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Free Travel but not in advance and only if you queue

November 16th, 2010 · 2 Comments · Equality, Irish Rail

Very interesting ruling from the Equality Tribunal about the rights of people with Free Travel to book tickets on Irish Rail trains in advance. The case was taken by a senior citizen.

The complainant is a regular user of the respondent’s train services, primarily between Dublin and Killarney. Prior to receiving his Free Travel Pass around 2006, he had regularly booked his ticket in advance of his travel date and never had any problems. On the October 2006 bank holiday weekend, he had intended to travel to Kerry, but when he presented at the ticket office in Heuston the day before his intended travel, they refused to issue him a ticket. He was informed that holders of the Free Travel Pass may only obtain their tickets on the day of travel. The complainant pointed out that the respondent itself had put advertisements in the newspapers reminding people to book their trains well in advance of the holiday weekend, as all the services would be very busy. The ticket agent said that this did not apply to people with a Free Travel Pass. The complainant was upset because he had arrived at the station at 6.30am in order to ensure that he got a ticket. Over the next several days the complainant initiated a series of phone calls with the respondent, mainly resulting in the respondent insisting that this was a regulation imposed by the (now) Department of Social Protection (who are responsible for issuing the free Travel Pass). The complainant investigated this with the Department of Social Protection who confirmed that the policy did not emanate from them. As a result of the situation, the complainant was unable to travel that weekend. Shortly afterwards he again tried to make travel plans but was unable to book his ticket in advance or reserve a seat either online or at the station.

You can read the full ruling here but the Equality Officer found that Irish Rail indirectly discriminated against the passenger and it was their policy and not that of Social Welfare that was in place.

5. Decision

5.1 In accordance with section 25 (4) of the Equal Status Acts 2000-2008, I conclude this investigation and issue the following decision. I find that a prima facie case of indirect discrimination has been established by the complainant on the grounds of age and I find that the respondent has failed to rebut the claim of discrimination. In considering the amount of redress to be awarded, I note that the complainant has not been denied access to the service itself and I am of the view that a high award is not appropriate. Additionally the respondent has made some attempts to rectify the complainant’s particular situation. Therefore I award the complainant a sum of €500 as redress for the inconvenience caused.
5.2 More importantly, I also order, in accordance with Section 27 (1)(b) of the Acts, the respondent to review its policy, in terms of the requirement that holders of Free Travel Passes may obtain their ticket only on the day of travel, in order to ensure that this policy is in full compliance with the Equal Status Acts 2000-2008. I further order that this review be completed within 6 months of the date of this decision.
5.3 In addition to this policy review, I recommend that the respondent should immediately update its website to communicate clearly to Senior Citizens, Disabled Passengers and other members of the Free Travel Pass Scheme comprehensive details about their entitlements and obligations as passengers.

Those who are the least able to queue up are made to do so because technology has not caught up with changes in how people organise travel (and the way Irish Rail wants them to do so!) or people have been held back from using their benefits and entitlements and make arrangements for themselves because of accusations of fraud.

I don’t think it’s fair that I can book my ticket online and pay for it and get a seat and someone who really needs to make sure that they have a seat can’t also do so. Watching older people search for seats on trains is terrible, and the seats that are prioritised for older people and people with disabilties are unenforceable.

It’s not completely clear what will change from this ruling since we can’t seem to get our heads around integrated ticketing but surely the cattle market attitude to those using free travel has to end?  It was other Equality Tribunal cases taken by disabled people that stopped the practice of making free travel holders having to queue up for a ticket every time they took the Dart/local train.

Congratulations to Mr. O’Connor for taking the case and persisting with it.


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