'I had to crawl on hands and knees for bus', TDs told by wheelchair user
Transport Minister Shane Ross has come under fire over public transport access for wheelchair users, as one young woman told of how she once "had to crawl on my hands and knees on to a bus".
Film-maker Alannah Murray (21) delivered powerful testimony to the Oireachtas Transport Committee and challenged Mr Ross to explain why he did not attend an event promoting better Dart access for people with disabilities.
Ms Murray told TDs and Senators that she has been failed by bus services on around 20 occasions in the past year, despite pre-booking her journeys to ensure there would be a wheelchair-accessible vehicle available to her.
Committee chairman, Fine Gael TD Fergus O'Dowd, said such failures were "appalling".
Ms Murray said there should not be a requirement to pre-book journeys, in what she described as a "deeply flawed system".
Padraic Moran (34) - who has cerebral palsy - agreed, telling the committee of instances where he was left stuck on trains because there were no staff in stations to assist him in leaving the carriage.
He said that if people without disabilities had to book their transport 24 hours in advance "they wouldn't stand for it".
Ms Murray, from Virginia, Co Cavan, said that bus staff are helpful but there is one incident that "will never leave me".
"It was having to crawl on my hands and knees on to a coach because I didn't know at the time that you had to pre-book," she said.
"I just assumed that I was an equal citizen... I have learned that is a mistake."
She said being told at a bus stop by a driver that they are not able to accommodate a wheelchair user leaves people "feeling like nothing".
Fianna Fail TD Robert Troy asked Ms Murray what questions should be put to Mr Ross when he appeared at the committee.
She said he should be asked why he did not attend a Dart accessibility initiative he was scheduled to be at last month.
"What was more important than doing his job and his duty towards people with disabilities?," she added.
Mr Troy later asked Mr Ross why he did not attend the event to promote a pilot programme that reduced the notice period for people requiring assistance on the Dart from 24 hours to four hours.
"My diary was just too full," Mr Ross said, adding: "I was very sorry to miss it."
He said he would have had to cancel two other appointments to attend, but he was "very sorry" if people took offence.
Mr Ross said he was always willing to meet anyone on the issue of accessibility.
He also agreed to a suggestion by Fine Gael Senator John O'Mahony that he should travel with a disabled public transport user - unannounced to staff - to see what they experience.
Mr Ross said the issue was a priority for him but conceded that progress has been "unacceptably slow". He said there has been additional funding but that it was not enough.
The minister announced that all public transport companies are to include a person with personal knowledge and experience of the needs and difficulties of people with disabilities on their boards of directors.