Memorandum by PLANET Practice (IT 34)
INTEGRATED TRANSPORT AND GROUPS OF WHEELCHAIR
USERS TRAVELLING TOGETHER WITH THEIR FRIENDS
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
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:
B. Two small harboursWatchet 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 evenand 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
A WINDOW OF
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.
24 September 1998