Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from Richard Fowler (DAT 62)

2. Summary

2.1 Overall, without a car, disabled travel is now a tale of two halves. If you live on a direct main bus, tram or train route and are lucky and not in a hurry your experience will often, but not always, be positive. But if you have an even slightly problematic or complex journey or are in say, the wrong suburb, or a rural area, disabled travel is a lottery.

2.2 Official statistics do not quantify the believed significant number of disabled who face isolation because they cannot go out, or journeys which experienced disabled travellers dismiss as not feasible.

2. The slow and patchy provision of sufficient and accessible public transport is the direct result of HMGs deliberate policies favouring deregulation without harmonisation and the interests of operators over the needs of the disabled. Individuals and organizations representing disabled travellers have repeatedly told politicians, officials and operators that what is needed is a champion with teeth and “door to door” joined -up transport thinking. Thus far there is no indication whatsoever that they have been listened to. They have now added concerns about the implications of current austerity policies for increasing isolation and inability to travel.

2.4 Printed and online travel information for the disabled is ample but conveying information on detail, delays, changes etc is often poor or reliant on technology.

2.5 Most transport staff are helpful but some .lack initiative and follow their managements example of good or bad practices. A small minority of staff are impatient and take out their frustrations on slow disabled passengers.

2.6 The accessible transport legacy of the Paralympics is largely irrelevant outside London. Government cuts are far more significant.


3. The Reality of Travel for the Disabled

3.1. Disabled people make 5% of train journeys and 20% of bus journeys*. There are problems on about a quarter of journeys by disabled people.(Passenger Focus). 89% of buses have low floor wheelchair access. (Office for Disability Issues 2009/10). These perceptions of improvements in accessible Public Transport are based on good practise on simple journeys in specific places with sufficient population to justify modern buses, trains and trams. On the other hand, bad practises; even slightly problematic or complicated journeys; rural areas; old or poorly maintained vehicles and equipment etc cause widespread difficulties for would-be disabled travellers.
*DfT think this an overestimate.

3.1.1 “A prebooked return train journey between Grimsby and Merseyside went very well despite tight connection times. The Assisted Travel unit were helpful, knowledgeable and efficient. Station and railway staff were ready, quick and helpful. The only problems on the train journey were large, occupied pushchairs in the wheelchair spaces and the disabled toilet broke, which could have been serious if it were not nearly the end of the journey. However, the buses to get to and from Grimsby could not be relied on and only take one wheelchair/mobility scooter. Also, some accessible buses on Merseyside could not be reached because of bad pavement, refuge and bus stop layout. Wheelchair accessible taxis were hard to book to connect with the trains and cost twice as much as the entire train tickets for two people.” (Two wheelchair users)

3.1.2 “Assisted rail travel arrangements fell apart when a train was cancelled because of ice and snow (and on another occasion because of stolen copper signaling cable). Station staff at the intermediate station were not expecting us, and remained absent. We were left in freezing conditions for an hour. Unmanned and understaffed stations are an access and security problem. Because of the delay I missed the last bus home which left at 4.00 pm on a weekday. The buses do not run at all on Sundays.” (wheelchair user)

3.1.3 “In Summer 2012, we were unable to use buses and trains to travel 60 miles from rural Lincolnshire to a national Mobility Roadshow in Peterborough even with Passenger Focus trying to help.” (wheelchair and mobility scooter users)

3.1.4 Wheelchairs Very little official time and thought is given to the vital issue of how the mobility impaired get to and from bus stops and train stations; between bus and train stations, or around shopping etc areas. There are about 20,000 wheelchairs in Lincolnshire. We estimate that a maximum of 200–300 of them ever use buses or trains.” “NHS Wheelchair Services in Lincoln was privatised and moved to an industrial estate not served by buses”. In Lincolnshire, disability-friendly Dial-a-Ride closed when its funding was withdrawn (except for Lincoln which is for Lincoln residents only , even though it is subsidized from county funds). A Louth town minibus service is publicized as wheelchair accessible and have taillifts fitted. Two disabled electric wheelchair users live directly on the route but are not allowed to use the service. “PSVs comprise approx 50,000 buses and 45,000 minibuses and coaches. (Office of National Statistics)” (Minibuses are outside the scope of accessibility requirements). Lincolnshire County Council (LCC) run subsidized 6 daytimes a week prebookable wheelchair accessible minibuses available to all registered users disabled or not, and operating from small town “hubs” around much of the county. This “Call Connect” service is a good and important service. However, it is busy and now often has to be booked a week ahead. LCC impose petty restrictions on their services regarding wheelchairs and mobility scooters, which together with limited service and reliability issues can make some journeys and connections impossible. Despite operating some small buses with big bus style “rear-facing” wheelchair spaces, LCC insist on approving and registering wheelchairs which excludes visitors, users of Red-Cross hired and replacement wheelchairs and some older and privately owned wheelchairs. These restrictions only seem to be relevant to “forward facing” wheelchair spaces and are an unnecessary obstacle to travel. Perversely, there are no such restrictions on babies travelling in pushchairs. “Bus drivers often set off before I am seated. I sometimes cannot get onto a bus because the fold-out ramp is defective. Bus companies can use or substitute old inaccessible buses as they wish.” (wheelchair user) Policy lags way behind technical and lifestyle developments. Wheelchair technical developments are ignored or treated as a problem eg lithium-battery- powered folding wheelchairs; outdoor/rough terrain wheelchairs, front-steering wheelchairs etc.

3.1.5 Mobility Scooters To a greater or lesser extent, mobility scooters, wheelchairs, walking trolleys etc are treated as a problem rather than an essential replacement for properly functioning legs. An excuse is that those disabled who really need a mobility aid will use a wheelchair, while a mobility scooter is seen as a lifestyle choice. The extension of this is that statistically few mishaps are used to justify bans or restrictions. Hence operators are generally able to sideline the estimated 300,000 mobility scooter users in the UK. There is little provision for 2 or more mobility impaired people to travel together. Carriage of smaller class 2 mobility scooters on buses and trains is a shambles because every operator is free to do as they please. This can make journeys involving different operators and combined bus/train impossible. While most major bus operators are signed up to the CPT scooter code, some are not and other signed-up operators are not obliged to accept another operators Scootercard. Furthermore, many smaller bus operators do not accept mobility scooters so a combined bus journey involving 2 or more operators is often not possible. .Rail operators DPPPs are misused to restrict some travel options so some operators will not accept any mobility scooters on some or all of their First Transpennine. Train operators which accept mobility scooters each have their own procedures, criteria and lists of acceptable models. Some operators lists are erroneous and criteria obscure.One train company ban 2 out of 3 models of a specific machine even though the managing director of ROMA/INVACARE confirmed that this is the same scooter with different names. He also said that the trade are moving towards personalised equipment which will presumably make type approval difficult. Tyne & Wear Metro have a blanket ban on mobility scooters. Sheffields Stagecoach Supertram operates the CPT bus scooter code. TfL and Merseyrail accept class 2 mobility scooters bigger than the CPT bus code, broadly in line with the Reference Wheelchair size. TfL have a list of acceptable mobility scooters for buses in London. Big events like the 2012 Olympics and the Mobility Roadshow in Peterborough had wheelchairs and mobility scooters available on site. The nearest day-to-day equivalent is the limited Shopmobility service.

3.1.6 Coaches

None of National Express’ scheduled coach services from Lincolnshire to London and Birmingham and beyond are accessible to people confined to wheelchairs. As far as we can tell there is just one wheelchair accessible excursion coach in all of Lincolnshire. Rail replacement services are usually inaccessible coaches. Anecdotally, the timescale for accessible coaches has been so protracted that some operators bought inaccessible coaches because they will be worn out and due for replacement again by 2020 and so gained competitive advantage.

3.1.7 Taxis

Outside big towns, wheelchair accessible taxis core business comprises schools, social services and NHS contracts and are frequently not available for private hire at key times, evenings and weekends. Pretexts for avoiding taking wheelchairs and guide dogs remain common.

4. Effectiveness of Legislation

4.1 The Equality Act 2010 and the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People are, like the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the superceded Disability Discrimination Act, merely influential and feeble. Lack of adequate provision, standardized design and integrated infrastructure/transport needed by the disabled reflects a dogmatic aversion to regulating authorities and operators.

4.2 The legislation to give the impression that the disabled were gaining tangible rights in relation to transport .The Disability Discrimination Act, now the Equality Act 2010 belatedly gave disabled people only vague rights based on “reasonable adjustment” with enforcement by private civil action at the cost and risk of disabled people. Set against that, many* specific regulations for PSVs and trains etc defined a host of mainly technical requirements on a very extended timetable.

4.3 HMG had learned to play the EU game to shape transport legislation at EU level which then largely avoids UK parliamentary influence. HMG have generally represented the interests of operators and availed operators in the UK of any available delays in implementation and derogations in EU law. In contrast, EU inspired legislation on air travel by the disabled favoured the disabled.

4.4 *As well as PSVRs etc, DPTAC (Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee) supplied detailed technical specifications for PSV etc design. Similar EU and UK technical standards for trains. Difficulty in complying is an excuse for not making accessible transport available.

4.5. In the USA even though the the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) implemented in 1992, had to be revised in 2009 to overcome discriminatory decisions and practices, .it has features required in the UK. In the USA the Department for Transport on behalf of the Department for Justice (Office of Civil Rights) have for over a decade been making “Settlement Agreements” with bus operators fixing and if necessary dictating accessible travel arrangements on a short timetable. Major bus operator Greyhound initially opposed the ADA on cost grounds but concluded a Settlement Agreement in 1999.

4.6 “A group of disabled travellers in Darlington are taking Arriva Buses to court to clarify very basic aspects of bus travel eg priority use of wheelchair space over pushchairs, shopping etc. They cite good practice (ie wheelchair priority) by Transport for London (TfL) and some other authorities”.

4.7 Lincolnshire County Councils (LCC) Public Sector Equality Duty under the Equality Act amounts to a vague, unenforceable statement meaning something like “we will do more than the law requires”. The toothless Equality and Human Rights Commission confirmed that LCC are not obliged to be more specific about Transport or anything else.

4.8 This insincere picture illustrates that without compulsion and a shorter timescale, not only are millions of disabled people missing out but it is still too easy for local authorities and operators to simply no t provide transport, still less accessible or integrated transport.

5. Access to Information

5.1 “My guide–dog helps but I have to rely on the driver or other passengers to tell me where to get on, off or change buses. I cannot use a smartphone. Most trains have announcements.” (blind bus-user).

5.2 “Despite telling us in advance that the buses on the route were wheelchair accessible it turned out on the that some were and some were not. On complaining we were told they did not have to comply until 2017 (true) but they did not acknowledge that as a reasonasble adjustment they should be able to tell passengers which specific buses were and were not accessible. They just did not get it. If you rely on a wheelchair you need to be sure you can get back or you just cannot travel at all.” (wheelchair users on Merseyside)

5.3 1/3rd of bus journeys are on concessionary passes (DfT) .There are 11 million disabled incl 15% children and 45% pensioners (DWP). Many elderly and disabled avoid technology and hard to reach, menu- driven and premium/national rate telephone services which are the main sources of specific and urgent travel information .The vast amount of printed information tnd generally available in formats to suit different types of disability but it is expensive and readily outdated.

6. Staff Help and Awareness

6.1 “I was astounded to be asked by an official booking bus transport “will you be taking the wheelchair?” ( disabled person confined to a wheelchair by a stroke and leg amputation).

6.2 “Despite letting the bus ramp down to let us board, the driver refused to deploy the ramp at the bus station even though the gap was too big, even with the bus knelt.. We eventually got off with help from other passengers supporting the wheelchair. They could not get on until we got off.” (wheelchair user).

7. Paralympic Legacy

7.1 Bus drivers from Lincolnshire drove some Paralympic buses in London in 2012. Some of the buses could not take some of the paralympians wheelchairs.

7.2 In Lincolnshire, it was hoped that an inaccessible Stagecoach service (10, between Louth and Lincoln) was to become accessible when new buses were distributed after the Paralympics. This is not going to happen.

7.3 TfL have a rare enlightened approach to accessibility with an advisory panel and recognition that the stereotype of a wheelchair user being pushed by a carer is outdated. The Paralympics represented a huge well–resourced one-off logistical exercise.

7.4 A recent survey reported in the media indicated that while the Paralympics had increased public awareness of disability, disabled people themselves were sceptical. It is an unfortunate fact that disability is slow, inconvenient and expensive .Our experiences outside London suggest that though the public are more willing to help in minor ways by, say opening doors for the disabled, they are far less tolerant if they are themselves delayed or inconvenienced. Irritation over queues, delays, competition for accessible space, haphazard car and van parking blocking lowered kerbs and disabled parking bays is commonplace and challenging this behaviour risks a hostile response.

7.3 Many politicians and members of the public cannot distinguish between different types or degrees of disability and seem to have unrealistically high expectations. Disability is not an episode from the TV programme “Little Britain” where the Matt Lucas character leaps from a wheelchair to play football, then gets back in the wheelchair.

7.4 Significantly, pressure on Local Authority budgets cuts subsidised public and community transport. National welfare policies will reduce numbers of disabled people able to get Motobility etc vehicles and increase reliance on public transport for those who can afford it.

January 2013

Prepared 13th September 2013