Bus Services after the Spending Review - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from RNID, Sense, Radar, Guide Dogs, RNIB and Leonard Cheshire Disability (BUS 11)


This is a joint consultation response prepared on behalf of six disability organisations, RNID, Sense, Radar, Guide Dogs, RNIB and Leonard Cheshire Disability. We are happy for the details of this response to be made public.


We're RNID, the charity working to create a world where deafness or hearing loss do not limit or determine opportunity and where people value their hearing. We work to ensure that people who are deaf or hard of hearing have the same rights and opportunities to lead a full and enriching life. We strive to break down stigma and create acceptance of deafness and hearing loss. We aim to promote hearing health, prevent hearing loss and cure deafness.


Sense is the leading national charity that supports and campaigns for children and adults who are deafblind. We provide expert advice and information as well as specialist services to deafblind people, their families, carers and the professionals who work with them. We also support people who have sensory impairments with additional disabilities.


Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) is the UK's leading charity offering information, support and advice to almost two million people with sight loss. Our pioneering work helps anyone with a sight problem - not just with braille and Talking Books, but with imaginative and practical solutions to everyday challenges. We also provide information on eye conditions and provide support and advice for people living with sight loss.


As the leading UK independent pan-impairment organisation, we give a voice to 11 million people living with ill-health, injury or disability (IID). We work towards rights to independent living, an end to disability poverty, an accessible Britain, realising potential and unlocking talent of people living with IID, and real equality and justice.


Guide Dogs is the UK's largest single provider of mobility and other rehabilitation training for blind and partially sighted people.

Our vision is for a society in which blind and partially sighted people can enjoy the same freedom of movement as everyone else and we campaign for equal access to transport and the built environment, shops and services, health and social care. We are currently campaigning for audio visual information on buses - the Talking Buses campaign.


Leonard Cheshire Disability supports over 21,000 disabled people in the UK and works in 52 countries. We campaign for change and provide innovative services that give disabled people the opportunity to live life their way.


We welcome the opportunity to comment on the future of bus services after the Comprehensive Spending Review. Transport is essential for providing access to employment, health services, education, social events and leisure pursuits. However, disabled passengers face many difficulties accessing public transport resulting in unnecessary stress, anxiety and isolation. There is a growing commitment within the UK and the European Union to improve access for disabled people. However, we are concerned that the spending review will have a negative impact on the developments achieved so far.

1.  The impact of the reduction in Bus Service Operators' Grant, including on community transport

A reduction in grant will have a negative impact on services, including community transport. The Department for Transport estimate fare increases as a result of the grant reduction.[7] This cut will also mean that bus operators will have fewer funds to spend on improving accessibility. For example, it is unlikely that concessions will be extended to peak times, or for a companion, and may be removed within those local authority areas that do provide these concessions.


Peak time concessions are important to support disabled people looking for work or those in work. Peak time concessions are also important so that disabled parents can take their children to school on the bus. In Scotland and Wales there are no restrictions on free bus travel, only England lags behind.


Some disabled people are only able to travel on buses with the assistance of a companion and they must pay the companion's fare if their local authority does not offer a companion pass as part of its concessionary scheme. As a result, disabled people with the greatest difficulty travelling have to pay the same as a non-disabled person in order to use buses, defeating the point of having concessions. Local authorities are unlikely to address this issue in the short to medium term by extending their local schemes to provide free travel for essential companions of disabled people who cannot travel alone.


Accessibility of buses in London has improved vastly due to the installation of audio visual information systems. However, a reduction in grant will mean it is unlikely that bus operators outside of London will install this equipment voluntarily, increasing the need for regulation in this area.

As these quotes demonstrate, audio visual (AV) displays improve access to information for people with hearing loss:

"On a recent trip to Hamburg, I went with my friend on several of the buses in that city and was surprised and delighted to see an AV display on every bus. It informed us of the whereabouts of the next stop throughout the ride and removed all sense of anxiety."

 "When I have travelled on buses overseas I have been impressed by AV screens that show the name of the next bus stop. This is probably helpful for people with normal hearing too. Bus drivers don't always remember to tell you when you reach your stop so AV displays give you some independence and reassurance."

This quote highlights the benefit of AV displays for people with visual impairment.

"Before audio announcements started on London buses I tried not to use buses. I had just had too many bad experiences of drivers forgetting to tell me when I had reached my stop and refusing to even speak to me when I got on to the bus. Now I can get on the bus, know what number it is and where it's heading and know when I've reached my stop."

Disability Awareness Training

Disability awareness training can make a massive difference to the accessibility of the bus network. However a reduction in grant will also mean it is unlikely that operators will invest in this. We receive many reports of buses accelerating quickly away from bus stops, without giving passengers time to sit down, as well as wheelchair spaces being occupied by prams or pushchairs. These are important issues for disabled people. For example, one deafblind person told us

"When I was walking, but not well, I landed sprawled on the floor of buses several times due to drivers setting off before I'd sat down even though I'd specifically asked them to wait. Sometimes I took a few other people down with me as I fell. On one occasion I was too slow getting to the door to get off, various people were telling the driver to wait, but he shut the doors and drove off. I landed sprawled on the bus floor. There I sat until the next stop. I then had to get off and try to get back to where I had wanted to be. I was with a partially sighted friend. I think that was the day I ended up sitting on the pavement in tears because I just couldn't go any further, at which point a nice shop keeper came and helped us flag down a taxi."

Community Transport Services

We also believe community transport services may be at risk of a reduction in service. This will impact more negatively upon disabled people as it is this group who are most likely to use community transport services.

2.  The impact of the reduction in local authority grant support to bus services and other changes to the funding of local authority bus schemes and services by the Department for Transport

As discussed above, local authorities that currently offer additional concessions, such as free peak-time travel or companion passes, are likely to cut these providing only the national minimum of free off-peak travel for older and disabled people.

There is already some argument between bus companies and local authorities over whether the reimbursement is working properly; spending cuts are likely to increase these tensions.

3.  The implementation and financial implications of free off-peak travel for elderly and disabled people on all local buses anywhere in England under the Concessionary Bus Travel Act 2007

Although local authorities are required by law to provide free off-peak travel for disabled and older people, we may see creative ways of making it harder for people to get a pass or delaying new applications. We know, for example, that one local authority took over a year when the national scheme was first introduced to change existing local pass holders onto the national passes and that during that time they were not taking any new applications.

4.  How passengers' views are taken into account in planning bus services, and the role of Passenger Focus in this area

The ability to participate and have the chance to shape and direct services is important for all members of society, but particularly so for disabled people. Yet, there are too few accessible opportunities for disabled people to give their views. Deafblind people in particular are often excluded. Local authorities and operators should ensure that they engage effectively with disabled people, for example by providing communication support, ensuring the venue is accessible and providing transport for those who need it.

With specific regard to Passenger Focus, it is difficult to pass comment on how they are currently performing in the role of representing bus passengers, having only taken on this remit in April 2010. They have, however, already done some useful work looking at the experiences of disabled passengers. We hope that once the Public Bodies Reform is completed that the role of Passenger Focus will enable it fully to take into account the views and needs of all bus passengers, particularly those who are disabled.


We anticipate that the reduction in the Grant will soon translate into reductions in concessions for disabled people, as well as community transport. We would urge the Committee to scrutinise the Department's plans to evaluate the impact of the reduction and its impact on disabled people.

December 2010

7   Hansard, 2 November 2010, c702W Back

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Prepared 11 August 2011