Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from Dr Alice Maynard (DAT 54)

1. Introduction

1.1 There are two issues that I would like to bring to the Committee’s attention:

the cost of wheelchair accessible taxis compared with the equivalent cost that nondisabled people would pay; and

issues for wheelchair users travelling on trains—assistance and PA use.

1.2 I am an independent consultant and have been working in the transport industry on disability issues for the past 15 years. I developed the first accessibility strategy for the rail network as Railtrack’s Head of Disability Strategy. I also have a Doctor of Business Administration in transport economics—specifically the value of access for disabled people to heavy rail stations. Although I still work across the industry, this evidence is submitted as an individual disabled person (wheelchair user and PA user) who travels extensively on public transport. The examples are my own anecdotes.

1.3 I am not concerned to keep this evidence confidential, nor am I specifically requesting to give oral evidence, although I am happy to do so if required.

2. Wheelchair Accessible Taxis

2.1 I recently tried to book a cab with one of the local minicab firms, and when I checked the price before specifying that it needed to be wheelchair accessible, I was quoted a price of around £12. When I then tried to book a wheelchair accessible cab, I was told it would be significantly more—£20.

2.2 I understand that this is because a different type of vehicle is required for wheelchair access, and that more is charged for these vehicles because they are used to carry more people. (Generally, in my local area, accessible cabs are people carriers.) However, in this particular instance I was the only person travelling and the only reason I need a different vehicle is to be able to use the service. I believe that providing a wheelchair accessible cab should constitute a reasonable adjustment to the service under the Equality Act 2010, and that it is unlawful, therefore, to ask me to pay extra for the adjustment.

2.3 I spoke with the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s helpline to check my understanding, and theirs accorded with mine. However, because there are no regulations for taxis, I am not certain enough of my ground to risk taking action against the minicab company.

2.4 I would like the Committee to make recommendations on this issue so that the situation becomes fairer and travel by taxi for wheelchair users becomes more affordable.

3. Wheelchair Users Travelling on Trains

3.1 There are many issues relating to wheelchair users travelling on trains, and most have been rehearsed often. There are two in particular that I want to raise here.

3.2 The first is the problem of assistance on and off the trains. The system is very gradually improving, but there are still significant problems with communication between the origin and destination stations. Where there is a train manager, if the train manager were to be given the responsibility of ensuring that the wheelchair user gets off at their destination station, I believe the system would work a lot better. Some train managers do take responsibility, and some even assist passengers themselves (although I’m not sure if they are, in this case, breaking some “rule”). In places where trains are driver only operated, my proposal will not work. But drivers must have some way of contacting station staff at the stations at which they call so, in these instances, perhaps the driver could be appraised that there is a wheelchair user on the train and where they are planning on getting off. I am aware that this might cause significantly greater problems for the industry to implement, however.

3.3 I would like the Committee to consider how to improve assistance provision, in particular by ensuring that wheelchair users (and other disabled people requiring assistance) are able to get off at their destination without hassle.

3.4 The second issue relates to an incident that happened to me the other day. A wheelchair user alighted from the train in the morning commute via the ramp, so I boarded the train before the other passengers because the ramp was already down. Normally, I have to wait until all other passengers have boarded. Immediately after I had boarded the train manager closed the train doors, without checking the platform, and gave the signal for the train to depart. One of the other passengers left on the platform was my PA. I travel with the PA because I need her assistance. On the very rare occasions when I don’t travel with a PA, I have to make extensive arrangements to ensure that I have everything I need and can manage without assistance on the journey until I am met at the other end. I have to ensure that I won’t need the loo, that I have the work that I was planning on doing on the train to hand (which may be impossible if there are too many papers), that I am wearing the kind of outdoor clothing that doesn’t prevent me moving freely (which is not warm enough in winter), and a whole host of other things to ensure my comfort, safety and security. On this occasion, I had taken none of these precautions. Fortunately, I was able to get some assistance from a fellow passenger, and there were no incidents on the train that caused me to need additional assistance that only my PA could provide. I was very concerned until I was reunited with my PA, and I was late for work as she had to take the next train. Although my origin station was quite helpful, they could not understand why it was such a major issue for me to be separated from my PA. I have had a similar experience on a bus, but at least the distances are shorter and potentially walkable between stops.

3.5 I would like the Committee to consider how to promote the needs of PA users to transport providers and improve the experience of PA users on public transport.

January 2013

Prepared 13th September 2013