Dear Mr Posner
Today, disabled people have travelled to your offices from throughout the country. We have come here today because we have had enough of being denied access to buses in the UK; of being treated like second class citizens.
The sad truth is that almost every disabled person who has used buses has a story of a journey that was exhausting or difficult because of poor service by the bus company. Almost every wheelchair user has a story of being denied access to a bus, of waiting in the rain as bus after bus drives past. Of broken ramps or of bus drivers refusing to enforce wheelchair priority in the wheelchair space.
Almost every blind or visually impaired passenger has a story of non-existent or broken bus audio visual systems, of buses stopping metres away from the stop, too far away to ask what bus number it is.
Almost every ambulant disabled person has experienced buses pulling up leaving a chasm to leap between kerb and bus; or almost been thrown off their feet when buses pull away from the stop without time to sit down.
A 2009 survey by Trailblazers, End of the Line, found on more than half of all journeys on buses there were problems with the accessible facilities at the station or bus stop, on the bus or a poor service from members of staff. In one in three of the journeys made by Trailblazers, the survey respondent was unable to board the first relevant bus to arrive at their stop. This was a consequence of the access ramp being unavailable, the accessible space being unavailable or the driver failing to stop at a location which was accessible to the passenger.
This isn’t just about access to buses. We rely on transport to see friends and family; to get to work; to volunteer and enjoy sport and culture. When inaccessible buses stop us from getting out and about, we are excluded from public life. At worst, we become housebound. We become invisible.
Transport for All and Disabled People Against Cuts recognise that there have been improvements to accessibility in the bus industry. We welcome the commitment to meet the 2020 PSVAR regulations. And the introduction of wheelchair ramps to more and more buses around the country has transformed independent travel for thousands of wheelchair users.
And amongst the horror stories of disabled people denied access to buses, there are some examples of good practice. In London, TfL recently held the first ever training session for bus drivers which involved disabled and older people. In Brighton, buses are so spacious they can accommodate wheelchair users, those with shopper trolleys, buggies and assistance dogs.
But progress is going too slowly. If Government proposals go ahead, 500,000 people could lose their Disability Living Allowance, (DLA). Many people use this for taxis or a Motability car, and will be having to make their way on public transport for the first time. We’re not convinced that the bus industry is ready for this.
We would like to work with the CPT to ensure that accessibility is put at the heart of the bus industry. Ideally, we’d like to see a staff lead working exclusively on equality and inclusion – just as ATOC (the Association of Train Operating Companies) has a Head of Disability and Inclusion.
We also welcome CPT’s interest to meet and discuss this further, and look forward to working together for a bus system which older and disabled people can use with the same freedom and independence as everyone else.
Lianna Etkind Linda Burnip
Transport for All Disabled People Against the Cuts