Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from Selby District Disability Forum (DAT 29)

Summary

Whilst a heavy focus on wheelchair users is probably necessary as they are often unable to use most forms of transport or transfer out of their chairs, there are concerns that people with other impairments and/or health conditions are overlooked.

The inadequacy of legislation relating to transport for disabled people stems from the existence of very little actual legislation; most of the “instruction” is embodied within Codes of Practice which lack the legislative teeth required for effective challenge of unmet needs. This is reflected in the diverse policies, of service providers across the country, and the varying manner of their subsequent implementation resulting in a chaotic and inconsistent nationwide provision. At best, this can frustrate, or at worst, preclude the ability to travel. Key factors in restrictive or inadequate policy and/or poor implementation are considered to be the failure to understand the needs of disabled people, the lack of training and monitoring, and a failure to embrace fully the concept of reasonable adjustments and the legal obligation to do so.

As people are disabled through external barriers, inadequate access to transport in this case, and not their condition or impairment, the adoption of the social model of disability and the term “disabled people” is preferred over the use of “people with disabilities” as employed in many documents looked at in connection with this response.

Conclusion

In responding to this enquiry, it raised the question of what constitutes “transport for disabled people”: whether taxis or private hire vehicles are included, and if it encompasses the growing miscellany of provision (including that from the voluntary sector) to compensate for deficits in local networks, and, of course the Motability scheme. Pressure of space, however, has largely confined comment to rail and bus services.

In this respect, despite all the shortcomings in providing transport for disabled people, there is plenty of evidence of good practice and steps should be taken, through improved legislation if necessary, to roll this out across the country. In doing this, thought needs giving to more stringent enforcement: the failure to impose consistent penalties for infringement can lead to confusion and helps no one. And finally, greater imagination should be employed by vehicle and equipment designers to better accommodate disabled people with strong collaboration between the two.

Questions and Responses

1.0.0 The effectiveness of legislation relating to transport for disabled people

1.0.1 The legislation, and subsequent provision, seems to focus on the needs of mobility impaired people, who probably face some of the biggest physical barriers, and, within this group, wheelchair users.

1.0.2 Because the legislation—both existing and prospective—makes specific reference to wheelchairs, mobility impaired people who use other mobility equipment often complain of being disadvantaged—and, therefore, discriminated against—for not being disabled enough [to require a wheelchair]. These include people with walking frames, rollators and sticks or crutches as well as users of small class 2 mobility scooters.

1.0.3 With regard to the comment “not … disabled enough” [1.0.2], it should be pointed out that for many mobility impaired people who might otherwise use a wheelchair, a mobility scooter can be the most practical—or only—option where greater independence is preferred or, indeed, is a necessity (in the absence of a suitable—or any—companion or carer to assist by pushing a chair and/or carrying bags which might easily be carried on board a scooter but not from a chair).

1.0.4 The loophole in the legislation [1.0.2] renders it open to widely differing interpretations when it comes to the carriage of mobility scooters in all forms of public transport, leading to their frequent exclusion, including those that fit well within the statutory 700 x 1,200mm wheelchair footprint allowance which, in itself, is cautious and excludes those who require larger wheelchairs.

1.0.5 Despite rigorous guidelines imposed by the CAA and IATA in respect of carriage of powered wheelchairs on aircraft, mobility scooters are included and widely accepted in the hold (subject to size, weight and battery type restrictions). Airport assistance is generally excellent, making egress from, and entry to, the country relatively straightforward for the majority of disabled people including users of smaller, class 2 scooters.

1.0.6 Unfortunately, getting to the airport by means of public transport is likely to create particular issues for a mobility impaired disabled person from the time they leave home, especially if they use a powered wheelchair or, even more so, a small class 2 mobility scooter.

1.0.7 This [1.0.6] can begin with the difficulty in obtaining an accessible taxi, with a driver physically competent to assist, and onwards to accessing a bus/coach and/or train. As stated in 1.0.2, wheelchair users have more rights than users of mobility scooters who generally cannot access buses and who are likely to find policies of train operating companies (TOCs) widely variant across the country and implemented inconsistently.

1.0.8 A scooter user describes the bizarre situation of being able to get from their Yorkshire home to London on the train (and thereafter on accessible routes) by virtue of being on a direct, high speed train (HST) rail link to the Capital, but cannot get locally to Leeds or York (and connect with onward accessible routes).

1.1.0 Is it working?

1.1.1 The short answer is that it varies according to location: the transport service provider’s policies and procedures and the actual practice pursued by individual staff [1.0.7].

1.2.0 Is it sufficiently comprehensive?

1.2.1 No. In focusing on mobility impaired people [1.0.1], there is little, in specific legal terms, that might assist people with a range of other impairments and/or health conditions. People with learning disabilities or difficulties appear to have been particularly overlooked. Although the Supplement to Part 3 Code of Practice, Statutory Code of Practice, Provision and Use of Transport Vehicles, does raise the issue of blind and visually impaired people, deaf and hearing impaired, people with learning disabilities and people with multi impairments/health conditions, this is a Code of Practice (born out of the DDA but still relevant under the EqA) and not legislation, and experience varies greatly [1.3.1].

1.3.0 How effectively is it enforced?

1.3.1 Para 4.16 of the Supplement to Part 3 Code of Practice [1.2.1] deals with establishing policies, procedures and practices for avoiding the likelihood of discrimination. This gives rise to three issues: the policies and procedures themselves, their dissemination to staff and appropriate training, and what actually happens in practice as carried out by staff [3.0.1, 3.0.2].

1.3.2 The efficacy of policy and procedural dissemination and training, together with sanctions for subsequent breach, are open to conjecture but the wide variation in policies themselves lends itself to astonishment [1.3.3].

1.3.3 The carriage—or not—of mobility scooters provides a case in point [re 1.3.2]. Paragraph 27 of the report (January 2012) on the outcome of the March-May 2010 Government Consultation on proposed changes to the laws governing powered mobility scooters and powered wheelchairs notes that “[t]he carriage of mobility scooters on public transport was not covered in the Consultation, but has been raised by the Transport Select Committee. Currently, whether to transport a mobility scooter with the occupant, or unoccupied as an item of carry-on-luggage (either folded or fully assembled) is a matter for transport operators, based on their own risk assessments.” Paragraph 28 further notes that:

1.3.4 “… The Department continues to work with transport operators and the industry to develop a kite-marking scheme, for carriage on public transport. The aim is to enable a disabled person to have more confidence that they can travel with their mobility scooter. The Department will also work with the industry and suitable designs for public transport” although progress appears frustratingly slow with no visible evidence of any such long-awaited developments to date, [see also comments on scooter cards 1.3.10].

1.3.5 Given these admissions, legislation cannot be considered effective; experience is that there is no seamless, national collaboration when it comes to cross country travel on public transport which is further hindered by a woeful lack of consistent understanding with regards to the concept and/or implementation of reasonable adjustments which underpinned the DDA and remain the cornerstone of the subsequent EqA.

1.3.6 Such are the challenges born from these inconsistencies and policy variations that many disabled people choose to avoid travelling outside their local area and rely on taxis for shorter journeys for fear of being marooned, although this option can present other accessibility issues, despite the presence of legislation and licensing requirements.

1.3.7 One powered mobility scooter user, with extensive experience of nationwide public transport, reports that the only guarantee of being able to use public transport with such a machine is if it is one of very few (car) “boot” scooters that actually folds (opposed to disassembles).

1.3.8 It should be noted though that such (folding) scooters tend to be very expensive, around £2K, representing two or three times the cost of their disassembly counterparts with spare or replacement batteries costing £400 (four times more than those for a non-folding scooter). Furthermore, folding scooters come with their own operational complications such as weight (around 26kg which is too heavy for most users to lift, versus around 16kg for the heaviest part of a disassembly scooter), comfort (folding scooters are economical with features that improve ride quality and can lead to back pain), performance and reliability— even when negotiating typical urban terrain. In other words, for a mobility scooter user to avail themselves of public transport they have to make heavy compromises and a significant financial outlay, as well as be relatively mobile/able-bodied in other ways to handle it outside the provision of specific transport related assistance.

1.3.9 In relation to buses, one nationwide service provider apparently operates a scooter permit system to enable scooter users to ride on and off buses with their scooters. This requires a scooter assessment but, regrettably, the witness report notes that nobody—not even the service provider—seems to know how to arrange it.

1.3.10 Some TOCs also operate a scooter card system to remove the guesswork from assessing the suitability of a scooter for carriage on their rolling stock. However, while the principle is good, the practice is unwieldy given the need to have photo-cards (of the scooter) for each company involved upon whose service the holder may wish to rely. (It is no good being told at the point of booking assistance [3. 1.10] 24 hours in advance that a permit is required which can take up to 10 working days to procure.) The difficulty tends to arise over the policy when it comes to booking assistance over the telephone [3.1.10]. In practice, though, the writer and regular scooter user, has never been asked to provide evidence of possessing such a permit.

1.3.11 A stumbling block often seems to be health and safety, the citation of which can be used as legal justification for precluding equal access to transport services by disabled people. However justified, though, it is a mystery why concerns should vary so markedly across the country.

1.3.12 One example [of 1.3.11], again, comes from the carriage of mobility scooters on trains. While many TOCs are happy to allow scooters to board their trains with their occupants in situ, others will not, citing the fact that train ramps are usually at an angle greater than the 8º often stated as the maximum safe operating gradient in the scooter handbooks. Such over-cautiousness on the part of manufacturers is not helpful (a scooter user would not get very far ordinarily if their scooter was incapable of traversing more than 8º) and renders any challenge to such limiting TOC policies useless, and risks impacting on other TOCs thereby exacerbating difficulties for disabled people who need to use mobility scooters.

1.3.13 However, in respect of health and safety, returning to the Part 3 Code of Practice Supplement, “there must be a balance between protecting against the risk and restricting disabled people from using the service. Disabled people are entitled to make the same choices and to take the same risks within the same limits as other people” [CoP para 7.12 ].

1.3.14 A basic reasonable adjustment [1.3.5] would resolve the issue but TOCs seem reluctant to consider assisting the disabled person separately and putting the scooter into manual allowing it to be wheeled up the ramp.

2.0.0 The accessibility of information, including the provision of information about:

2.1.0 Routes, connections, timetables

2.1.1 Generally, there is much room for improvement particularly around alternative formats for those with visual impairments, learning disabilities, or dyslexia.

2.1.2 Wheelchair users are invited to contact the local bus company in advance to ascertain whether an accessible vehicle will be operating on the required route on a particular day; however, the timetabled provision of such a vehicle “cannot be guaranteed” leaving the disabled person uncertain of being able to travel, not being able to travel at all or, worse still, able to make an outward journey but left stranded on the return.

2.2.0 Delays and service alterations

2.2.1 More needs to be done to develop ways of relaying such information to blind and partially sighted people, deaf and hearing impaired, and people with learning disabilities or difficulties and communicating these methods to likely users in the first place.

2.3.0 Fares

2.3.1 It is widely recognised that the fare structure, particularly on the rail networks, is highly complex and widely considered to be unnecessarily so with a vast array of advanced and/or split ticket options. Whilst such complexity is a feature for all rail (in particular) users and not confined to disabled people, the extra difficulties faced by the latter can amplify any confusion arising from attempts to extract relevant fare information and frustrate the booking of a journey.

2.3.2 Correct fare information is an integral part of purchasing a ticket, but the whole transaction can be thwarted when trying to obtain a ticket from unsympathetic (or untrained) staff [3.0.0] or, worse still, a machine in the case of busy or unmanned stations, or some bus stops (not everyone qualifies for a free bus pass and, if they do, they are not valid at certain peak times). People with visual impairments, learning disabilities and dyslexia report particular difficulties in this respect.

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

3.0.1 This is inconsistent [1.3.1, 1.3.2]. One wheelchair user commends the service provided to disabled people by drivers on Blackpool buses as exemplary and one that should be emulated elsewhere although no comment can be made in respect of people with other impairments.

3.0.2 Wheelchair users of local bus services in North Yorkshire are less complementary with tales of unwillingness to deploy ramps and challenge other passengers who cause obstructions with commonplace refusals to collapse pushchairs, thus denying a wheelchair user the right to travel.

3.0.3 There is no automatic right for a mobility scooter user to take their scooter on a bus (unless folded), however small, and the ability to do so seems to be at the driver’s discretion although it is recognised that bus design—even that of the new “accessible” ones—does not lend itself to accommodating scooters.

3.0.4 Indeed, vehicle design limits the assistance that can be provided to one wheelchair user on a bus and, two or three on trains, although some TOCs are more flexible thanks to a combination of attitude and/or type of rolling stock. At busy times of day (notably “rush hour” and school pick-up time) wheelchair/scooter users can experience greater difficulty in boarding buses and, to a lesser degree, trains as they have to vie for space in amongst more travellers/pushchairs/luggage, or re-arrange their journey. Signs to indicate priority for wheelchair users tend to be lacking or inadequate.

3.0.5 Vehicle design (old and new) for buses and trains also limits space for carriage of walking frames/rollators, crutches etc which have to compete with insufficient luggage storage at busy times.

3.0.6 Regrettably, even vehicles compliant with the new Part 5 rail access standards, and new “accessible” buses fail to address these matters [3.0.4 and 3.0.5] meaning that there is little hope for any great improvement in the foreseeable future. The deficiency could have been addressed through the utilisation of removable seats or other flexible seating arrangements to facilitate wheelchair users and/or carriage of mobility aids, pushchairs and general luggage.

3.0.7 General comments, particularly from blind and partially sighted people, in respect of using buses are around difficulties in identifying the bus they want to take, and when to get off, without help. A sensible move would be to have all bus and train operators utilise an on-board audio/visual automated announcement system.

3.0.8 In commenting further on bus driver attitudes [3.0.2], it should be pointed out that while some are very good, others leave much to be desired, often displaying impatience which can include driving away before passengers are seated or standing securely—a potential hazard for all bus users, but particularly disabled ones.

3.0.9 Rail users requiring assistance are required to book at least 24 hours in advance to guarantee it, which can be very limiting, and does not always go to plan although most witnesses behind this response report that the majority of station staff and train crew are usually very helpful, to the point of sometimes—or often—overriding their employers’ restrictive policies.

3.1.10 However, booking assistance (normally done over the telephone—usually on low-rate or free phone telephone numbers that cost more or are not free if called from mobiles) can sometimes prove to be an unnecessarily protracted process which can take up to 30 minutes, or longer, to conclude [see also 1.3.10].

3.1.11 The TOC which has recently facilitated online assistance booking, alongside its web-based ticket purchasing arrangements, is to be applauded.

3.1.12 Unfortunately, the booking of assistance to travel from A to B does not automatically result in on-board assistance. This extends beyond information sharing about the journey (delays etc) to accessing refreshments and toilets. It is not uncommon to find a train’s accessible toilet malfunctioning and while the writer has used the emergency call button in this respect, she is reluctant to use it to request refreshment. While staff on one HST (with a buffet car) regularly offer an at-seat service to this traveller, it is not the norm despite the recommendation that it should be [CoP example under para 5.21].

3.1.13 The ability to board trains in the first place can be restricted by station access. The need to “check-in” 20 minutes in advance can cause difficulties particularly if it is necessary to cross tracks via a “barrow crossing” to a platform devoid of facilities (indoor waiting, accessible toilets etc). Signallers have the right to deny track access and this sometimes happens, without any obvious good reason, even when the disabled person presents in good time, so that their train is missed along with any forward connections.

3.1.14 The lack of staff at unmanned stations not only restricts access through there being no one available to provide assistance to overcome physical barriers, but in the lack of help available to plan journeys and buy tickets. [2.3.1, 2.3.2]

4.0.0 What can be learnt from transport provision during the Paralympics and how can we build on its successes?

4.0.1 Reports from those with experience of this are very good with the general feeling that if it can be done for the Paralympics, it can be done the rest of the time, and practices rolled out nationwide.

January 2013

Prepared 13th September 2013