Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from Capability Scotland (DAT 21)

CAPABILITY SCOTLAND CAMPAIGNS WITH, AND PROVIDES EDUCATION, EMPLOYMENT AND CARE SERVICES, TO DISABLED PEOPLE ACROSS SCOTLAND.

CALL FOR EVIDENCE INTO THE EFFECTIVENESS OF LEGISLATION RELATING TO TRANSPORT FOR DISABLED PEOPLE

Summary

Capability Scotland welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence on the barriers to public transport for disabled people. Many of the disabled people we work with find their ability to live independently and exercise their human rights seriously constrained by inadequate access to public transport services and poor staff attitudes. For many, a lack of accessible transport can limit employment opportunities and educational choices. It can also prevent disabled people from visiting family, keeping healthcare appointments and making the spontaneous day to day decisions that many of us take for granted.

While the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Service Vehicles Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR) provide a strong framework through which to tackle inequality and discrimination, progress is being undermined by poor implementation both at nation and local level. At national level this is evidenced by the UK Government’s decision to abolish the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) and also by its plans to use all available exemptions to delay the implementation of the EU Regulation 181/2011 concerning the rights of passengers in bus and coach transport. Locally, the experiences of disabled people suggest that service providers are not making sufficient reasonable adjustment and are failing to consider the needs of disabled customers.

There is a need for improved enforcement mechanisms and to ensure that disabled people are involved at the earliest possible stage in transport and policy design. It is essential that these concerns are urgently addressed, particularly given that ongoing welfare reform will lead to increased reliance on public transport. This will be as a result of increased poverty and fewer people being classed as eligible for the Motability scheme.

Specific Questions

The effectiveness of legislation relating to transport for disabled people: is it working? Is it sufficiently comprehensive? How effectively is it enforced?

1. While the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Service Vehicles Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR) provide a strong framework for tackling inequality and discrimination, progress is being undermined by inadequate implementation and enforcement. Much of this is the result of a lack of commitment to accessible transport on the part of the UK Government.

2. In September 2012 for instance, the UK Government consulted on plans to abolish the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), which has provided expert guidance and advice on the accessibility of public transport since 1985. DPTAC has tackled numerous vital issues including the London Olympics and the accessibility of buses, taxis and trains. The UK Government also has a legal duty to consult DPTAC on certain disability issues. Capability Scotland is concerned that without this duty the Government will not meet the needs of disabled people.

3. The UK Government’s lack of commitment is also evident in relation to bus travel. In 2012 it sought all available exemptions to delay the implementation of the EU Regulation 181/2011 concerning the rights of passengers in bus and coach transport. This will effectively limit free assistance at the country’s main bus and coach stations, and exclude Scotland’s major bus and coach stations from being classed as “designated terminals” because they are not large enough. This will greatly restrict the rights of passengers travelling by bus and coach in Scotland.1

4. This lack of commitment is not acceptable, particularly at a time when independent living for disabled people is already being undermined in so many other ways. Unprecedented benefit cuts, the abolition of the Independent Living Fund and cuts to social care services are already making many people feel like prisoners in their own homes. As well as threatening individual human rights, inaccessible transport also has an impact on economic growth. Research conducted by Capability Scotland in 2010, for instance, highlighted that poor public transport is a significant barrier to travel and tourism and that it prevented many disabled people accessing the services they otherwise would.2

5. There is also evidence that service providers are failing to fulfil their duties under the Equality Act 2010. In many cases, discrimination is indirect, with general policies and practice of transport providers having a disproportionate impact on disabled people. In relation to rail services, for instance, overcrowding is a major issue for disabled people. Not being able to sit down or to use the toilet as a result of overcrowding can be uncomfortable for people with a range of disabilities. It is also extremely problematic for wheelchair users and those with guide dogs.

6. One man told us that, due to his health condition, he had to urinate in the space between two train carriages. One of the train’s toilets was out of order and the other could not be reached because of overcrowding. The man told us that his poor balance and lack of strength meant that he could not push thorough the crowds to reach the other toilet in time. He found this to be demeaning and upsetting.

7. There also appears to be a widespread failure to make reasonable adjustments on the part of public transport providers. One wheelchair user told us that he was travelling to Glasgow on a train from Perth, but that the train was terminated at Stirling as a result of bad weather. He was given assistance from staff to disembark from the train onto the platform, but the main concourse was not accessible from that platform. The only available route involved going outside the station over steep, uneven and icy ground. The individual was told that because this route to the concourse went outside the station grounds staff could not offer him any help. Instead, he was told to make his own way. This put him in an extremely dangerous position and the man was terrified that he might fall out of his wheelchair.

8. There is widespread reluctance to make a challenge under the Equality Act 2010 because of the lack of legal advice and representation and the potential expense of court or tribunal procedures. Complaints procedures also appear to be underutilised because of their complexity and a widespread feeling that they are ineffectual. One disabled person who was involved in a previous consultation on rail travel told us that there is a need for simple, uniform procedure for making complaints and receiving feedback about public transport. He told us, “I always bring the failures to the attention of barrier staff but have given up writing my complaints. Its too time consuming and life is too short!”3

Please provide information on the accessibility of information: including the provision of information about routes, connections, timetables, delays

9. The accesibility of information is a major barrier for disabled people with a range of impairments who want to use public transport. For instance, a visually impaired man told us that the text used in bus schedules is too small and electronic displays are often at the wrong angle making them impossible to read with the glare of the sun. Several deaf people have also explained that it can be difficult at train stations when platform alterations are announced at the last minute. Often the display boards do not show these alterations.

10. Furthermore, during a recent consultation on the accessibility of buses, visually impaired people told Capability Scotland that there is a need for audio announcements on buses, informing those who cannot see exactly where they are and which stop they are approaching. Participants in this consultation also told us there is a need for good practice to be shared and for disabled people to be given the opportunity to feed in to provider decisions and service design.

11. There is also a lack of accurate and timely information about rail travel, particularly the Passenger Assistance Scheme, which offers disabled people extra support to use rail services. One disabled person commented, “There seems to be no way for me to book support in advance. I’m just going round in circles and I can’t get the information. The website told me to phone a number to book assistance. When I phoned up they told me I had to do it online. In the end I didn’t bother going.”

12. There is also a lack of information about the rules relating to medical exemptions for taxi drivers. Some blind passengers told us that they are concerned that in many cases drivers are disingenuous about having a medical exemption, but there is no way for them to verify this. Lack of information of this kind makes it difficult to challenge behaviour which appears to contravene equality legislation. One man told us, “It’s happened a few times. I order a taxi and I tell them about the dog. The taxi arrives, the driver says he’s got an exemption and drives off. How am I supposed to check whether that’s true? I don’t even know who he is!”

The provision of assistance by public transport staff and staff awareness of the needs of people with different disabilities?

13. While many disabled people report helpful and polite staff, others have reported poor staff attitudes and rudeness on public transport. One individual told us he arrived at the train station and the staff were extremely unpleasant about his request for assistance. Staff refused to help him, telling him he needed to learn to book in advance. This approach is reinforced by EU Regulations which state that disabled people should give a period of notice before they can be guaranteed assistance.4

14. Another wheelchair user told us that taxi drivers tend to be extremely polite and helpful when the individual is accompanied but not when they are travelling alone. She told is that the taxi driver ignored her and laughed at her when she told him he hadn’t strapped her chair in correctly.

About Us

Capability Scotland campaigns with, and provides education, employment and care services for, disabled people across Scotland. The organisation aims to be a major ally in supporting disabled people to achieve full equality and to have choice and control of their lives by 2020. Information about Capability Scotland can be found at www.capability-scotland.org.uk.

January 2013

1 Capability Scotland’s responses to the UK Government’s consultations on the abolition of DPTAC and Regulation 181/2011 are available at; http://www.capability-scotland.org.uk/what-is-capability-doing-for-me-now/campaigns/consultation-responses/

2 http://www.capability-scotland.org.uk/what-can-capability-do-for-me/disability-equality-training-and-consultancy/accessible-tourism-project/

3 For more information see Capability Scotland’s consultation response on the Commissioning of Rail Services in Scotland (Rail 2014); http://www.capability-scotland.org.uk/what-is-capability-doing-for-me-now/campaigns/consultation-responses/

4 EU Regulation 1177.2010 for instance states that disabled people must give 48 hours notice to be guaranteed assistance with their ferry journey

Prepared 13th September 2013