Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence

Memorandum by Leonard Cheshire (DAF 06)



  1.1  Leonard Cheshire once again thanks the Transport Select Committee for examining the state of the public transport systems accessibility to disabled people. We welcomed the opportunity to contribute to the last session on this topic and hope we can again be of value to the Committee.

  1.2  Leonard Cheshire is the UK's largest voluntary sector provider of support to disabled people. It supports over 21,000 disabled people in the UK, offering flexible services to meet a wide range of needs. The charity also campaigns for the rights of disabled people in the UK and raises awareness of the issues affecting them.

  1.3  Last year, Leonard Cheshire produced the Mind the Gap[1] report examining the impact that an inaccessible transport system has on the social exclusion experienced by disabled people and so is well placed to comment on the issues raised by this current consultation. A key finding of this report was that disabled people are denied access to key civic services and their opportunities to socially participate are severely limited.

  1.4  Inaccessible transport has a major impact on disabled people's independence, social participation and employability. 60% of households with a disabled member do not have access to a car (compared to 27% of the general population) so access to the public transport system is a crucial part of many disabled people' lives.

  1.5  Findings from the Mind the Gap report show that disabled people's access to employment, healthcare and social activities are limited as a direct consequence of inaccessible transport. Government initiatives to reduce health inequalities and encourage greater employment amongst disabled people are often thwarted by inaccessible transport and suggest a lack of joined-up government. 23% of disabled people actively seeking employment have had to turn down a job due to inaccessible transport. 60% of wheelchair users and nearly 90% of visually impaired people also said they were restricted in the jobs they apply for because of inaccessible transport. The impact of inaccessible transport on disabled peoples employment chances cannot be underestimated and any review of Incapacity Benefit and other employment related benefits must take this into account.


  2.1  Since the Transport Select Committee last conducted an investigation in this area, there have been a number of developments but unfortunately little real progress. Developments in each of Leonard Cheshire's main areas of concern are detailed below.

Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (RVARs) and rail vehicle end dates

  2.2  Leonard Cheshire welcomes the Government's intention to include measures in the proposed Disability Discrimination Bill to set an end date for rail vehicles to comply with accessibility regulations. We are, however, very concerned about the length of time that it is taking for this important Disability Rights Taskforce recommendation to be acted upon. We hope the Committee will take this opportunity to investigate both the content and end dates for complying with RVARs.

  2.3  In its response to the Joint Committee's report on the Draft Disability Bill, the Government stated its intention to conduct further, and in Leonard Cheshire's view, unnecessary, consultation on an end date. Leonard Cheshire calls for an end date to be included on the face of the Disability Discrimination Bill when it is introduced into Parliament next session.

  2.4  Leonard Cheshire campaigned on end dates for rail vehicles through its "All Aboard!" campaign. No date has yet been set, but the Government has indicated a preference for 2020 whilst Leonard Cheshire would like to see the earlier date 2017. This date would bring trains in line with buses and is entirely practicable. This would also indicate a clear commitment to enabling disabled people to make full use of the rail system at the earliest possible opportunity.

  2.5  Alongside the end date the Government is also expected to consult further on changes to the content of the RVARs. We expect that these will include a duty on rail vehicle operators to install audio-visual passenger information systems, in line with the Joint Committee's recommendations. In addition the Government needs to review the Passenger Service Vehicles Accessibility Regulations for buses, as their requirements for passenger information systems are not meeting the needs of disabled people.

  2.6  As they stand the proposals to change the RVARs provide little reassurance that important changes such as installing properly accessible toilets on trains will be prioritised. Through Leonard Cheshire's "Bog Standard?" campaign we have heard many examples of disabled people not using the rail network due to inaccessible toilets on trains and in some instances being placed in humiliating and inhumane situations as a result. Leonard Cheshire calls for the Government to give priority to accessible toilets when making changes to RVARs.

Transport provisions in the draft disability bill

  2.7  Leonard Cheshire is eagerly awaiting the publication of the new Disability Discrimination Bill. Given the many important aspects of this Bill for disabled people, we are concerned that the Bill continues to suffer delays and, despite cross-party support for the Bill, it has recently become a victim of party political disputes over timetabling and procedure.

  2.8  Leonard Cheshire welcomes the provision within the draft bill that allows for the extension of the DDA (1995) to transport services however we are disappointed that yet another year has passed during which transport operators continue to be exempt and can lawfully discriminate against disabled people.

  2.9  Leonard Cheshire are disappointed with the Government's decision not to remove fully the blanket exclusion for transport providers but to introduce regulation making powers that allow it to be removed on a sector-by-sector basis. Ambiguities surrounding the areas of responsibility within the transport infrastructure remain and it is unfortunate that the Government have not taken the opportunity to remove them.

  2.10  The recent court case supported by the DRC against airline Ryanair gives a clear example of how it is difficult for both the courts and the individual disabled person to ascertain who is responsible for ensuring access when certain parts of the transport infrastructure are covered by the DDA and others are not.

  2.11  Once the Disability Discrimination Bill has been passed Leonard Cheshire would like to see the regulations that lift the transport exemption introduced quickly and hope they will include clear instructions to transport providers on their requirements to provide reasonable alternative means of accessing a service. We look forward to the speedy publication of the DRC Codes of Practice on Transport that will accompany these regulations and should provide further clarity to both disabled passengers and transport providers of their obligations.

Aviation and Shipping

  2.12  As it stands aviation and shipping will remain exempt from the DDA even after the Disability Discrimination Bill is passed. It is suggested that they will only be brought under the legislation if they are found to be failing to comply with existing voluntary Codes of Practice. Aviation and shipping continue to be a large problem for disabled people and Leonard Cheshire hears many examples of non-compliance from disabled people.

  2.13  Leonard Cheshire have been working with researchers investigating compliance in both industries and have unfortunately been able to provide many examples of disabled people who have been refused access or received a poor service from both the aviation and shipping industry.

  2.14  The impact of the exemption for shipping on the social exclusion of disabled people in the Highlands and Islands will be considerable because of the reliance on this form of transport for day to day rather than occasional; tourism activities. Leonard Cheshire Scotland have been providing examples of non-compliance to researchers into ferry accessibility.

  2.15  The Regulatory Impact Assessment which accompanied the earlier consultation on end dates stated that relying on voluntary compliance from the transport sector "would not provide disabled people with confidence in the transport network as a whole. And it would not deliver against the Government's manifesto and policy commitments". Leonard Cheshire agrees strongly with this and would like to see both aviation and shipping brought immediately within the remit of legislation.


  3.1  The remaining parts of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) came into force in October this year requiring transport operators to make their services accessible, although vehicles still remained exempt. In theory this means that all stations and ports should now be accessible to disabled people and where they are not, appropriate alternatives should be provided.

  3.2  Leonard Cheshire welcomes the fact that as a result of this nearly all rail operators have now revised their Disabled People's Protection Policies. Many of the policies, however, list restricted or no access to a large number of stations and requirements for disabled people to book in advance for rail travel. Book ahead systems ruin the spontaneity of travel for many disabled people and harm the employability of a disabled person wishing to attend meetings at short notice. The fact that these policies vary so widely suggest that the DDA is being interpreted inconsistently by the rail industry despite SRA guidance on what is expected under the law.

  3.3  On rail stations interim research by Tripscope found that around 60% of stations in Britain are not accessible to disabled people. Unfortunately this has been largely a result of poor planning rather than a lack of resources. This is clearly demonstrated by the example of Bromley South station owned by South Eastern Trains. The entrance to the station underwent a £200,000 refurbishment last year but all platforms remain inaccessible to wheelchair users who are told they must travel from the nearest accessible stations over 10 minutes drive away.

  3.4  The recent court case taken by Keith Roads against Central Trains under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1999 duties gives rise to another area of concern. The judge ruled that Central Trains acted unlawfully by not paying the cost of Mr Roads cab fare to drive him to the other side of the station when direct access to the required platform was not possible due to physical barriers. This was a clear case of discrimination under the DDA and we welcome the decision made, however the judge made it clear that the ruling was limited to Mr Roads' case and would not set a legal precedent. If judges are reluctant to set precedents in transport cases then progress in improving access is likely to be slow and disabled people will have to fight every instance of discrimination through the courts.

  3.5  Leonard Cheshire would like to see increased support for individual disabled people facing illegal discrimination by transport operators. The law is now in place and despite guidance on the issue a number of operators continue to fail in their legal obligations.


  4.1  Following informal discussions with some ROSCOs about the issue of improving accessibility, Leonard Cheshire is concerned about the lack of will to improve the availability of new accessible stock and remove old inaccessible stock. It would appear that accessibility is quite often last in a list of considerations, which include aversion to risk, profitability, health and safety and over-crowding.

  4.2  The basis for some ROSCOs objections to the regulatory path to accessibility may be because of the risks this poses to the banks that own the companies on their investment. We would argue that the exemptions procedure for non-compliant stock provides adequate insurance that largely accessible trains with very minor deviations from the regulations would not be forced to undertake disproportionately costly refurbishments. As they are owned by banks ROCSOs are by their nature risk averse and if an exemption is not absolutely guaranteed they may well pass on any potential risk to Train Operating Companies by increasing their leasing costs, even if exemptions would almost certainly be granted. Leonard Cheshire believes that the exemptions procedure makes the risk that ROSCOs face extremely low and they should be prepared to accept the small element of risk they do face as a consequence of conducting business.

  4.3  In a submission to the Government,[2] HSBC rail said "With the exception of a small group of wheelchair users where a lack of accessible toilets may prevent longer journeys, non-fully compliant vehicles do not prevent use of the railways system. We believe that the consultation over-states the case for regulation and exaggerates its benefits." Leonard Cheshire strongly disagrees with this statement and feels it further demonstrates the industry's lack of understanding about the issues affecting disabled people using the rail network and a general unwillingness to address accessibility issues. The ROSCOs' main concern is about the risk to profitability caused by removing several seats to fit accessible toilets and wheelchair spaces. So once again accessibility has come second to profitability. It should not be acceptable for any group of disabled people however "small" to be unable to travel or be limited in the distances they can go because of inadequate toilet facilities. Our "Bog Standard" campaign highlights that this is sadly too common for many disabled people.

  4.4  Leonard Cheshire is also concerned that some ROSCOs would view any end date as costly and that under the current system little can be done to enforce compliance. Health and Safety regulations have already been ignored through the continuing use of slam door trains well beyond the pre-arranged date for their removal. The failure of ROSCOs to increase the availability of regulation compliant stock is well documented in a recent report by the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts[3]

  4.5  Because of the concerns given above, when regulations are published, Leonard Cheshire will be looking to see what changes have been made to the enforcement procedure. We have asked the Government that the changes to the enforcement of the Rail Vehicle Accessible Regulations place a responsibility on ROSCOs to meet the access standards, given their role in the production and the refurbishment of rail vehicles. The Government could do this by making them share with the Train Operating Companies the financial risks of not meeting the standards. Leonard Cheshire would urge the Government to ensure that ROSCOs who lease inaccessible stock and TOCs that operate inaccessible stock beyond any deadlines, would receive tough and effective sanctions.

  4.6  There is also a need for a clear programme of improvements to be before these deadlines and all groups involved should be required to report to the Department for Transport on their progress.


  5.1  Leonard Cheshire is concerned that "levelling down" may be occurring at a European level. It is possible that current planning on rail accessibility for disabled people at a European level may be in conflict with legislative progress being made in the UK.

  5.2  When responding to the Government's consultation on rail end dates and changes to RVARs, one ROSCO cited European interoperability regulations as a reason for it being impossible to make changes to the RVARs. This demonstrates a potential desire from the rail industry in the UK to use less restrictive European regulations to prevent them making improvements to accessibility in the UK.

  5.3  The European Association for Rail Interoperability (AEIF) Working Group is currently drafting technical specifications for interoperability (TSIs) relating to accessibility for passengers with reduced mobility. Given the rail industry's lack of experience in this matter, the European Disability Forum (EDF) has argued for the need for the direct participation of qualified accessibility experts from representative disability organisations. They have so far been refused and as a result remain concerned that the content may result in a "levelling down" of standards.

  5.4  Leonard Cheshire supports calls for the EDF to be involved in the consultation process for any European regulations that would affect accessibility. We would vehemently oppose any regulation that would result in the rail industry being able to avoid undertaking accessibility improvements to their rolling stock.


  6.1  Legislative progress is being made in many areas of the transport industry albeit slowly. Leonard Cheshire remains very concerned that the industry as a whole is not prioritising the need to improve accessibility for disabled people. Leonard Cheshire remains concerned about the lengthy timetable for change to accessibility across the transport industry. We are particularly concerned about the slow progress on trains, aviation and shipping. Many of the improvements so far appear to amount to paper policies and not practical outcomes and improved rights of access for disabled people. This view is reinforced by the personal testimonies of many disabled people.

  6.2  Even when the legal framework is finally in place, it is vital that the Government ensures that the transport industry fully acknowledge both its moral and legal obligations to provide an equal service to all passengers by whatever means. There is a growing feeling amongst some disabled people and representative organisations that many transport providers may ignore statutory regulations to improve accessibility, seeing any possible financial penalties as an acceptable "cost" against the already huge profits they are making. Disabled people have been excluded from the transport system for long enough and the industry should not be allowed to avoid their responsibilities in providing a truly public transport system that is accessible to all. Disabled people should be seen as an asset, not a cost.

November 2004

1   Campion et al, Mind the Gap, Leonard Cheshire, 2003. Back

2   Response to the "Consultation on the Government's proposals to amend the Rail provisions in Part V of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995", January 2004. Back

3   34th Report of the Committee of Public Accounts, Strategic Rail Authority: Improving passenger rail services through new trains (HC 408, Session 2003-04). Back

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