Memorandum submitted by the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (LTB 02)
Guide Dogs welcome the Government's Local Transport Bill.
We are the world's largest provider of guide dogs and the UK's largest third party provider of mobility and rehabilitation care to blind and partially sighted people. We are also the UK's largest voluntary sector provider of funds for ophthalmic research which seeks to find cures and preventative care for blindness and the causes of blindness.
Our vision is of a world in which blind and partially sighted people can enjoy the same rights, opportunities and responsibilities as everyone else. We campaign for equal access to goods and services, transport, the street environment, health and rehabilitation services.
Blind and Partially Sighted People and Bus Travel:
Research conducted for the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee [(DPTAC) - the Government's statutory advisory committee on transport for disabled people] found that while disabled people travel a third less often than non-disabled people, they have a greater reliance on bus services. Within the disability community, blind and partially sighted people use buses significantly more than other disabled people, with 57% taking the bus at least once a month compared to 43% of disabled people as a whole.
In Guide Dogs' own research, "Functionality and the Needs of Blind and Partially-Sighted Adults in the UK " which was published in July 2007, 32% of the blind and partially sighted people who use bus services had a degree of difficulty and 10% found them very difficult to use. The most common difficulty with using buses was identifying the correct bus and where/when to get off.
We are supportive of the principle of allowing local authorities more say in the provision of buses. The regulated market in London has allowed for the provision of bus services which are increasingly more accessible to blind and partially sighted people than services outside London. For example, by 2009 Transport for London has committed to fitting audio-visual information systems across the entire fleet.
Guide Dogs welcomes the amendment that the Government introduced in the Lords which would require local authorities in drawing up their local transport plans to consider the needs of all disabled people, not just those with mobility impairments, and to consider the needs of disabled people in implementing as well as drawing up local transport plans. We hope that this will help to make bus travel and transport generally more accessible to blind and partially sighted people and other disabled people. We also welcome the assurance given that the new bus users' watchdog would be subject to the specific duty under the Public Sector Duty provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 and that the regulations concerning the display of information on buses about how to contact the new organisation would have to be accessible to blind and partially sighted and other disabled people.
In this briefing we are organising our comments under the headings of the different parts of the Bill. We suggest that the Committee amends the Bill to cover these points and have written directly to the Members of the Public Bill Committee with some suggested amendments.
Part 1 The Traffic Commissioners:
Part 2 Transport Police:
Part 3 Bus Services:
Annual Skills Targets Need to Be Set for the Bus Industry:
We welcome this proposal which was also promoted at House of Lords Grand Committee with the support of the sector skills council GoSkills. The lack of disability awareness amongst bus drivers has been a problem that blind and partially sighted passengers often experience.
During interviews and focus groups which Guide Dogs conducted between May and September 2005 the need for disability awareness for drivers and transport operators was unanimously voiced.
Issues that could be addressed by such training included assistance with buying tickets before boarding, and providing information about bus service changes, particularly in formats accessible to blind and partially sighted people
Another common problem arises where bus drivers do not allow passengers to sit-down before moving off, as the following example from RNIB's "Travellers Tales" illustrates:
"I had an awful experience with a bus driver which caused me to lose my new guide dog. The bus driver firstly pulled away before we had found our seats so we were thrown into them. Then he drove so recklessly that it frightened my dog to the point where she was trembling, panting and sweating and couldn't sit still. The bus driver was abusive too when asked to slow down. After that experience she was unable to work because she had such a fear of buses and all other transport including trains, taxis and cars. The dog had a nervous breakdown and had to be retired. All because of one bus journey."
In some parts of the country, however, participants had nothing but praise for the sensitivity and helpfulness of bus drivers. In Cardiff (one bus company), Ashton and Ipswich there was evidence of driver awareness training and management involvement (i.e. of the bus company), usually in the form of periodic surveys of passenger needs.
Guide Dogs welcomes the fact that new bus drivers in London are now required by TfL to take a BTEC which includes Disability Equality Training. However, bus companies need to make sure that as a result of the driver training that the drivers know the rules. For example, on route 163 in London, drivers recently refused to allow more than one guide dog on the bus which is contrary to the Public Service Vehicles (Conduct of Drivers, Inspectors, Conductors and Passengers) (Amendment) Regulations 2002.
Whilst we appreciate the Government's view that the current wording of this Clause would probably allow local authorities to make specification in terms of training, we believe that it would be better to specify this on the face of the Bill so that local authorities introducing training requirements cannot be subject to legal challenge.
Consultation Processes need to be publicised in Talking Newspapers:
We support the idea of quality contracts which would introduce the same regime for the provision for local bus services which has allowed for local bus services to be made more accessible in London.
We note that there will be a new requirement to publish a consultation before introducing a new quality contract scheme or continuing an existing scheme and that new guidance will be produced. We feel that it is essential for this guidance to highlight two things: first the need to make the consultation document available in accessible formats; and second, to publicise its availability in those accessible formats. These comments on consultation also apply to other consultation requirements in the Bill. Neither local authorities nor central Government has a good track record of providing documents in accessible formats, especially at the same time as the print version, nor of publicising their availability.
Clause 19 (2) (c) and Clause 30 (2) (c) of the Bill would require a notice to go in at least one newspaper circulating in the area, but most notices in local papers are in the smallest possible print which is unreadable for anyone with a sight problem. It is essential that the legislation encourages the use of talking newspapers where they are available to publicise the consultations.
The Minister Rosie Winterton MP has pointed out that she believes that it is representative bodies rather than individuals that need to be consulted. In many areas there will be a local society representing blind and partially sighted people which will need to be consulted. The person responding on behalf of the local society or another organisation may well be visually impaired and so it is essential that notices are not just confined to print media.
In addition, we would contest that where there is no local society, individual visually impaired people will need to be consulted if an authority is to discharge its duties to carry out an effective disability equality impact assessment.
We welcome the Government's agreement in response to the amendment at Grand Committee in the House of Lords to look at strengthening the guidance. However, if local authorities are still failing to comply with their legal duties under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 we are not convinced that additional guidance which has less force than primary or secondary legislation will adequately address the issue.
Part 4 General Provisions Relating to Public Transport
Taxi Licensing (Outside London) Needs to be Moved from Town and District Councils to County Councils and Unitary Authorities:
Guide Dogs supports this proposal which comes from the National Consumer Council. As part of our research for our publication Functionality and the Needs of Blind and Partially-Sighted Adults in the UK (2007) a number of blind and partially sighted people were surveyed about their experience of using taxis. Taxis were their most used form of transport. 37% of those surveyed often used taxi and only 13% never use them. 7% of those using taxis found some degree of difficulty in using them. The most difficult area was getting in and out of taxis because of steps and different shapes. The widely differing standards for vehicles and drivers could be reduced and the supply of taxis could be increased by widening boundary limits and allowing them to travel a longer distance before having to come back empty because they are outside the licensing authority's area.
Part 5 Integrated Transport Authorities etc:
Part 6 Local and London Charging Schemes:
The Appropriate National Authority Needs to be Obliged to Issue Regulations Concerning Exemptions:
Guide Dogs is supportive of the principle of local road user charging provided that as stated in paragraph 4.82 of Volume 4 Regulatory Impact Assessments of the Draft Local Bill Consultation, disabled people could benefit from the revenues raised and those disabled people that rely on a private car for their mobility, including many blind and partially sighted people, are provided with an exemption. We also welcome the guidance which supports the particular need to consult with disabled people.
We note that it will no longer be a requirement for the Secretary of State to approve schemes including details of any exemptions. While we also welcome the fact that guidance on exemptions and discounts will be produced, we are concerned that by removing the requirement for Secretary of State approval, local authorities may produce exemption schemes for disabled people which do not meet the needs of those who because of their impairment are unable to use public transport and are reliant on a private car for their mobility either as a driver or passenger. For example, in London, the exemption from the congestion charge is based on the possession of a Blue Badge. Partially sighted people struggle with public transport but do not automatically qualify for a Blue Badge. As the permissive power under the Transport Act 2000 has not been used we would suggest that the appropriate national authorities be put under a duty to make regulations concerning exemptions.
We welcome the assurance from the Minister Rosie Winterton MP in her letter to Guide Dogs dated November 26, 2007 that they will be taking stakeholders views into account and that local authorities introducing road user charging will be subject to the provisions of disability discrimination legislation. However, Durham City have introduced a scheme where the only exemption for disabled people is for Blue Badge holders who book a parking space in advance and with the removal of Secretary of State approval for road charging schemes it will be even harder to enforce good practice if there are no regulations specifying minimum exemptions for disabled people.
Whilst we appreciate the Government's reasons for not wanting to fetter the discretion of local authorities on the face of the Bill and for saying that they do not want to accept this amendment because they are still developing the framework for congestion charging schemes, we are asking only that the principle that there will be minimum exemptions for disabled people is on the face of the Bill. By setting a minimum, local authorities will have the discretion to go above the minimum whilst the needs of disabled people are protected. The government can also wait to develop the regulations until it is clear how it would fit in with the rest of the package of regulations and guidance affecting congestion charging.
Part 7 Miscellaneous Provisions
Part 8 Supplementary Provisions
 Attitudes of disabled people to public transport, DPTAC, 2002