Difficulties boarding the Luas due to Covid-19 restrictions


Covid-19 has shown us that while public transport is operating at 100% capacity since September 1st, the situation is however very fluid with the possibility of capacity reductions and further lockdowns should there be a spike in Covid-19 cases. While no one could have foreseen the Covid-19 pandemic, we do however need to future-proof things.

Difficulties boarding the Luas

Locating the door and indeed the door open button on a Luas tram by passengers who are blind or partially sighted is like a needle in a haystack. Having to trail the tram to find an open door is not a pleasant experience on your knuckles and you certainly won’t have clean hands after it. You also risk catching your fingers when another passenger opens the door from the inside.

Picture showing a blind passenger trailing Luas stopped at a station in order to find open or closed door
Picture of blind passenger trailing Luas to find open or closed door

In contrast, locating the internal door open button is straight forward as it’s in a frame.

Photo of Luas internal door open button located within the interior door frame
Photo of Luas internal door open button in door frame

In 2012, Roger Flood from Dublin Bus Travel Assist gave me an excellent tip which was to go to the front of the Luas platform before it slopes and to stop there where the Luas Driver would open the front door for me, making it just as easy as boarding a bus. This had been a game-changer for hundreds of blind and partially sighted passengers who Roger had trained over the years.

In March 2020, to minimise the spread of Covid-19 by people touching door open buttons and to ensure proper ventilation, Luas Drivers were opening all doors.  In 2021, Drivers were no longer opening the single half-leaf door at the front of the tram and were telling me to walk down to the next door. You therefore have to trail the Luas as you will see in the following bodycam video.

The video below is a recording of the difficulties faced by blind passengers boarding the Luas

Blind person boarding the Luas tram

When VVI queried this at a Luas User Group meeting earlier this year as it was unlikely to have been a door fault on every occasion, we were told that the front door on the Luas is locked and the area behind the Driver is actually cordoned off so as to ensure social distancing. Blind and partially sighted passengers therefore need to trail the Luas in the hope of finding an already-opened door or rely on the kindness of a helpful member of the public which are not always around at lighter used stations like Museum. Another problem we have are some Luas Drivers driving off when blind and partially sighted passengers are trailing the Luas trying to find the seam for the door. I understand Drivers have discretion to wait for vulnerable users boarding.

Although the Drivers are allowed to open all doors ‘At a platform when identifying that a passenger has difficulty entering the tram (elderly, mobility impaired).’, both Transdev and TII have stated that passengers could fall out if they were leaning against the door and that this could be fatal in the event of Drivers opening doors on the wrong side in error.

Photo from the front of a train of the Siemens (LHB) Dart Drivers Cab with window
Photo of the Siemens (LHB) Dart Drivers Cab with window

Both Dublin Bus and Dart Drivers have a window in their cab which they can open for ventilation. The LUAS however does not hence the reason for chaining off the area behind the Drivers Cab and locking the single half-leaf door at the front.

Photo from the front of Luas Drivers Cab with no window
Photo of Luas Drivers Cab with no window

01.09.2021– Capacity was restored to 100% on public transport.

01.09.2021– Query send to Transdev and TII as Drivers are not opening the single leaf door at the front of the tram for blind and partially sighted passengers with a long cane or guide dog.

09.09.2021– Drivers are now opening the single leaf door at the front of the tram

Future proofing due to possible Reintroduction of capacity restrictions

This could be achieved by having:

  1. Tactile pavingfrom the lozenge tactile to the second door down or potentially every door so as to evenly distribute passengers throughout the tram.
  2. Future tram orders should add selective door openingto open the second door down. Future tram refurbishments could also have this added.
  3. Audible locator beacons (like they have on traffic lights) could be added to door open buttons.

Barry O’Donnell (VVI) 15.09.2021


VVI Pre-Budget Submission

28 AUG 2021

1. DPOs to be Funded

In line with the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (e.g., General Comment 7, paras. 61, 62), the State is required to ring-fence core funding for Disabled Persons Organisations (also known as “Representative Organizations”), as well as providing project-related funding.

Note, DPOs are not disability service providers (DSPs) or advocacy organisations run for disabled people. In short, they are not the traditional brand-names of the “disability sector”.

2. Increase in Blind Persons Pension and Disability Allowance

According to the 2016 Census, at least 75% of those with a severe visual impairment in the relevant age-brackets are not in paid employment. Whereas Welfare payments are generally kept low as an incentive for the recipients to seek paid employment, the institutionalised and practical barriers are clearly too high for visually impaired people for this approach to be justifiable, generally, in their case. As equal Irish citizens, they deserve dignity of life and equal opportunity.

To mitigate against the current institutionalised disabling of people from their institutionalised unemployment and impoverishment, at the very least, the Blind Persons Pension and Disability Allowance need to be increased to meet the increased cost of living brought about by the disabling and impairments of their recipients.

For budgets to come, we would advise that universal basic income be considered for all people with a severe visual impairment for as long as the unemployment rates are so high (i.e., for as long as there is clear institutionalised biases and practical issues with blind and partially sighted people being employed).

Similarly, Blind Welfare Allowance would reflect the extra costs of living of independent visually impaired people, and be increased accordingly (cf. SVPJ report, 2017) which found that the extra costs due to visual impairment were around €70 per week, however, this is likely to be an underestimation given that the research relied on focus groups, which should be more biased towards the self-selection of relatively independent and mobile visually impaired people, and probably against those with most or recent sight-loss.

3. Equalisation of Blind Persons Pension with Disability Allowance

Currently, those on the Blind Persons Pension are at a disadvantage in several ways when compared with those on the Disability Allowance. For example:

  • Disability Allowance is payable from 16, but the Blind Persons Pension only from 18.
  • Capital disregard is €50,000 for the Disability Allowance, but only €20,000 for the Blind Persons Pension.
  • There are no disregards for partners or spouses on Blind Persons Pension, but some disregards for these regarding Disability Allowance
  • While on Disability Allowance, full Medical Card entitlements are allowable up to an income of €427 per week, but with the Blind Persons Pension, no extra earnings income is permitted for a recipient to retain their Medical Card benefits.

All of these anomalies are unjustifiable, and appeared to have accrued by neglect rather than design. The Blind Persons Pension should be put on a par with the Disability Allowance in all respects as soon as possible. Since there are only slightly more than a thousand people in receipt of the Blind Persons Pension, fixing these discrepancies should not be onerous, but it is the fair and right thing to do.

3. Visually Impaired Passengers

The EU Parking Permit scheme for disabled drivers and passengers means that blind passengers (along with severely physically impaired passengers/drivers) have disabled parking rights.

Visually impaired people have a comparatively restricted ability to engage in “active modes” of transport, and as such, it is an anomaly (and discrimination on the basis of disability) that they are not also eligible for the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers Scheme, which provides a range of tax reliefs linked to the purchase and use of specially constructed or adapted vehicles by drivers and passengers with a disability. Visually impaired people may not need adapted vehicles, but the necessity of their being driven should be reflected in the same tax reliefs and toll exemptions, i.e., as set out in the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994 (SI 353/1994) as amended.

5. Talking Books should be VAT-free

21% VAT needs to be removed from talking books (to match print book counterparts). This helps to address the difficulties in educational and cultural access experienced by blind people, especially having lost their sight later in life, and recognises the barrier to purchasing talking books caused by the systemic impoverishment of visually impaired people.

6. Removal of VAT on dog-food for guide-dogs.

A guide dog is an aid to VIPs both for independent living and mobility. As such, the costs of maintaining them should be vat exempted, as is the case for adaptive technology, which also can be seen as an aid to independent/living/mobility.

So, VAT should be removed from all purchases necessary for the maintenance of guide dogs, including dog-food.

7. TV license exemption to all visually impaired people – whether on welfare or not.

De facto this is the case anyway, since An Post has been thwarted in the Courts for trying to chase down blind people who had not officially been exempted. But visually impaired people should not have to worry about such things. This is a good time to remind the State that the vast majority of television programming in Ireland does not have Audio Description, and so is inadequately accessible to visually impaired viewers/audiences.

8. €2 tax on all Prescriptions for Medical Card Holders

When Fianna Fáil and the Green Party introduced this tax (€2.50 back then) in 2009, it was said to be a temporary measure necessary in the drastic economic circumstances that the State found itself in.

Eleven years on, and this regressive tax has only been reduced by 50c. Because this is a nasty little tax that hits the most vulnerable in society, it needs to be immediately removed, and removed completely. Many of our members are dependent on medicine related to their eye conditions, and this tax effectively taxes them on those eye conditions, or the prevention of those conditions getting any worse – which would be even more costly to the State.

As such, an affected person with a visual impairment on a social welfare payment will necessarily be poorer than their sighted comparitor as a result of this regressive tax. So, it is discriminatory as well as immoral.

9. VVI to be Closely Consulted

Apart from the above, no budget measures specifically relating to visually impaired people should be made without first closely consulting with Voice of Vision Impairment (as Ireland’s national DPO specifically focusing on visual impairment related issues).

Similarly, no budgetary changes should be made concerning disability in general without all national DPOs being closely consulted with.

10. Seed Funding for a National Universal Accessibility through Technology Scheme

As a basic step to using technology to empower visually impaired people in society, a national and universal scheme to provide access to all signage both digital and static, should be explored through consultations with VVI and other national DPOs. At last, technology has reached the point at which we can now implement affordably and easily those requirements, outlined in both the 2005 Disability Act (and the 2006 NDA Code of Practice), the Equal Status Acts, and most importantly of all, Article 9 of the CRPD.

Whereas, before, such technology may have seemed too expensive and not universal enough for widespread application, this landscape is rapidly changing, and Ireland should be at the forefront of utilising such technology to improve the lives of visually impaired people.

Possibilities include individual accessible technology grants from lottery funds, and a national assistive technology library where visually impaired people can test out devices.