The Government has published its response to the transport committee investigation into access to transport for disabled people.
Despite claiming that ‘the Department for Transport is committed to ensuring that disabled people have equal access to transport services and opportunities to travel”, the Government has rejected almost all the report’s recommendations.
No to encouraging local authorities to set up travel training schemes.
No to requiring rail companies to ensure that staff can advise on accessible journeys beyond the station itself.
No to a nationwide campaign to remind passengers to make space in the wheelchair bay to allow wheelchair users to board.
Again and again, the response places the interests of industry above the rights of disabled people.
‘Disregard for the views of disabled people’
Mary Creagh, the Shadow Minister for Transport, called the response ‘bad news for the 11.5 million people in the UK who live with a disability’ and added that the report showed an astonishing disregard for the views or experiences of people with disabilities.’
Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson added, “It is really disappointing that the response is so unhelpful. With the changes in welfare reform and the significant number of people who will lost [sic] the support for mobility then public transport is vital to get disabled people to work.”
Audio-visual information on buses
In London, all buses have had audio-visual information since 2005. Yet outside London, many buses have no audio-visual information, making them much harder to use for visually impaired passengers.
The Transport Committee had recommended that the Government require all new buses to have audio-visual information; and to require bus companies to phase in buses with audio-visual information over the next ten years.
But the Government has rejected this, stating that there was no business case for operators, and they are ‘loath to impose financial burdens of this kind on the industry’.
Many buses outside London are still not accessible to wheelchair users, and are not low-floor. The Committee also recommended that the Government offer financial incentives to bus operators to introduce fully accessible buses compliant with PSVAR legislation in advance of the deadlines, but this recommendation was also rejected.
Bus driver training
Helpful and well-trained bus drivers make an enormous difference to disabled and older passengers. Simple things, like being willing to enforce wheelchair priority in the wheelchair bay; waiting until unsteady or older passengers are safely seated before driving off; and pulling right into the kerb, go a long way in enabling disabled people to travel with confidence.
European law requires coach and bus operators to provide disability equality training for drivers, but the Government is using an exemption in European law to delay implementing this until the latest possible date.
The Transport Committee backed the calls from disability organisations for the Government to end the use of this exemption and ensure that all bus drivers have a minimum of disability equality training, as is the case in London. The most progressive transport providers have already recognised that today, offering excellent customer service to all passengers should be as much part of a bus driver’s role as following the rules of the road; and that disability equality training is a key part of this. However, the Government has rejected the recommendation to end the exemption.
There is no shortage of stories of discrimination on buses to underline the importance of disability equality training for bus drivers. The Government will review their position in March 2014 and we urge them to work with the industry to ensure that disabled passengers can receive the service we deserve.
Accessible taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs)
Under section 160 of the Equalities Act, the Secretary of State is empowered to require all taxis to be accessible to disabled people. The Transport Committee proposed that a target be set for all taxis and PHVs to be accessible within the next ten years.
However, the Government maintain that it should be left up to the licensing authority to decide whether to require all taxis and PHVs to be accessible. They also rejected calls to work with licensing authorities and the taxi trade to implement a programme of disability awareness training for drivers.
Transport Direct is the government website for journey planning. The website currently does not meet the highest AAA rating for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, and the Government states that it will ‘review’ this, although it’s not clear by when.
However, a very large proportion of disabled people do not use the internet and require information in other formats. For these travellers, access to journey planning information by telephone or in paper format is invaluable to being able to travel. The Transport Committee advised that the DfT ensure that these people have access to alternative means of planning an accessible journey. Beyond a promise to publish the data so that third parties can develop apps for accessible journey planning, DfT has not set out any response to how it could enable offline passengers to plan accessible journeys. 19% of families with at least one disabled member live in relative income poverty, and may find smart phones too difficult or expensive to use.
Cross-government working on accessibility
During the course of the Committee’s inquiry, Norman Baker, then the Minister for Transport, admitted that the DfT had not been involved in any discussions on changes to Motability, stating that “it would have been perhaps more helpful if there had been perhaps more engagement than there has been on this issue.” As Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is replaced by PIP, an estimated 428,000 disabled people will be eligible for a Motability car and will have to depend on public transport.
The Transport Committee state they ‘are surprised at the lack of co-ordination and engagement currently between departments’. They recommend that a cross-departmental group of Ministers and officials be convened to work on accessibility, but the Government have rejected the recommendation, stating that ‘transport accessibility is primarily a local issue’.
The most accessible bus station in the world if of no use if one cannot walk to it, and disabled campaigners have worked hard to emphasise the importance of accessible streets. DfT have pledged to update its Inclusive Mobility guidance on pedestrian infrastructure on crossings, paving and shared space. However, they state that they will be unable to do this in the first half of 2014, as the Transport Committee recommends, but will aim to do this by 2014.
Monitoring DfT’s Accessibility Action Plan
We are pleased that DfT will ‘publish an annual update on implementation of the commitments in the Accessibility Action Plan’, and additionally publish more statistics on the travel patterns of disabled people.
Ticket offices and staff assistance
Disabled people’s groups have been vocal about the effect that reducing station staff would have on older and disabled passengers. While DfT have not ruled out reductions to staff, they have conceded that “many passengers value the ability to talk to a human being for help and advice when buying a ticket. We are therefore strengthening our policy on changes to ticket office opening hours so that where passengers currently have access to a trained representative, all of those passengers will continue to do so.“
They also have pledged to ‘strengthen[ ] the role of passenger bodies’ enabling passenger groups to raise objections to any aspects of the proposals including the impact of any proposals on disabled passengers.
You can read the full report at http://www.transportforall.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/870.pdf