The elderly, wheelchair users and blind people have all raised concerns about the Bus Connects plan, particularly the creation of many ‘island’ bus stops.
An island bus stop is where a person has to cross a cycle lane or a traffic lane to get to or from a bus stop, instead of getting on and off a bus at the kerb with instant access to the safety of the footpath.
“A great concern to callers to our helpline is that all buses should continue to disembark directly at the kerb, and thus remove any concerns for older people to have to step down onto the road or in a cycle lane,” said a spokesperson for Age Action Ireland (AAI).
“Being able to access suitable public transport is synonymous with independence. For many older people it is an absolute necessity to reach appointments, particularly medical, and may mean the difference between living in the community or being forced into residential care.”
Changes to hospital routes is something AAI is keen to avoid.
“There are concerns about proposed changes to current direct and often high frequency routes to hospitals.
“Many callers to our service have cited worries over proposed changes in the draft plan, where their direct routes to Beaumont Hospital and St James’s Hospital will be changed. The retention of direct routes serving the main hospitals is needed.”
The roll-out of the project itself is another concern, with older people worried if they will have time to get used to a few of the new routes before they are all changed.
“It is not yet clear how any changes to an orbital system will impact upon commuters, particularly older people and those with limited mobility. Age Action therefore suggests that any new system is introduced on a phased basis,” said the spokesperson.
“Any proposed changes that do not reflect the particular needs of older people will simply see them unable to travel or use the service. This will result in older people who are unable to drive to miss medical appointments, face increased social isolation and to have to rely on friends or family for transport.”
The fact that passengers on some routes will have to transfer onto another bus when travelling into the city centre is also a cause of concern for the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA).
“The fact that there is only one wheelchair spot per bus will cause significant issues. If all passengers, including multiple wheelchair users, are required to transfer to that single bus, many wheelchair users will be stranded,” the IWA points out.
“Additionally, this bottlenecking of bus routes will increase the amount of people with buggies on a single bus, and often the single wheelchair spot is occupied by a buggy. The introduction of Bus Connects will only make this problem considerably worse,” its spokesperson said.
IWA member John Graham said there were already accessibility issues with Dublin buses, and Bus Connects could make them even worse.
“If you are getting a bus from Marino, for example, on a route that you will need to switch, wheelchair users are going to be stuck waiting in all kinds of weather,” he said.
“And if there is a buggy on the bus, you are completely snookered. Even if the driver asks the parents to fold the buggy, the parent often refuses, and there is nothing the bus driver can do,” he added.
He said the narrower footpaths caused by road widening may cause further problems for wheelchair users.
“If you are trying to get off the bus, a narrow path can make it really difficult. I won’t be able to turn my chair, my chair might get damaged, or I might not be able to get off the bus, full stop,” he said.
The island bus stops have also come in for criticism from some wheelchair users.
Joan Carthy, the IWA’s advocacy officer, said bus stops themselves posed a significant issue.
“Currently, Bus Connects stops are being designed like an island, with a cycle lane circling around the stop.
“Wheelchair users and visually impaired people will have to pass through the cycle lanes, making it dangerous for them. As it currently stands, we don’t see how Bus Connects could present itself as an opportunity to make transport in Dublin more accessible, due to the issues we have already mentioned,” she said.
The National Council for the Blind Ireland (NCBI) said while it appreciated the need for the Bus Connects project, it ias also worried about the island bus stops.
“The creation of so-called ‘island bus stops’ is gravely concerning to the NCBI. This is borne out of the fact that it would result in pedestrians, including those who are blind and vision-impaired, having to walk across a cycle track to board or alight a bus,” the NCBI said in its submission.
“This poses serious safety concerns, as the majority of people who are blind and vision-impaired will be unable to see or detect an oncoming bike.”