Transport for All member Gwynneth Pedler and transport minister Andrew Jones MP are among those who have given evidence to the Lords Select Committee on the Equality Act 2010 and Disabled People.
Andrew Jones, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at Department for Transport, raised hopes that Section 165 of the Equality Act may soon be brought into force, compelling taxi and PHV drivers to disabled people. Responding to the Committee’s question on why, 20 years after the Disability Discrimination Act was passed, the provisions relating to taxis had still to be brought into force, Jones said, “I am quite supportive of the basic principle. We are at the moment considering what to do with this. We have considered it and I am hoping to make a decision very shortly.“
However, questioned on why the requirement for all taxis to become wheelchair accessible had never been enacted, Jones said that he considered the cost of requiring wheelchair accessible taxis was too high. He added that “56% of all taxis in England and Wales are wheelchair accessible, so I am not sure the problem necessarily exists.”
Gwynneth also spoke in favour of ending disability discrimination in the taxi industry, noting that whilst a number of minicab and taxi drivers had successfully been prosecuted for refusing a guidedog, no prosecutions had been taken for refusing a wheelchair. Gwynneth highlighted that a number of local authorities had made disability equality training a condition of licensing, and urged TfL to follow suit.
Taxi equality: how many more decades is this going to take?
Baroness Brinton responded that in her area, Watford, under 20% of taxis are wheelchair accessible and even fewer are accessible to powerchair users. Baroness Deech, the Chair of the Committee, exclaimed: “It has been the will of Parliament for 20 years that taxis be accessible. How many more decades is this going to take?“
Gwynneth was giving evidence as part of a session on transport and the Act, alongside Keith Richards, the chair of DPTAC (the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee) and Graham Pendlebury, of the Department for Transport.
24-hour rail booking: ‘A great injustice’
Baroness Campbell championed the right of disabled people to access ‘turn-up-and-go’ assistance on the railways, asking witnesses, “Do you think it is fair to insist that disabled passengers phone up 24hours in advance when they want to go on the train and need assistance? This is the blight that disabled people experience. They cannot be spontaneous.“
Gwynneth agreed, and highlighted the effect that the 24hour booking period had on her life.
“Transport for All regard it as a great injustice. It prevents us being flexible; we cannot change our mind and go out to lunch with a friend. We get booked on another train. It takes away our independence and our freedom of choice. On a number of occasions I have booked assistance and I have turned up…and they have said, “You are not getting on the train”, or, “There is nobody to help you. You cannot go”, or I arrive at the station and there is nobody there“.
Scooter users’ right to travel
She told the Committee that transport providers needed to come out of ‘the dark ages’ and recognise that mobility scooters should be accepted on public transport. “I have never fallen off; it has never fallen down; I have not knocked anybody down or killed anybody; I have not had my battery dripping out“, Gwynneth added, rebutting prejudices about scooters being unsafe.
The Department for Transport still advises that scooters “are outdoor vehicles intended for use as an alternative to public transport for short trips“; despite the fact that many bus companies (including Transport for London) accept and carry smaller mobility scooters without any problem.
Gwynneth told the Lords Committee that audio-visual information on buses should be ‘mandatory across the whole of the UK’. Currently, legislation will make audio-visual information mandatory on trains from 2020, but no requirement exists for buses to have this system, putting blind and visually impaired people at a substantial disadvantage.
In his evidence to the Committee, Simon Posner, Chair of the Confederation of Passenger Transport (which represents the bus industry), stated that “the people we are dealing with in RNIB would tell us the great majority of their members now have smartphones and use them”, and that RNIB had said that visually impaired and blind people “do not particularly like having this announcement system coming up that we sometimes cannot hear because we are plugged into our telephone”.
He later had to apologise for misleading the Committee after RNIB denied that this was the case.
Posner also got into hot water over his comments that buggy users preventing wheelchair users boarding a bus was “possibly not as widespread as many people would have us believe”. Doug Paulley, who is taking a case about wheelchair priority to the Supreme Court in June, pointed out that the CPT had participated in research that showed that ‘less than one in ten wheelchair-users said that this [i.e. being blocked from accessing the wheelchair space] never or rarely happens.’
You can read Transport for All’s evidence to the Select Committee at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmtran/writev/disabledaccess/dat60.htm
You can read a transcript of the evidence session featuring Transport for All at http://www.transportforall.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/24301.pdf And view a video of it here: http://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/708f5c7d-8dfb-4048-a867-af18dfe83cfb
You can read a transcript of the evidence session featuring ministers at: http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/equality-act-2010-and-disability-committee/equality-act-2010-and-disability/oral/26351.html
And view a video of it here: http://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/ae6b6f0c-71fb-4385-889b-5275f94fba81