Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by PLANET Practice (IT 34)



  Since 1969 I have had detailed direct experience of some of the issues involved when groups of people using wheelchairs wish to travel together with their friends across the Channel by ferry, by Eurostar and with much less direct experience, by aircraft. Similar problems face cyclists.

  Using three examples, I have tried to draw attention to existing best practice, to point to windows of opportunity for the future and to try to learn lessons from those past instances which may have disrupted an integrated approach to transport, the environment and the way we live.

  There are many other aspects of the White Paper which fall directly within the professional knowledge of a Chartered Surveyor on which it might have been pertinent to comment, but it would not necessarily have helped the Committee if I had tried to cover every subject.

  I have stuck to the principle concern. The search for real integration which does not marginalise family groups of cyclists and recognises that increasingly, as wheelchairs become more sophisticated, there are more cases than can be imagined where, in the real world, groups of people in wheelchairs, like cyclists, wish to travel together with their friends.

  Is it true to say INTEGRATED TRANSPORT depends on being honest about the strengths and weaknesses of our transport choices and environment, and making sure that no-one, however weak or poor, is excluded? Can it mean seeing public transport as part of the obvious normal thing to do because it is attractive, regular, reliable, affordable, easy to use, accessible to all different abilities, including school children, and to all income groups?

  Cities and towns, countryside and Metropolitan areas and the communication between them are part of the same integrated endeavour. It is easier if this is an integral part of all our thinking, not just an after thought. Three specific examples help illustrate some of the points:

    A.  The Channel Tunnel.

    B.  Two small harbours—Watchet and Tobermory.

    C.  The experience of Bath and Bristol.

  These cases also raise general questions about integration at its most simple. The bicycle, the wheelchair, the child in a pushchair.

  Families who cycle together, the wheelchair-bound sports spectator (or competitor) face related problems which, if answered, help us all. We are not all pedestrians. Some of us have different abilities that do not include the ability to walk. Experience suggests if you get it right "first time" for people in wheelchairs things are automatically all right for everyone else more cheaply and in a more universally accessible way than would otherwise be the case.

  In the past there was ad hoc flexibility. For example people in wheelchairs, stretchers even—and groups of cyclists, could make do with the guards van. Not ideal; but wasn't it infinitely better than being told you cannot travel all together at all?

  Design now can be so specific that anything out of the norm, however defined, faces obstacles. By contrast the private multiple purpose vehicle shows that family cars are designed to be more flexible, offer greater choice. Public transport can learn from such trends.


  Before the Channel Tunnel opened, passenger trains stopped beside ferries at Newhaven, Dover, Folkestone, Boulogne, Calais and Dieppe and Dunkurque. Wheelchair passengers and their friends went from one to the other with a helping hand and a cheery wave. It wasn't always easy but it worked.

  Since the opening of the Channel Tunnel these facilities have closed and unless wheelchair passengers are travelling by train one at a time (for which the facilities are excellent) they are effectively denied access to Eurostar trains, there being only two wheelchair spaces in a train of 790 people, each one in separate halves of the train. That's tough on married couples who use wheelchairs but it's a "no go" area for friends in wheelchairs in groups.

  Will the Commission for Integrated Transport, The Strategic Railway Authority, Quality Partnership, Transport and Health impact assessments recognise and react to the economic and cultural cost to this country and Europe of excluding groups of people in wheelchairs or families with bicycles from public transport?

  Can we be confident we will never again allow any infrastructure transport project or other capital project to exclude people in wheelchairs when they wish to travel together, whether as participants or spectators?

  Who today would agree to the construction of a Channel Tunnel with safety walkways too narrow for standard wheelchairs? Are we content that these physical barriers are firmly augmented by regulatory authorities whose powers further limit the various initiatives by Eurostar and others that might have mitigated the problem?

  Instead, at every sign that for example groups of people with different abilities in wheelchairs might use the tunnel, the regulatory obstacles appear to multiply and stiffen. Not even Members of Parliament have had much success coming to peoples' help so far.

  Any strategy for re-vitalising the European Communities railways has tended to under value the benefits flowing from providing better for groups of people in wheelchairs. The French TGVs with very small WCs are much less adaptable than the British Inter City trains and are not much friendlier to families of bicyclists. In some parts of Europe the tourist industry is heavily dependent on the cyclist. Proper integration would help such economies to prosper in a truly sustainable way.

  In the past there was the temptation for transport systems to be made to appear more accessible simply by restricting the definition of what was meant by accessible. If groups of spectators in wheelchairs wish to travel together to watch a European sports event using Eurostar, should not their wish be recognised as perfectly reasonable? Such numbers may be expected to increase as the age profile of Europe increases generally.

  A safety case describing operators' risk assessment and safety management systems must be the art of describing ways of doing what people want to be achieved, not of explaining why some things are just not possible.

  If Eurostar is not safe for groups with wheelchairs how safe is it for anyone? In fact, no transport system has been designed with so much regard for safety. Eurostar is very safety conscious at every level. If transport systems do not carry cycles or wheelchairs in the ways people actually wish to use them, is that integration?

  Work to find solutions is underway in conjunction with the Mobility Unit of the DETR.


Watchet, West Somerset

  Watchet Docks with a rail link via the West Somerset Railway to the main line at Taunton has been closed. The reasons never became completely clear. The whole environmental case for Watchet Docks being re-integrated into West Somerset infrastructure remains strong. Does it have a new future as a Trust Port, helping to take heavy lorries off narrow roads to the benefit of cyclists, pedestrians and West Somerset residents?

Tobermory, Isle of Mull

  Largely EEC funded investment on roads on the Isle of Mull ignored the great environmental advantages of its ferry service and has been to the detriment of the island's environment and unique character.

  Refusals and delays meant funds were not available for improving the Tobermory ferry facilities. This meant that the new, larger ferries, able to bring the largest lorries for which the larger roads needed to be built, cannot now dock at Tobermory. It means the island's main post office, the banks and shops must be served by vans and heavy lorries (and empty lorries) which now have to drive half the length of the island to deliver goods to the island's main town.

  Tobermory can no longer be reached direct from the mainland by the foot passenger or cyclist or wheelchair user who previously could transfer easily from the train stopped at the quayside railway station at Oban directly onto the Tobermory ferry.

  The alternative, when they reach Mull, is a long, expensive and not very accessible taxi journey.

  The campaign by the local community has been largely ignored, nor even have parts of the redundant old island road been preserved either as a footpath or cycleway as had been hoped.

  This example of dislocated transport and disintegrated environment is breathtaking and was eminently avoidable. However, there seemed to be a power shift away from common-sense. Have the journey maker by rail and shipping, and even the motorist looking for an unspoilt island, lost out to the road maker?

  How long before the new road, built to permit faster heavier lorry and coach transport, will need to be re-altered so that traffic calming will deliver slower speeds, quieter environment and segregation of heavy freight from local light use, walkers and cyclists? The old ferries had been doing that for years.

  Normally investment strategy will focus on appropriate management of existing usage first, then examine coherent alternatives including trains and ferries and only then build new roads. Did this really happen?


  Bristol and Bath's integrated transport needs are similar but not identical. They are largely separate but linked. Both cities are surrounded by hills. This means that walkers and cyclists may need more help than in a flat city to be part of an integrated transport system. Will it help them get their cycles back up the hills?

  In both cities the hills trap atmospheric pollution. Clean air public transport alternatives, needed any way to safeguard respiratory health, are more than usually important because both cities have fine buildings, built of limestone, architecturally important, but vulnerable to damage by pollution. Bath is a World Heritage site with a serious clean air problem.

  Funding for any major new investment must give priority to environmental and access benefits being open to all, including cyclists and wheelchair users, so as to give maximum value for money as part of an integrated transport plan. Bath's position as a tourist city whose spa treatment complex and Royal Mineral Water Hospital remain important to the city means wheelchair usage is above average and expected to increase.

  Until the 1960s Bristol and Bath enjoyed a widespread level of public transport service including both the rural and urban hinterland.

  The then Strategic Railway Authority, the British Railways Board, closed down the majority of what had been a reasonably well integrated rural and urban transport system.

  The network had needed investment and enthusiastic management because both had been badly affected by two world wars. What the system got was "cost cutting by Charter"—the Beeching report. Bus services in hilly locations where they have a built-in advantage were being cut. Could not conventional all seater buses have been supplemented by "miracle buses" with fewer seats but more space for electric wheelchairs, cycles, pushchairs and shopping trolleys which can all be integrated without fuss, bother or expense if their real life use is recognised at the design stage?

  There had been earlier truncations. Bath had a most successful tram system running from 1904 to 1936 carrying 20,000 people per day. It was only closed because the bus manufacturer which owned both the Bristol and Bath tramways realised that so long as 30 year old trams were running perfectly, they were unlikely to sell many buses.

  This was short-sighted because buses successfully provide vital feeder services to trams necessary for profitable integrated transport. In Manchester proper integration has led to increased usage of public transport, led by the tram and the bus. In Sheffield the trams duplicated bus routes and signficant re-organisation is still required to achieve success.

  Can a "Bath and Bristol Pilot PTA" work with the Manchester PTA to ensue that an integrated and pollution free tram system linked to buses works as well for Bath and Bristol as it does for Manchester?

  Manchester's Metro is the most wheelchair friendly public transport system in Europe best suited to playing a part in bringing the user into the pedestrianised parts of the city centre. It also integrates better with existing railways, the necessary higher floor level giving full length level wheelchair access from raised pavement tram stops.

  Affordable trams, buses and trains are part of the answer but measures to combat congestion by the car and delivery vehicle must also be compatible with the pleasant and efficient working of both cities which might otherwise lose out to the less environmentally satisfactory Cribbs Causeway regional shopping centre nearby. Charges on parking spaces in the two cities should be no higher than any imposed at Cribbs Causeway, with revenue from both hypothecated to public transport and environmental improvement.

  Car ownership rates in the area are high but public transport since the 1960s has become patchy and people have little choice but to have cars they cannot afford which partly explains why now regular affordable park and ride buses are so well patronised.

  Patronage would increase and journey times be cut further if an annual public transport season ticket pass (as in London) valid on all services in the locality was available for less than the price of taxing a motor cycle. Such would deliver a large passenger dividend, reducing accidents, wasted time and pollution and increase income on the park and ride investment. Whether it leads to investment as in Grenoble in France remains to be seen. There, in a city also surrounded by hills, the hospital and University were identified as the "round the clock" origin and destination of journeys almost 24 hours a day. Linked together via the city centre, the line formed the first element of a tram system that progressively cut congestion and pollution. How would the same approach work in either Bristol or Bath, or both?


  We must all ask what can be done to ensure the Commission for Integrated Transport is inspirational and daring and able to expose to rigorous public scrutiny all that places obstacles in the way of competition and investment and new ideas.

  Can it be the public body that enables groups of wheelchair users, families cycling together and ordinary pedestrians to join with everyone else in using a fully integrated transport system that also cuts down pollution (including night-time sky-glow) and energy consumption in this country and Europe? If it does succeed in doing these things we really will have a New Deal for Everyone that is sustainable and successful.

Mark Blathwayt

24 September 1998

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