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

[back to previous text]

Stephen Hammond: I congratulate my hon. Friend on such good use of his time this afternoon, bringing his constituency interests to the attention of the Committee. He is a mind-reader—I was about to ask the Minister about that matter. We debated it under one of these orders about a year ago, and the then Minister said that 58 per cent. of buses and more than 40 per cent. of trains met the accessibility standards. Will the Minister say what progress has been made in the past year, and when he thinks that accessibility standards will be achieved at around the 90 per cent. level?
There are two circumstances in which rail vehicles may be exempt from meeting the standards. One is that the Secretary of State is satisfied that it is not possible for them to comply fully with the regulations; the other is that the Secretary of State is assured that despite the exemption the ability of disabled people to travel will not be compromised. The 2005 Act seems to provide for the Secretary of State to decide through regulations which parliamentary procedure should be used to make exemption orders. The regulations set out what the criteria for such a decision should be and, for the sake of transparency, it is utterly sensible that those criteria should be in the public domain. I am pleased that there was a consultation exercise. It appears from the papers provided that the draft statutory instrument has received external support. Will the Minister confirm the extent of that support? The draft statutory instrument seems a sensible move forward and I am happy to support it.
The Minister ran through the other draft order, which concerns 376 new vehicles that are to be used in passenger service on the Victoria line and exemptions on the basis that vehicles do not conform to four of the criteria set out in the DDA. The Minister ran through those exemptions in some detail and I am grateful for his explanation, but I wish to press him on a couple of points. He talked about the audible door closure warnings, which will be one and three quarter seconds as opposed to three seconds, and he confirmed that that exemption would cease in 2011. Will he confirm that the 376 new vehicles and any others that will be on the Victoria line will comply with the longer audible warning post-2011?
The Minister then spoke about the exemption regarding the onboard announcements, which will not include both next stop and terminating information. He explained that one piece of information will be given while the train is at the station and one while it is in motion. He also said—I think that I heard him correctly—that extra information will be given about connectivity. Will he tell the Committee how that information will be delivered? I am grateful for his reassurance on the smaller letter size.
The Minister then went through the step access exemptions that were being sought for a short period. Will he confirm when the step access exemptions are to finish, and when the entire Victoria line will have step free access?
It is implicit in the draft order that the Secretary of State must be satisfied that the vehicles will not meet the specific regulatory requirements because, technically, it is impossible for them to do so. I assume that, with new vehicles, that will not be the case and that the rationale for the exemptions is that, although they are being granted, they will in no way hinder the comfort or safety of disabled passengers. I should be grateful if the Minister were to assure us that that is the rationale behind the Secretary of State’s granting of the exemptions.
I am pleased that the Minister detailed the consultation that has taken place. He said that proper attention has been paid to any points arising from it, and I am grateful to him for telling us who has been consulted. In particular, he mentioned Her Majesty’s railway inspectorate. The explanatory notes mention that groups have given support. They also say that HMRI commented on the provision of handrails in wheelchair spaces. Those comments were in appendices, but they have not been attached to the papers provided to the Committee. Will the Minister tell us what was in those appendices, or write to us, so that the Committee can have the information in the near future?
I believe that both statutory instruments are uncontroversial. Pending the Minister’s response, I do not intend to detain the Committee this afternoon.
5.6 pm
Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Dean.
I, too, welcome the Minister to his first transport SI Committee. Perhaps we are to have general transport debates every Monday afternoon; if so, I look forward to it.
I start by commenting on the draft Rail Vehicle Accessibility Exemption Orders (Parliamentary Procedures) Regulations 2008. I must confess to being somewhat wary of supporting regulations that give Ministers the power to use discretion. However, I am partly reassured that Ministers will take account of representations from the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, which should ensure that the Government do not attempt to push through orders without appropriate parliamentary scrutiny. I am further reassured by the Government’s 12-week consultation with stakeholders, including disability organisations, especially as all respondents agree that the Secretary of State should have such discretion. On that basis, we on the Liberal Democrat Benches do not oppose the regulations.
I am happy to support the draft Rail Vehicle Accessibility (London Underground Victoria Line 09TS Vehicles) Exemption Order 2008. It represents a sensible response by London Underground to the transitional period while the new 09TS vehicles are introduced and the old 67TS vehicles are phased out. As for the audible door closure warnings, I am not totally convinced by the Minister’s assertion that passengers would be confused by different durations of audible signals. Taking a consistent approach on all trains until the last of the 67TS vehicles go out of service would avoid the possibility of confusion.
I turn to onboard announcements. The proposed exemption highlights the potentially restrictive nature of the RVAR with regard to the requirement to announce both the final destination as well as the next stop, in order to distinguish between fast and slow trains. Given that the Victoria line has no branches or junctions, and that all trains stop at every station, London Underground should be given the opportunity to trial different announcements that might be beneficial to passengers.
London Underground’s decision to use thin-film transistor screens on its new vehicles is a clear example of an exemption that will improve the experience of passengers, particularly those passengers with learning disabilities and people who do not have English as a first language, through the use of pictures, colour coding and sign language.
The decision by London Underground to provide platform humps rather than manual ramps is particularly welcome. However, I want to press the Minister about seeking assurances from London Underground that when the humps are introduced there should be clear marking and colour co-ordination to ensure that wheelchair users can make their way to them. When underground stations are busy it might be difficult to find one’s way in a crowd.
There is a clear benefit to wheelchair users in not being reliant on the provision of a manual ramp. It is simply common sense to link the installation of the platform humps with London Underground’s continuing step free access programme, and not to take the risk of wheelchair users being effectively stranded at stations and unable to get out, because there is no step free access. On that basis, I am happy to support the order.
5.11 pm
Paul Clark: I thank the hon. Members for Wimbledon and for Manchester, Withington for their comments on the orders and shall try to deal with all the points that were raised. I am disappointed that the hon. Member for Monmouth is not present to hear the response, but I am sure that the hon. Member for Wimbledon will be able to convey the information to him. The programme for providing access to stations is fundamental and critical. I believe that through the access for all programme, Abergavenny is one of those that will get a lift. That may help the hon. Member for Monmouth.
As to what we have done to date, currently a third of the rail fleet is accessible. That means some 4,700 vehicles are currently RVAR compliant. Of course, as part of the investment in the railway network, we have increasing rolling stock capacity coming on stream, with 1,300 already announced. We are working hard to continue that progress and hundreds of stations have already been identified as part of the access for all programme, to help to make progress with the options for accessibility.
The hon. Member for Wimbledon raised several important issues. We have consulted on the issue, particularly with DPTAC, which, as the hon. Gentleman recognised, is the Government’s adviser on public transport for people with disabilities. The committee has been clear in its support for the action set out in the statutory instruments. That applies to HMRI as well. I shall come specifically to the issue of appendices and handrails shortly.
The issue of the audible door closure will be dealt with by 2013. I say that rather than 2011 because as I said in my opening remarks, it allows for checking that the three-second time scale would not jeopardise the safety of any member of the travelling public, particularly those with disabilities. Three seconds is a longer period in which people can rush for a train, and therefore it might create other problems.
On the question of step free access, and when that is to happen, schedule 2 of the Victoria line order sets out clearly how long the exemption is to apply at each station on the Victoria line. It does not include Pimlico, as I said earlier—or Tottenham Hale or Brixton, which are already accessible. On the question of onboard announcements and connectivity, DPTAC recognised that unnecessary audible messages only confuse the situation for certain people and so it thought it quite right that this exemption should be provided. I can give the Committee an idea of the new signs that will be on the trains. They will be much clearer than the dot matrix signs which show connectivity. I do feel like saying that these are ones I made earlier with sticky-backed plastic.
The Chairman: Order. Visual aids are not normally used in Committee. Perhaps the Minister could describe them.
Paul Clark: The signs on the trains will be much closer to people. They will be fewer than 3 m away. They will be much clearer in the information that they contain as a result of new technology. They will also allow additional information to be displayed using pictures and graphics and they will be able to provide information while the train is travelling.
The hon. Member for Wimbledon asked about the rationale and there being no discomfort or hazard for disabled passengers. That is a primary consideration—it has to be. DPTAC would not have supported any of the statutory instruments if it thought that they were contrary to that and they are exactly in that spirit. I will write to the hon. Gentleman about HMRI and handrails. I apologise. I thought that the appendices were provided by the Department and I will write to all members of the Committee with a copy of them.
An additional longitudinal handrail was developed. It intruded slightly into the wheelchair space, which is currently not permitted by the RVAR. However, human factors experts advise that their installation on the new Victoria line trains would have increased the risk of someone hitting their head when getting out of the tip-up seats in the wheelchair space. That was due to the small size of the tube trains. They were precluded on that basis but an additional vertical handrail has been fitted opposite the wheelchair space instead. I think that we have overcome those problems, but I will certainly send the appendices to hon. Members.
I thank the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington for welcoming me and for his kind comments. I look forward to Mondays being transport days. We probably need to let the House authorities know that that will be the case. He asked about audibility and wondered whether there was confusion. DPTAC was of the opinion that it made sense to have one period of time and therefore to allow the exemption order to be at one and three quarter seconds.
In terms of the marking of ramps, it is obviously in London Underground’s interests to provide good signage for all the travelling public, particularly those who are disabled. I certainly take that on board. On step free access to the whole of the Victoria line, as I said, London Underground is spreading its resources across the whole network. The programme for the Victoria line is laid down in schedule 2. I think that that covers all the points that have been raised by hon. Members.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Rail Vehicle Accessibility (London Underground Victoria Line 09TS Vehicles) Exemption Order 2008.

Draft Rail Vehicle Accessibility Exemption Orders (Parliamentary Procedures) Regulations 2008.

That the Committee has considered the draft Rail Vehicle Accessibility Exemption Orders (Parliamentary Procedures) Regulations 2008.—[Paul Clark.]
Committee rose at twenty minutes past Five o’clock
Previous Contents
House of Commons 
home page Parliament home page House of 
Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 4 November 2008