in the first place.

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