Transport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Brian Moore (DAT 74)

I gather that the committee you chair is looking at the treatment of the disabled in the transport industry.

My wife’s experiences may interest you. She has a deteriorating back with herniated discs, an accident at work being partly responsible, she has scoliosis also. Additionally, she now has developed peripheral neuropathy, which has stemmed from her being coeliac and having allergies to various other food items. I myself have sight in only one eye and the vision in that is corrected by contact lens.

On a bus belonging to First, she was catapulted from her seat forwards by a heavy and unexpected brake application and had I not caught her, she would have been injured quite badly. Fortunately, I caught her because I was facing her. First claimed that their green driving analysis equipment had detected no incident of sharp or heavy braking. I took it to Bus Users UK, but they could not get anywhere.

Overall though, the conduct of ‘bus drivers is improving, largely due, in no small measure I think, to the fact that training in relation to the Equality Act is now an attachment to their licence.

What is not improving is the layout and standard of seats, which are painful for anyone with back/hip problems. Much of this is due to the desperate efforts on the part of operators and bodybuilders to reduce the weight of vehicles.

Rail experiences are far worse and she will not travel by train unless she absolutely has to, which when you consider I work for a TOC , says much. At one stage before she started avoiding trains, she was actually buying a ticket to try to ensure that she might get treated properly but it made no difference.

She has been left standing on a train at Norwich awaiting assistance to get off and more often than not it has been the fact that fortunately a member of train crew going to work another train has helped her.

At Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft she has stood at the door of the train waiting for help and the guard and platform staff have ignored her request for assistance, leaving her to struggle off with the assistance of other customers.

We did a mystery shop for National Express when it had the franchise and it was a disaster. The journey was pre-booked via the booking system. The journey was from Great Yarmouth to Waltham Cross via Liverpool Street outwards and via Cheshunt and Cambridge return.

The duty supervisor at Great Yarmouth got the ramp out and assisted her after a wait.

At Norwich, there was supposed to be the buggy to take my wife from platform 5 to the farthest end of platform 2. The buggy was not provided and my wife was made to walk the distance which was very painful.

At Liverpool Street, what happened beggared belief. The member of Network Rail staff said he had not been told of my wife’s journey, If that was true then the national information system clearly had gone awry. With less than good grace he took my wife round on the buggy to the platform for the West Anglia service to Walthem Cross. He got a ramp of type used by British Rail to get my wife onto the train. As she was halfway up it, it started to seesaw as I looked on in disbelief.

On arrival and subsequent departure from Waltham Cross all went as it should. The change at Cheshunt went without untoward incident.

Cambridge came next. My wife was disembarked, then the member of staff walked off and left us, despite the fact that the train to Norwich was at the other end of the station and Cambridge has a decidedly long platform! Eventually my wife struggled to the other end of the platform. After taking her for a cup of tea, we approached a member of staff to report for assistance in boarding. The lady had a bad back, so radioed another colleague, who responded with “Is that the woman on sticks? I’m on my break” Eventually, the guard/conductor for the Norwich train came to the rescue.

Arrival at Norwich produced a farce. I knew that the unit formed the next service to Great Yarmouth, so I thought one of the platform staff would simply jump on and apprise my wife of that and tell her to stay put. Instead, the female member of staff got my wife off waleded her to the end of the platform, consulted the screen , realised then that she hadn’t needed to get my wife off and walked her back again. Not being allowed to say anything, I looked on in disbelief.

All the foregoing was communicated to management of National Express, but no improvement resulted.

The Dutch are no better, it seems. I attended a two day course last week and at the end the MD Rudd Haket turned up. I tackled him on the subject of the fitting of controlled emission toilets to the 156 units, pointing out that when I used the first one so fitted the disabled space was full of luggage, so if anyone in a wheelchair had wanted to board at Brundall, where I did, they would not have been able to board. Mr Haket’s response was that if the space was not occupied at the start of the journey, then it could be used for other purposes. He then confirmed that if the train had no customer in a wheelchair booked on at Gt Yarmouth then it was all right to use the space and if anyone was waiting at Acle in a wheelchair they would be left behind because they should have pre booked. Now this demonstrated his complete lack of knowledge about the company he heads, for it is possible to book a journey for disabled assistance from Acle, but because the station is unstaffed there is obviously no one on hand and because no effort is made to inform the conductors, they are then unaware that someone has booked such assistance! I am going to submit a suggestion to address this and will be interested to see what results.

Although not the experience of customers, the attitude of the management to the Equalty Act 2010 regarding staff may be informative in seeing why they clearly see the disabled as a nuisance. If someone finds themselves in a situation where the Act then covers them, the HR department takes the view that they are to be transferred to another post and they then have to make no adjustments because the Act does not then apply. I asked the station manager at Norwich why they were so pedantic over minor things laid down by Transec, yet ignored the Equality Act. The answer was that the former was laid down in the industry standards, the Act was “external”.

So perhaps the answer to access problems is twofold, viz: (a) to ensure the requirements are incorporated into the industry standards, so that boxes have to be ticked and (b) to make all staff working trains, platform staff and managers of both to have full training in the requirements of the Equality Act and for that to be attached to a licence they then hold, which can be withdrawn if they are not complying with the Act or are discriminatory.

I hope the foregoing is helpful.

February 2013

Prepared 13th September 2013