Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from Catherine Hunt (DAT 43)

I am a 50 year old woman and I have had osteo-arthritis in my knees for the past six years. This affects my ability to stand and walk. I have to use a walking stick at all times.

I live near Brighton, which has an excellent public transport network, but despite this, there are often many obstacles to my being able to safely access public transport.

Obstacles Include the Following

Many bus shelters do not have seats, including my nearest bus stop. This means that I have to wait in extreme pain or walk slowly and painfully a few minutes further on to a stop which does have seats.

Bus drivers sometimes do not wait for me to sit down once I am on the bus. I cannot balance if standing on a moving bus, and I am always worried that I will have a fall.

Sometimes disabled bus seats can be occupied by people who are not disabled, and it is then down to me to ask them to move—sometimes they don’t. In the past I have had to get off a bus at the next stop because of this. Bus drivers have to concentrate on driving the bus, so they are not in a position to arbitrate in a situation where disabled seats are taken by non-disabled people.

Brighton has disabled-friendly buses, but mystifyingly their new design of buses no longer have grab rails where the disabled seats are. I need to hold on to such rails to help me balance while I sit on the moving bus and to help me stand up from my seat. As these are not available in the new buses, I sometimes have to hold onto a complete stranger just to be able to balance and stand up.

Travelling at rush hour or after the schools have finished is quite frightening for me, as I never know whether I will get a seat and I am always worried that I will have a fall.

Getting off buses is potentially hazardous. I have to wait for the bus to stop completely before being able to stand up and I always have to hope that the driver is willing to wait for me.

Drivers do not always lower the automatic step on the bus, so it becomes difficult and painful to stop down onto the curb.

Trains—the disabled seats are often occupied by non-disabled people. In the past I have had experience of asking someone to move and they have refused, so I have had to stand.

Train stations can be problematic if there are no seats free on the station. I have had a few situations where I have asked an able-bodied person to give me their seat, and have been refused.

For many years my local station has had no working ticket machine, which means that I have to stand in a long queue at my destination station (usually Brighton) and pay there. I

have also on occasion been told by staff that it is my responsibility to go and find the guard on the train to pay my fare (even though I have pointed out that I have a disability and can’t physically do this).

Good Things Include the Following

Electronic signs which show real-time information.

Shelters with seats.

Buses with steps the driver can lower.

Trains with working ticket machines.

Being able to buy my travel smart card online has made it much easier for me to be able to use the buses, as I no longer have to balance, while holding my walking stick and trying to get change from my purse.

My ideal situation would be that I would like to have access to a more joined-up system, where, as is the case with London, my travel card could access both the bus an train. At the moment I have to choose which to use. The trains are excellent, and my local station is about 5 minutes walk from my home. However, I am not able to access its steps and bridge, which means that if I choose to travel to Brighton, I can only travel back from there, not into Brighton. Having an integrated transport system would mean that I could choose to use the bus or train, as I feel necessary.

Public transport is expensive for me. I do not claim benefits, so I have to pay full fares. Because of my disability I am not able to work full-time, so the cost of public transport often feels prohibitive when I have to take into consideration all the potential obstacles.

I am a member of my local Green Party, and I am very aware of the importance of being

able to choose public transport over the car. However, the reality for me is that public transport is increasingly difficult, and I increasingly find myself isolated at home. I have a car and a disabled badge, so it is often safer and cheaper for me to drive my car, with all the ramifications that this has for life on our planet.

Driving to Brighton, my nearest city, is particularly undesirable because of all the traffic, parking restrictions and the cost of car parks, which are often not close to where I want to be. As a result I tend not to attempt the journey—it is much easier to stay at home and shop online. Brighton is a wonderful place to shop and eat, but because of the lack of an integrated transport system, it is unfortunately increasingly inaccessible to me.

January 2013

Prepared 13th September 2013