Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from Disabled Motoring UK (DAT 61)

Introduction

1. Disabled Motoring UK welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Transport Select Committee’s inquiry into the effectiveness of legislation relating to transport for disabled people. This document is our formal response to that consultation. We would be pleased to expand our comments if required. This document provides additional background and information.

Background

2. Disabled Motoring UK is a national charity that works to improve access and mobility for all disabled drivers, passengers, Blue Badge holders, scooter and wheelchair users. We currently serve around 14,000 members and we work with businesses and government to improve the transport issues faced by people with disabilities.

Disabled Motoring UK was formed at the end of 2005 by the merger of the Disabled Drivers’ Motor Club (DDMC) and the Disabled Drivers’ Association (DDA). The Disabled Drivers’ Motor Club (DDMC) was founded in 1922, the world’s first motoring organisation for disabled people. The Disabled Drivers’ Association was established in 1948 as The Invalid Tricycle Association, changing its name later to reflect changes in the vehicles members used.

Disabled Motoring UK publishes a monthly magazine that goes out to all of its members and is also distributed through various other voluntary organisations and healthcare providers. The magazine aims to empower its disabled readers and foster a sense of community as well as keeping people informed. We run regular features on road safety and updated legislation as well as more light-hearted features from our members on accessible holidays, disability sport and reviews of adapted vehicles.

A large number of our members use public transport and we sought their views on this consultation via our website and e-newsletter.

Summary

3. The primary consideration for disabled people is “door to door” transport. For many disabled people getting from their house to their destination often involves a number of different modes of transport. It is irrelevant that 95% of the journey is perfectly accessible—it has to be 100% and that is why disabled people often use their cars rather than public transport. Although a lot has been done to make public transport physically accessible but it will still be many years before the tube and taxi services can be described as accessible to the majority of disabled people.

4. There is legislation which intends to stop discrimination against disabled people but unfortunately there is a vast difference between what should happen according to legislation and what happens in real life. For example wheelchair users not being able to get on the bus because pushchairs are in the space, disabled people being stranded on trains and too few wheelchair accessible taxis. However, it seems the most common complaint above all else is the attitude of staff.

5. Information is much more readily available than it has been in the past with many people having access to the internet. However, it must be remembered that this is not the case for everyone so information must still be available in other formats.

6. During the Olympics and Paralympics many disabled people travelled successfully into and around London on public transport. This was aided greatly by a vast number of volunteers and staff on hand to help point people in the right direction and on and off transport.

7. The replacement of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) by Personal Independent Payment (PIP) for people aged 16–64 will see significant numbers (perhaps as many as 300,000) losing all or part of a benefit which helps with transport costs. Disabled people who in the past have had a vehicle on the Motability scheme will now be faced with the prospect of using a public transport system which they believe is inaccessible to them. This is why it is essential to ensure that legislation which drives forward the development of accessible public transport is effective.

Questions Posed by the Committee

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

8. The legislation of most importance to disabled people using public transport is the Equality Act 2010 (which superseded the Disability Discrimination Act). This legislation puts an obligation on transport providers to make reasonable adjustments to avoid putting a disabled person at a disadvantage. The only problem is this legislation seems to rely on disabled people bringing cases if they believe they have been discriminated against which many people do not have the energy to do. However, law firms such as Unity Law based in Sheffield do take discrimination cases on a “no win, no fee” basis and some of our members have had successful outcomes in situations where they have suffered disability discrimination.

9. The Public Service Vehicles Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR) and Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (RVAR) legislate disability access requirements for buses and trains. The problem is that for many disabled people there is a vast difference between what should happen according to legislation and what happens in real life. For example disabled people cannot always access the wheelchair space on buses as they are occupied by pushchairs.

One member wrote saying: “With the advent of very large pushchairs, I find that the disabled area on so many buses is occupied by these pushchairs. Very few drivers will intervene in this situation preferring to leave interested parties to work it out for themselves.”

Another member wrote: “My wife and I am both Paraplegics so when using the bus service can be a problem. Sometimes the driver will allow two Electric Wheelchairs to board the bus other times one wheelchair or none. We find that the priority is given to mothers with push chairs who are too lazy to either move to another part of the bus or refuse to fold up the push chair.”

10. The experience of many disabled people is that transport has improved but usually it is lack of information and assistance that lets people down. In particular one member wrote with their experience of using the trains and the problem they encountered when there was nobody to help deploy a ramp.

One member wrote: “I had a very bad experience with South West trains six years ago, and I’m told the situation is still difficult. What happened was this: as a wheelchair user needing assistance with changing trains, getting on and off the train, etc., I booked ahead for a solo journey from Warminster to London, return. There turned out to be no staff at all at Warminster, but nobody had warned me about this. Thanks to my husband being there, I was able to get on the train, but if I had been alone, I would have been stranded.

11. Another problem often encountered by disabled people in the inaccessibility of the taxi fleet, or even when the vehicle is accessible the unwillingness of the operator or driver to serve disabled individuals. It is clear from our members that taxi services are a particularly important element of the public transport network for disabled people. Disabled people—especially those with mobility impairments—are more reliant on public transport than non-disabled people. Within this, taxis are of particular importance because of their flexibility, availability at all times and the ability to access a cab on demand at a taxi rank, without necessarily having to pre-plan journeys and journey times. Taxis are also crucial as part of combined journeys—accessible trains, buses, planes, stations and terminals are all hugely important but often a cab is the only way to get to or from longer distance modes of transport. Equally there is considerable disparity between local authority run taxi licensing authorities in their willingness and ability to enforce and sanction operators/drivers who refuse to comply with the provisions of equalities legislation.

One member wrote: “I am unable to drive at the moment and am relying on taxi’s or someone driving my car. I feel that I do not have equal access because I am a wheelchair user! I have joined the London taxicard scheme which is heavily subsided, no complaint about that. Each time I have used the scheme, the taxi never arrives on time and is usually between 30 and 40 minutes late. Similarly I have to wait an extra 30 minutes or so for my return journey. In fairness to the company Computer cab, they do ring frequently to ask if the customer still requires the journey whilst they try to find a cab, so I am kept well informed when there is a delay and when the cab will be arriving. My issue is that had I been able to use an ordinary minicab transferring to a seat such delays would not be usual and there is a greater choice of minicab firms to choose from. There is my next problem, I have tried without success, to find a local minicab company with a WAV. The nearest companies are based in central London and cost me a great deal more to use. Choice is simply not available so I feel rather stuck with using the heavily subsidised Computer Cab, or paying extortionate prices for London based WAVs.”

12. Significant advances have also been realised over recent years in terms of taxi suitability for disabled people. However progress in this field has been markedly patchy, especially in geographic terms, which is deeply disappointing. The basic mobility needs of a disabled person are the same, whether you live in Llandudno or Leicester or London, yet provision for access to taxis differs widely from one local authority area to the next. This is a crucial area in which improvements to the law are required, in order to better meet the needs of disabled people throughout the UK. (We would be happy to provide our response to the recent Law Commission consultation on taxis)

13. We are also concerned that with thousands of disabled people expected to lose their Disability Living Allowance, many people who currently get out and about with a Motability car or with Taxicard will no longer have this option, meaning that there will be an influx of disabled people onto a transport system which is not necessarily ready.

The accessibility of information: including the provision of information about routes, connections, timetables, delays and service alterations, and fares

14. The majority of our members have physical disabilities so accessibility of written/online information is not usually something we are contacted about. However, we did receive positive comments after the Olympic and Paralympic games that it had been great having people to ask about where to catch which bus and what platform a train was going to leave from. There were also positive comments about the experience people had being able to plan their journey in advance using the Olympic Journey planner.

One member wrote: “During the Olympics I used buses, trains and tube. The planning of my journeys was via the spectator planning link on the Olympic website which I think was linked to TfL’s journey planner. The information was very comprehensive and very good”

15. The majority of Disabled Motoring UK members are over 60 and although many are competent internet users this is not something everyone has access to. This is one of the reasons we continue to publish our monthly membership magazine in print. It is therefore important that information is available in other formats as well as via the internet. It is also important not to assume that everyone has a smart phone or will have one in the near future. The technology is expensive and inaccessible to some disabled people.

16. Delays and service alterations can cause considerable problems for disabled people. The most common issue is wheelchair users being left stranded on trains because nobody is expecting them at the other end as they have had to change onto a different service.

One member wrote: “In the middle of the journey, it was announced that we all had to change trains at Salisbury. The train we were being transferred to was at another platform which could only be accessed by a tunnel. No staff were available to help me. A very kind male passenger assisted me by helping me get off the train, pushing me through the tunnel, and then helping me get on the new train. But if he had not been there, I would have had to go on to Exeter! How I would have got home from there I don’t know!

17. A comment we have had from one member was about the Disabled Persons Railcard. They wrote: “I am a wheelchair user and for medical reasons am unable to travel independently. I am grateful for my Railcard but it would be fairer if there was 50% off the ticket price of my ticket and my carers rather than a third which means I’m paying more than someone who is not disabled. In addition disabled people who can travel alone have a far greater discount so is it not possible to have another category of Railcard for those people who cannot travel alone. Maybe it could be linked into the new Personal Independence Payment where people who get enhanced rate care travelling with a companion get 50% off.”

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

18. From the responses from members we received this is the biggest barrier to disabled people using public transport. Helpful staff can help disabled people feel confident about using public transport but if someone has a bad experience it can put them off using public transport again.

One member wrote: “My most used public transport in London is the Bus Network. This generally works well for me and I find most bus drivers very helpful. There always has been (and always will be) drivers who completely ignore my presence at Bus stops. This is a very frustrating minority, but can make life more difficult since I have to allow for this kind of delay when attending appointments.”

Another member wrote: “The last time I used a train I was left in the carriage for over half an hour and I only was able to get off when other passengers began boarding the train for another journey. I was fearful that I was going to end up going somewhere else. I had no way of getting anyone’s attention and since then I have not dared to travel on my own again.”

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

19. The success of the public transport network during the Paralympics was due to a large extent to the large number of volunteers and staff on hand to help people on/off buses and trains and tell them where to go. In addition the general public seemed much more inclined to help disabled people than is usually the case as they were enthused with Olympic spirit.

20. The success of the tube was also something that can be built on. This was the first time many disabled people had used the tube as there were people with ramps on hand to help.

January 2013

Prepared 13th September 2013