How easy is public transport access for disabled users?

"There is no big difference between me and non-disabled passengers now"

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Getting around on public transport is something many of us take for granted, but how easy is it if you are disabled?

Philip McGrath lives in east Belfast and has been a wheelchair user for many years.

He often uses buses to travel around the city.

When the Metro service arrives, the floor level of the bus lowers by a few inches. The driver unfolds a ramp and helps Mr McGrath on board.

Philip McGrath getting off a bus using a ramp The driver lowers the vehicle and takes out a ramp to help Mr McGrath on and off the bus

Sometimes, Mr McGrath finds that he is competing for space on the bus with prams and buggies.

Start Quote

There is no big difference between me and other non-disabled passengers now”

End Quote Philip McGrath

Today though, in mid-afternoon, he does not have that problem.

The improving technology has made a big difference to him, as has extra training for drivers.

"You can now be confident that the ramps are going to be working, and that the drivers have been trained as to how to assist people with disabilities," he said.

"So you feel much more confident about using the service, which of course is much cheaper than using taxis."

It is six years since he gave up driving and began to use public transport more frequently.

'More space'

In that time, he has seen great changes.

"There is no big difference between me and other non-disabled passengers now," he said.

He said it was important that ramps were maintained.

"I have noticed that some of the newer buses have more space on them, and that's something I hope will be borne in mind when new fleets are being considered," he said.

Orla McCann of Disability Action said Orla McCann of Disability Action said people in rural areas had difficulty accessing bus services

Mr McGrath volunteers for the charity Disability Action, which says that the passenger experience for people with disabilities has significantly improved in recent years.

"Particularly if you're living in a city or large town, people with disabilities can have a reasonable expectation of a good, accessible service," said the charity's Orla McCann.

"That's not to say things are perfect - for example, rural roads aren't particularly suited to low-floor buses.

"And the difficulty in rural areas is that people have difficulty getting to the bus stops, so they rely more on the community transport services."

'Reliant'

The availability of audio-visual information on buses is one of the most important improvements the charity would like to see.

"Given that blind people are almost entirely reliant on public transport, that remains to be a problem," she said.

Translink has run a trial of an audio-visual scheme on one of its Metro routes in Belfast.

The firm's access manager Terry Butler said: "The trial was very positively received, and we're trying to identify methods of funding to roll it out across the bus fleet.

"We don't have the money to do that in our current budget, so we're looking for government funding."

He said the scheme had political support.

But with finances tight at Stormont, it is not clear if the funding will be provided.

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