Disabled Access to Transport

Written evidence from Transport for All (DAT 60)

Transport for All represents London’s older and disabled transport users. We are the only UK organisation campaigning exclusively for an accessible transport system.

Summary

Transport legislation in the UK appears to be strong. It is unlawful for a transport provider to refuse service a member of the public because of their disability. It is unlawful for them to offer service at a lower standard to a person because of their disability. It is unlawful for them to offer a service on different terms to a person because of their disability. Where it is impossible or unreasonably difficult for a disabled person to use a service, the transport provider has a duty to make anticipatory reasonable adjustments.

However, in reality, disabled people regularly find that we are refused service and we are offered service of at a lower standard. Services which are meant to compensate for the inaccessibility of public transport, such as passenger assistance and provision of door-to-door transport, often in practice have a high eligibility bar. Even those who are eligible find that the service provided is poor, and varies greatly from place to place.

These rules are rarely enforced. Complaint systems are unwieldy and the legal route relies on well-informed individuals with the time and attitude and crucially, in an era of legal aid cuts, money to pursue claims against transport providers. In practice, this rarely happens.

Cuts to transport staff, a rise in rail fares and a reduction in the number and frequency of bus routes have affected all passengers, but the effect on the freedom and independence of disabled and older transport users has been much worse. Disabled people are half as likely to have a car compared to the general population and options such as cycling and walking are not open to all of us. So when disabled people lose a local bus service, there is often no ‘back-up’ option, save becoming dependent on the goodwill of neighbours or family.

Being able to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life – including public life, family life and work - are rights enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People. Disabled and older Londoners are being prevented from enjoying these rights because a great deal of transport is inaccessible, and providers are not making the necessary adjustments to change this.

Key recommendations:

· A joined-up, independent complaints body for all modes of transport to genuinely address concerns, and compensation where providers have let down disabled passengers

· A league table of transport providers by number of accessibility complaints to be made public

· A system of disabled and older ‘mystery shoppers’ to annually monitor train, taxi and bus providers, making their findings public and providing recommendations to providers.

· Legislation akin to the PSVAR and RVAR regulations governing vehicles to ensure transport providers make transport infrastructure – i.e. stations and bus stops – is 100% accessible by a fixed date

· Accessible and available information in a variety of formats, available at transport hubs and through health and social care services. A recognition that online information on its own is not adequate

· A poster campaign publicising disabled people’s right to a taxi as a reasonable adjustment where a station is inaccessible: this is little known.

· No access – no money: Accessibility written into the franchising process, so that transport providers bidding to run a service will have to compete in terms of promised accessibility improvements and their record on access

· No training – no contract: regular and robust Disability Equality training for all frontline staff, designed and delivered in partnership with disabled people, must be a condition of all contracts.

· Fair and transparent assessment for transport services and benefits based on the social model of disability

· Updated DfT guidelines on bus design to ensure that buses are spacious enough to meet the challenge of an aging population and increasing numbers of wheelchair users

· The expectation that staff will be available at all stages of a journey written into contracts with transport providers

· A Passenger Assist service which requires 24 hour notice only at Category F stations, and provides unbooked assistance at Category A – E stations.

· Audio-visual information on every UK bus

Is transport legislation effective? Do you feel that you are treated equally as a disabled person? Is it comprehensive enough and is it enforced?

Disabled people are not treated equally. Transport for All, through our advice and advocacy service, receives many complaints.

Transport providers might comply with the law in what they have in place, but the reliability and ease of using these systems means that in practice, their transport is difficult or impossible to use with confidence. The consequence is that in view of the stress of planning and making a journey with the risk it will go wrong, disabled people then decide not to make a journey.

Train and Tube

· Disabled people arriving at a Tube station, (where assistance does not need to be booked in advance) to find that there is no-one to offer assistance. This is especially common among visually impaired and blind people.

· In recent months, since the introduction of manual ramps, we have received a number of complaints from wheelchair users expecting to be met off the train with a ramp, and finding this information has not been passed on, thus getting stranded on the train.

· In London, less than one in four stations are stepfree to platform, with even fewer stepfree to train. This physical infrastructure underlies the basic inequality of access to people with impaired mobility.

· Lack of properly signed, clean, accessible toilets is an often overlooked aspect of accessible transport, especially because individuals are less likely to ‘make a fuss’ about this.

· Many stations (especially mainline stations) do not have the tactile markings by platforms and staircases and the high-contrast lines along the platform that make them safe for VI and blind people to negotiate; or sometimes the tactile has worn down over the years.

· It is not clear whether the train industry will even comply with RVAR legislation. In 2011, ATOC (The Association of Train Operating Companies) stated that they did not think they could meet the 2020 deadline without creating a shortage of rolling stock, and were waiting to see whether DfT would maintain a ‘flexible’ approach to this. They were considering ‘Plan B’ – i.e. non-compliance.

The industry has known about RVAR legislation since 1998. To disabled people, ‘Plan B’ sounds like hoping that Government will look the other way and not enforce legislation, because the cost of buying RVAR-compliant rolling stock by 2020 would be more expensive than making the move to accessible rolling stock later than 2020. This belies the rail industry’s claim to take access seriously and is an insult to disabled people.

Buses

· In London, every bus has audio-visual information which is a huge boon to VI, deaf and hard-of-hearing people. However it does not always work:

· Though it is unlawful for wheelchair users to be refused service on the grounds of their disability, it is extremely common for wheelchair and scooter users to be turned away by bus drivers on the grounds that the wheelchair bay is occupied. This is especially true in rush hour, so disabled people who work office hours or wish to pick their kids up from school face extra challenges. This is despite clear guidance from DfT that bus drivers should ask people, including those with buggies, to move if occupying the space. Here, the lack of provision in PVSAR regulations has led to a situation where disabled people are regularly refused service and legislation does nothing.

One of the biggest issues that is raised, week in, week out, by older and disabled transport users, is the behaviour of bus drivers. Together with Age UK, we surveyed buses. We found that:

· One in four buses did not pull in tight to the kerb at bus stops

· 42% of buses drove off from stops before passengers were safely seated

Age UK have estimated that 800 people a day fall on buses in the UK – many suffer injuries that will result in hospital stays or even death.

We receive many complaints that bus drivers do not pull right up to the stop. This impacts particularly on visually impaired people, who cannot easily read the number of a bus if it is a bus length away from the bus stop. Those who have difficulties in walking too are inconvenienced if they must painfully rush away from the stop towards the bus, worried it will pull away before they get there.

Furthermore, we get regular complaints that bus drivers do not ask pushchair users to give priority to wheelchair users in the wheelchair space.

In London, the ComRes survey showed that 37% of disabled people felt they had been discriminated against by a bus driver and 32% had been ignored by a taxi or bus they were trying to hail.

In general, the guidance in the Big Red Book, the manual used by all London bus drivers, is good. The problem is it is not enforced and that training on disability does not do enough to include disabled and older people directly.

We welcome TfL’s improved signage of these bays, but this is unequal to the task, as many buggies do not fold and few buggy users will agree to getting off the bus altogether. We would like to see the minimum size of the wheelchair space substantially increased, potentially with folding seats (as on Brighton buses). The wheelchair space in the New Bus for London was a huge disappointment for wheelchair users and pushchair users in the capital. Having to rely on a driver to police who gets to use the bay is not enough, even if a wheelchair user successfully gets on they have ‘caused a scene’. A bigger bay would minimise the conflict that puts off many wheelchair users from using the bus. It would also enable wheelchair users to travel together; or for a wheelchair using parent travelling with a buggy to use the bus.

· Discrimination against scooter users is rife, they are refused even more than wheelchair users. TfL have introduced a Mobility Card to identify scooters which are approved, but not all bus drivers know of it yet, or stop to look at it. We have also taken complaints from scooter users denied access to riverboats and to the Cable Car, despite the fact that many scooters are smaller and as manoeuvrable as electric wheelchairs.

· In London, around one in three bus stops are not accessible, because of street furniture in the way, or a kerb that is too high or low or broken to work with a ramp, or a pavement camber that wheelchair users cannot push up, or positioned so that bus drivers cannot pull tightly into the kerb. Happily, TfL recently agreed to work towards 100% bus stop accessibility. However, this needs to happen across the UK. PSVAR legislation on accessible buses is useless if you live in a village where it is a mile to the nearest bus stop where a bus ramp will work. The current legislation divorces the vehicle from the infrastructure it is used with. A bus is only as accessible as the bus stops it stops at, and until bus stops are accessible, disabled people will continue to be locked out the bus network.

· We hear frequent complaints from people with a hidden impairment that they are challenged on production of their Freedom Pass – ‘you don’t look disabled to me!’.

· People who are less steady on their feet are frequently not given enough time to sit down. The On the Buses report and survey TfA carried out 2011 with Age UK London and GLFOP found that 42% of drivers did not give passengers time to sit down. Buses not pulling right up to the stop is also very common, especially when multiple buses use the same stop. In addition,

· These issues, relating to bus driver behaviour, we believe are best tackled through improving bus driver training. The Government has been pushing for the full 5 year delay on the EU Bus and Coach Regulation coming into force. These regulations would make disability equality training mandatory for bus drivers.

· The quality of bus driver training relating to disability is very patchy, and not covered by legislation. We have observed training which is dry, wordy PowerPoint presentations; as well as practical training delivered with disabled people which relates to bus drivers’ experience.

Door to door transport

· In London, door-to-door transport provision is not adequate in compensating for the inaccessibility of mainstream public transport. Dial A Ride does not go further than five miles, entails long waits on the phone and frequently is unavailable. Taxicard does not give subsidised rates beyond 3 - 4 miles; and in most boroughs Taxicard members have just one return journey a week – not adequate to meet the needs of a full life. In many boroughs it is less. For people who need to travel daily (for example for college) door-to-door transport is not sufficient.

· In addition, eligibility criteria for joining Taxicard are exacting and does not recognise the needs of people with cognitive and behavioural impairments such as severe autism or Alzheimer’s which leave them unable to use public transport. Such people often end up quasi-housebound.

Complaints system

· At the moment, there is a widespread feeling among disabled people that we complain, but the complaints are not taken seriously, and eventually people give up complaining out of exasperation. Responses seem standardised and leave one in doubt that any real action has been taken.

· However, complaining requires unusual persistence. Firstly, knowing who to complain to is no mean feat in a complex contracted-out system. Then one must either be online or being able to negotiate an often complex, user-unfriendly telephone self-service voice recognition service, a feat which many older and disabled people either won’t be able to do or will give up on. Paper freepost comments forms available at every station and bus station would be preferable.

Information

· Much of the online information is wrong and out of date.

· There is much excellent information online, but those without internet connection are disadvantaged. Older people are disproportionately likely to lack internet access: Ofcom say that half of those aged 60-69 have no access to the internet at home but this falls to one in six (17%) of those aged 70 and older. In 2008, only 42%, 32% and 35% of those with visual, hearing and mobility disabilities respectively, had broadband access compared with the then figure of 56% of the general population As older people stand to benefit most from information about access, it’s important that they can find out about services like Taxicard, travel mentoring and Dial A Ride; and the toilet and step status easily. But transport providers appear to think that if their access information is on their website, their job is done.

· In going out to speak to groups, I often speak to disabled people for whom transport benefits and rights such as TfL’s Taxi Policy and Capital Call are unknown, even if they have been in touch with council social workers for years. Giving disabled people information about transport services when one receives the forms to apply for disability benefits, in the same way that everyone applying for a driving licence receives information about organ donation, would do a great deal to reduce isolation.

· Few older and disabled people know that free travel mentoring is available. It is an excellent service and has the potential to relieve some of the burden on overstretched door to door services; as well as improving people’s independence and freedom to travel. TfA would like to see TfL promote it with a poster campaign and leaflets at every station.

· Many transport providers have their timetables as a PDF which is unreadable to visually impaired people who use screenreaders.

· Transport providers should have a duty to give information and maps about their transport accessibility services at local bus and train stations, in paper format as well as online, and in accessible formats if needed, and post them.

· When lifts are broken, there needs to be clearer communication about when they will be fixed. At Brixton, Lambeth Transport Action Group members protested when a lift was out of service but no information at street level informed people whether this was a temporary situation for an hour; or for weeks. This was rectified, but lessons should be learnt. TfA hope that the introduction of electronic signboards will aid this information dissemination.

· Many of those people without internet access use the TfL phone service to find travel information. We believe the phone service has got worse in the last couple of years. The much publicised change to an 0843 number made it more expensive for some mobile phone users. Furthermore, instead of an easy-to-use menu which quickly got the enquirer through to a member of staff, there is now a bewildering voice recognition menu system where default enquires are given recorder information instead of a helpful human being. This makes it more confusing to use, particularly for some older people.

· Few older and disabled people know that travel mentoring is available. It is an excellent service and has the potential to relieve some of the burden on overstretched door to door services; as well as improving people’s independence and freedom to travel. TfA would like to see TfL promote it with a poster campaign and leaflets at every station.

Do staff provide adequate assistance for you and are they aware of your needs as a disabled person?

Tube and rail staff are generally well trained and helpful. However, availability is poor.

Many stations are entirely unstaffed for hours, and proposals in the McNulty review could result in reductions to staff all over the network.

When stations are unstaffed, they become no-go zones for many disabled and older people.

Visually impaired and blind people often require assistance to safely get from street onto a train or from a train out to the street. Transport for All regularly hears from blind or visually impaired people who have arrived at stations where no member of staff is available to assist them.

For wheelchair users too, when there are gaps or steps between the train and platform, it’s more than frustrating when no member of staff is available to help negotiate the gap. It can mean missing a stop, or feeling unsafe, or even being stranded on the train. Rail companies, while platforms and trains are not compatible with RVAR standards, are obliged to provide staff assistance as a ‘reasonable adjustment’. Currently, with the numbers of available staff slashed, this is not happening.

People who can’t manage steps, or who can’t walk long distances, need to be able to ask about journey planning. Many people with learning disabilities, some older people and many visually impaired people cannot use oyster machines. At times when the ticket office is closed and when no staff members are available at the gateline, it becomes impossible to buy a ticket. Even when ticket offices are open, fewer members of staff means longer queues and many disabled and older people can’t stand for long. Deaf people who need the loop at ticket offices are left without information when staff outside the ticket office have no loop system.

And especially when disruptions mean a planned journey must be adjusted, it’s immensely frustrating to find that no members of staff are available. TfL’s Taxi Policy means that when a lift is out of order or a stepfree station is closed, and there is no alternative bus route available, TfL provide a taxi to the nearest accessible station. However, if no members of staff are available to ask, the policy is next to useless.

TfL has suggested that Help Points can go some way to filling the gap left by staff.

But calls on the Help Points are not always answered.

In addition, the amplification at Help Points can make them embarrassing to use, particularly if the query relates to a disability which the passenger might not wish to broadcast to the entire station; or for a desire to use a toilet.

Finally, visible station staff are a deterrent against crime and reassure people that they are safe. While a survey commissioned by Scope shows that nearly half of disabled people have experienced abuse while travelling, this is vital.

In addition, at station interchanges, the discontinuity of staff assistance between transport modes makes transfer between different transport operators and modes difficult. We would like TfL to appoint a member of staff to act as an ‘accessibility champion’ across modes, as recommended in the London Assembly Transport Committee’s report on accessibility.

Passenger Assistance

The Passenger Assist system, I believe unlawfully, provides service on different terms to a person because of their disability, in that it requires people to book onto a particular train 24 hours in advance and prevents any flexibility or spontaneous travel. It is also extremely unreliable.

While I can appreciate that at the smallest stations there may not be staff available to offer assistance, TfA believe that at larger stations, train companies should offer a turn-up–and-go system as the Tube does which would not discrimate against disabled people.

Have you noticed any improvements to travelling since the Paralympics? What can be learnt from transport provision during the Paralympics?

· Signage on the Tube during the Games was fantastic.

· Wheelchair users were delighted at the use of manual ramps on the Tube, although it is disappointing that TfL have not committed to using ramps at every station where they would enable wheelchair users to overcome the gap between train and platform.

January 2013

Prepared 5th February 2013