Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from Clive Evans (DAT 81)

1. Introduction

2. My previous experience has been in road passenger transport for 34 years and from October 1986 until retirement in February 2002 I was responsible for the procurement of socially necessary local bus services in the West Midlands Metropolitan area, overarching supervision of Ring & Ride services in the area and matters relating to special needs.

3. In the latter stages of my career I was instrumental in co-ordinating delivery of Bus Showcase projects across several bus routes in the West Midlands that provided low-floor wheelchair accessible buses, raised kerbs, real time information (visual and audible) on vehicles and at passenger shelters as well as bus priorities. Footway access was established via drop-kerbs and pelican crossings at approaches to all stops. This was a partnership project involving Centro, local bus operators and local highway authorities to demonstrate what could be achieved if state of the art elements were combined into one project. Some funding was obtained from the European Economic Community.

4. The raised kerbs permitted almost level access to the buses and followed a design pioneered in Kassel, Germany, where these kerbs served both buses and street running trams in an integrated city-wide system.

5. Consistency of Approach

6. I have been following the oral evidence sessions of the Committee inquiring into access to transport for people with disabilities. I note Anne Frye’s and others’ comments on the need for a consistent approach across the board.

7. Anne Frye’s disability unit was instrumental in the introduction of the low-floor bus specification through the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) which I assume you are consulting. At least there was some consistency in the design of the vehicles’ accessibility designs. Where different seating configurations were used by operators Centro introduced tactile signs at entrance doors so blind people knew which type of bus they were boarding.

8. DPTAC also produced a specification for printed timetable information but very few authorities or public transport operators adopted it. Showcase used the guidelines on all printed material, used the preferred colour contracts on destination blind displays and ensured no total body advertising was used on the buses as people with visual impairments found them difficult to see out of.

9. In the absence of guidelines for installing tactile paving to delineate the higher than normal kerbs for blind people and to make people aware that the vehicles’ nearside mirrors would be at head height while nestling up to the kerb, we decided to use the same lozenge shape used for on street tramway stops that are normally at a height above the regular kerb. We consulted Blind Persons Groups and they agreed that there was a need for consistency of design.

10. The Department of Transport would not make a decision on the form of tactile paving, avoided any consultation on the issue, rather stating there were no guidelines. Now different forms are used countrywide.

11. Neither did the D0T assist when we tried to arrange a nationwide frequency for key fobs so that blind persons could obtain audio real time information at bus stops nationwide with one fob. The audio was not constantly transmitted to avoid nuisance to householders in the vicinity of bus stops.

12. Staff Training

13. All subsidised local bus service contracts in the West Midlands and the Showcase services required that drivers be trained to a minimum standard of NVQ Level 2 and to include approved disability awareness training. A booklet and DVD was issued to operators to pass on to their staff.

14. Representative groups of people with different disabilities attended Bus Operators’ Panel meetings from time to time to address the bus operators and explain the difficulties they experienced.

15. Public Awareness

16. Promotional activities prior to the launch and followed up at intervals were aimed at “educating” the general public to be disability aware. Larger than usual timetable cases at bus shelters permitted the inclusion of explanatory information sheets to ease the process whereby bus passengers found themselves sharing their space with wheelchair users and mothers with buggies.

17. Consultation and Training for Disabled Groups

18. Various representative focus groups across the spectrum of disabilities were consulted in the project design process and later prior to launch a familiarisation exercise was carried out. As mentioned in 14 above, several groups also attended Bus Operators’ Panel meetings.

19. On the basis that there are certain passengers that can be considered to be mobility impaired for various reasons a number of initiatives were implemented. Mothers with babies in buggies were given information packs regarding the use of wheelchair spaces on buses (to be vacated if a wheelchair user required access). Comment was made to the Committee by user groups’ representatives on the fact that wheelchair users could not sometimes use buses as wheelchair spaces were occupied by people with child buggies. In Newcastle-upon-Tyne the requirement made by Tyne and Wear PTE was that buggies could occupy the space for convenience but the buggie would have to be folded up and moved if a wheelchair user required the space; a bit like the designated seats for mobility impaired persons. Maybe North-East people are more community spirited but this requirement was adhered to in my knowledge.

20. Ethnic, non English speaking, groups were targeted in an Easy Touch initiative whereby pictograms of stops on the route could be pointed at on a laminated sheet and the bus driver could point to the fare value in coin pictograms.

21. Blind persons’ groups and regular visually impaired users were invited to familiarisation sessions to try out the tactile paving and to take delivery of key fobs to use at bus stops to activate the audio real time messaging referred to in paragraph 10 above. Buses to be used on the route were made available at the same time.

22. I know it is too late to do anything about the inconsistencies mentioned above in paragraphs 10 and 11 above (unless something has changed since I left UK in 2008). However, the recent moves to increase cycling leads me to suggest that a consistent approach to tactile paving adjacent to cycle lanes needs to be addressed, especially as blind and deaf people cannot hear bicycles approaching, sometimes on contra-flow lanes. Some cycle lanes cut through bus stop build-outs (boarders) and can be a problem.

23. Local Rail Services

24. The Committee has received evidence from user groups regarding the difficulties experienced by wheelchair users when travelling by rail. The Disability Discrimination Act set a long time frame for the modification of existing infrastructure—the problems for London Underground are major ones.

25. An interim “solution” adopted on local rail in the West Midlands was to produce accessibility maps of the local rail stations accompanied by advice as to how to access certain stations. For example, where wheelchair access was available in one direction only advice as to where to change trains or transfer to accessible buses at the next accessible stop and return was available. Not an ideal situation but better than nothing until finance was available to upgrade all stations.

26. Further Comments

27. I should mention that I have made reference to mobility impaired travellers as well as those obviously suffering from some form of disability. I think that accessible transport should be just that and not solely tailored for wheelchair users; a sector that needs urgent consideration but not to the detriment of other equally needy users. Mothers with young children in buggies are mobility impaired when travelling on public transport, as are passengers with heavy baggage or caring for someone less fortunate. Not all disabilities are as obvious as those requiring the sufferer to use a wheelchair; apparently healthy looking individuals may have pacemakers fitted for example. Here again some “education” is necessary as each group has tunnel vision when looking at their problems but access for all means there have to be some compromises. The job is to minimise them so that they do not seriously reduce the value of the provision for each group.

28. Whilst many local authorities provide Ring & Ride services and timetabled access bus shopping trips, most people with mobility handicaps want to be free to travel to their own choice of destination without the need to pre-book 24 or 48 hours in advance. Footway access is most important here since the journey to and from the bus stop or train station has to be made first. I recall a lady who used Centro’s Ring & Ride service, having to book two days in advance on a first come first served system, only used the facility in one direction because she could not get across the busy Birmingham—Coventry road. She used regular low-floor timetabled buses to return home to the stop on her side of the A45.

29. I hope that comments have been obtained from the Passenger Transport Executive Group (PTEG). Greater Manchester PTE produced a comprehensive bus stop design manual and many other useful design guidelines for all modes were produced under the PTEG umbrella. Apart from the PTEs, Bristol and the West of England, Leicester City Council, Nottingham City Council, Strathclyde Partnership for Transport and Transport for London are associate members.

30. Transport for All represents your Committee’s target groups and they have provided a list of problems in a letter to the Confederation of Passenger Transport http://www.transportforall.org.uk/news/our-letter-to-confederation-of-passenger-transport

31. These comments are based on my personal experience and are not attributable to any organisation. I trust some of them will be useful but I am sure some will also be made by others.

April 2013

Prepared 13th September 2013