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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Rail Vehicle Accessibility (London Underground Victoria Line 09TS Vehicles) Exemption Order 2008

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mrs. Janet Dean
Bailey, Mr. Adrian (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op)
Cairns, David (Inverclyde) (Lab)
Clark, Paul (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport)
Cox, Mr. Geoffrey (Torridge and West Devon) (Con)
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth) (Con)
Hammond, Stephen (Wimbledon) (Con)
Havard, Mr. Dai (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen (Jarrow) (Lab)
Hunter, Mark (Cheadle) (LD)
Ingram, Mr. Adam (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab)
Leech, Mr. John (Manchester, Withington) (LD)
Mahmood, Mr. Khalid (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab)
Seabeck, Alison (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab)
Tami, Mark (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab)
Timpson, Mr. Edward (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con)
Wright, Mr. Anthony (Great Yarmouth) (Lab)
Mick Hillyard, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Second Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 3 November 2008

[Mrs. Janet Dean in the Chair]

Draft Rail Vehicle Accessibility (London Underground Victoria Line 09TS Vehicles) Exemption Order 2008

4.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Paul Clark): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Rail Vehicle Accessibility (London Underground Victoria Line 09TS Vehicles) Exemption Order 2008.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the draft Rail Vehicle Accessibility Exemption Orders (Parliamentary Procedures) Regulations 2008.
Paul Clark: It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Dean, especially on my first statutory instrument Committee as a Minister. I have been on the receiving end in the past as a Whip.
We have taken strong action to provide a public transport system that increasingly allows people with reduced mobility the same opportunities to travel as other members of society. We have led the way among our European partners by introducing regulations requiring all new rail vehicles, buses and coaches to be accessible. There are already around 4,700 accessible rail vehicles in service, which were introduced under the Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 1998, widely referred to as the RVAR. Many thousands of older rail vehicles have also been made more accessible through refurbishment, and we have also established the access for all fund, which is improving accessibility at all stations across Great Britain.
Our leadership in this area has been recognised at European level. The commissioners come forward with new standards for train accessibility based largely on the RVAR, demonstrating how far ahead of mainland Europe we are in that respect. As it would not be desirable for a train to be subject to two different accessibility regimes, and as the new European standards automatically take precedence, since July of this year the RVAR have been disapplied—with Parliament’s agreement—from trains operated for passenger services on the UK mainline railway system. We also took the opportunity to set an end date of 1 January 2020, by which time all these vehicles must be accessible. The RVAR remain the accessibility standard for light rail, tram, metro and underground systems.
The RVAR were introduced under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. That Act also provided for an exemption process, which allowed rail vehicles that did not comply fully with the technical standards to enter service by means of a statutory instrument considered under the negative resolution procedure. The RVAR regime was further strengthened during the passage through Parliament of the Disability Discrimination Bill in 2005, in that in certain circumstances an exemption order would need to be approved by the draft affirmative resolution procedure.
4.33 pm
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
4.48 pm
On resuming—
Paul Clark: As I was saying before the Division, the RVAR scheme was strengthened with the passage of the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 so that in certain circumstances an exemption order would need to be approved by the draft affirmative resolution procedure. That Act also contained regulation-making powers allowing the Secretary of State to set out the basis for making a decision as to which parliamentary procedure should be used for individual exemption orders. Until those regulations are in force, all RVAR exemption orders are automatically subject to the draft affirmative resolution procedure.
The Disability Discrimination Act provisions require consultation with the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, more commonly known as DPTAC, and the Government’s statutory advisers on the public transport needs of disabled people, before each decision is taken on which procedure to use. Those provisions are the subject of the draft Rail Vehicle Accessibility Exemption Orders (Parliamentary Procedures) Regulations 2008, which set out in detail the criteria which the Secretary of State will use when deciding which parliamentary procedure should be followed. They are explained further in the accompanying explanatory memorandum, but in general terms, the criteria which trigger the draft affirmative resolution procedure will take precedence. They might include exemptions for brand new vehicles providing public transport services; orders that have no expiry date or that run past the end date of 1 January 2020, by which time all rail vehicles must be accessible; requests for extensions to existing exemptions; or whole network exemptions, such as for a heritage network. Such transparency is necessary to ensure that both the rail industry and disabled people understand how exemption applications will be treated and, in particular, under which circumstances the draft affirmative resolution procedure is likely to be chosen.
Revised guidance will be available to assist understanding of the new provisions in due course. Parliament agreed that the Secretary of State should retain the discretion to adopt a different procedure for a particular order, having regard to representations from DPTAC. Such cases may include a negative resolution procedure for an exemption for rail vehicles if the same issue has previously received the explicit agreement of Parliament via the draft affirmative resolution procedure. That will avoid the unnecessary programming of parliamentary time, although Members will, of course, be able to scrutinise orders laid under the negative resolution procedure.
The draft Rail Vehicle Accessibility (London Underground Victoria Line 09TS Vehicles) Exemption Order 2008 is fully supported by DPTAC, London TravelWatch, the official organisation representing the interests of transport users in London, and her Majesty’s railway inspectorate. It will allow London Underground to introduce new trains on the Victoria line with features not currently permitted by the RVAR, but which benefit disabled people. The order will also allow London Underground to resolve some of the challenges that the regulations present in the short term to a deep-level metro service with a high frequency of services, inaccessible stations and a mix of old and new vehicles.
The new trains will be the first of London Underground’s fleets to be covered by the accessibility legislation. Until all the new trains are delivered, they must run alongside existing vehicles, which were designed in the 1960s and, consequently, fail to meet many modern accessibility standards. For example, the warning given when the doors are about to close lasts for one and three quarter seconds, but new vehicles complying with the RVAR should have a three-second warning. As there will be a mixture of new and old vehicles on the Victoria line until 2011, it will be confusing to have two different durations of audible warning on the same route. At this late stage in their life, it is difficult and potentially extremely costly to change the warnings on the existing trains. Allowing London Underground to continue with a one and three quarter second warning on all Victoria line trains until the old ones are withdrawn provides consistency and allows disabled people to be confident about what the warning means.
Once all the older vehicles are withdrawn, London Underground will begin to use three-second warnings on the new vehicles. The order allows London Underground to revert to the shorter warning temporarily, if the three-second warning has a negative impact on the service, provided that that does not disadvantage disabled people. However, London Underground would need to apply for another exemption and to provide justification to extend the exemption further.
The second exemption under the order concerns the announcements made on board a train at each station. The RVAR require both the next stop and the terminating station to be announced. That was included so that passengers could distinguish between a fast train, which skips several stations, and a slow one calling at all stops. Since the Victoria line has no branches and does not mix fast with slow services, the announcement would not serve the same purpose of assuring passengers that they are on the right train. The exemption allows London Underground to omit one of the two mandated announcements while the train is at the station. Instead, London Underground will provide extra information about connections and places of importance, which passengers are likely to find more useful on the underground. To ensure that passengers are still provided with the mandated information, it is a condition of the order that the omitted announcement is made shortly after the train leaves the station.
The RVAR require that the first capital letter in a regulated announcement be no less than 35 mm high. That requirement was principally aimed at overground trains which often have only two displays, one at either end of the carriage. However, the new Victoria line fleet will have six displays in each of the carriages, which are themselves much smaller than those of overground trains. That means that the maximum distance any passenger is from a display is much reduced, calling into question the need for such a large size of text. Indeed, under these provisions no passenger will be more than 3 m from a screen. The provision sets minimum letter heights to ensure that the regulated information still meets the Royal National Institute of Blind People’s best practice on text size relative to reading distance. The reduction in size will also enable each station name to be shown in full without the text scrolling across the screen.
In addition, London Underground is using new technology for its display screens which means that the text itself is much clearer than the dot matrix displays with which we are all so familiar. The new displays will also enable pictures to be used, which will be particularly useful for people with learning difficulties and those for whom English is not their first language.
The final exemption concerns wheelchair users’ access from the platform on to the train. London Underground believes that it is impractical to use manually deployed boarding ramps on a frequent metro service because of the restricted space on the platforms, the limited amount of time that each train waits in a station and the huge numbers of people that the system handles, which is the equivalent to the whole of the national overground network. Instead, London Underground will provide platform humps, which are raised areas on the platform positioned to allow level access to the wheelchair space. Wheelchair-users prefer level access since there is no need to involve staff and it permits genuinely independent travel.
London Underground wishes the installation of platform humps to happen with its ongoing step free programme, which is providing access to wheelchair users and others from street to the platform. That not only reduces the disruption caused by engineering work, but reduces the risk of a disabled passenger being stranded at a station with no step free exit. The order provides exemptions for each station on the Victoria line, which will expire on the dates given for each station as it gets the step free access either to the street or to the platform, as laid out in schedule 2.
Humps have already been installed at Brixton and Tottenham Hale in readiness for the new trains as these stations already have step free access. They are not therefore covered by the order. There are currently no plans to make Pimlico step free, so no expiry date has been included for that station. However, there are alternative stations nearby which will have step free access and the order ensures that the Pimlico exemption will fall automatically when it is made step free.
We and DPTAC believe that that is a sensible approach which, subject to Parliament’s views, we would expect to maintain as London Underground introduces new vehicle fleets and as the step free network expands across the entirety of the Victorian and Edwardian infrastructure.
Both the draft instruments before us have already undergone scrutiny and have been agreed in the other place. On that basis, I believe that they set the right way forward and I recommend them to the Committee.
4.59 pm
Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Dean.
The Conservative party recognises that the ability to travel on public transport is particularly important for disabled people, a number of whom are completely reliant on public transport to get from their homes to their places of work and leisure, shops, friends, family, health care and education. Having a public transport system that is fully accessible and safe for people with disabilities is an essential part of the country’s transport policy, so I am happy to support what the Minister said.
The power to set minimum accessibility standards for all rail vehicles, buses and coaches was granted under the 1995 Act. The directives specifically for rail vehicles were introduced in 1998 and applied to all vehicles first brought into use after 31 December of that year. Additional provisions were made in the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 to ensure that national fleets of buses also met accessibility standards by 2017 and 2020. We recognise that good progress has been made on that front since.
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Does my hon. Friend applaud that progress but accept that we still have much further to go? That is particularly true at Abergavenny, where a lift is needed to enable disabled passengers to get from one platform to the other.
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