Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from Northumberland Learning Disability Partnership Board (DAT 99)

On behalf of the Northumberland Learning Disability Partnership Board, I would like to pass on the following points about accessibility and barriers to use of public transport which have been raised during discussions with people with learning disabilities, their carers and families. In Northumberland, we do work closely with our transport colleagues in the Council and have developed some positive joint initiatives but wanted to take this opportunity to raise particular issues with the Select Committee.

Northumberland covers a large geographic area, which is very diverse. Issues of rural isolation, difficulties with access to local public transport at suitable times and limited bus routes/train services and additional costs relating to transport are significant for people living in the North and West of the county. For many people with learning disabilities even in our more urban areas but particularly in rural communities difficulties with public transport impact on both their leisure and employment opportunities.

Transport comes up as an issue quite often in the learning disability forums in terms of the experience of those using public transport and issues which are perceived as a barrier to use for others and some points have similarly been raised in relation to people living with dementia:

Lack of easy to understand accessible information about timetables, bus routes, changes in services—knowing what information there is about public transport and where to get it continues to be a key point raised as a challenge for many people with learning disabilities. Overall information accessibility, signage and public announcement systems continue to fall short of meeting the range of access needs of all disabled people. Currently, transport-related information is frequently inaccessible for disabled people with a range of impairments or for those with impaired literacy or numeracy. The assumption of “digital by default” through the increased use of web-based information and information services such as “live” service change updates that require internet access via enabled mobile devices or home broadband disadvantage those people not able to use such means.

Suggested action: we would like to see greater emphasis on accessible information for all, with transport related information provided in more accessible formats and systems with easy access to updates available. Larger, clearer, better positioned signage with images or symbols along key routes would be helpful to a broad range of people. Within public transport vehicles the use of images and displays to show the current location or next stop would be helpful.

Impact of changes of routes, delays, service alterations for those who use buses leading to anxiety, difficulties in getting to familiar places, day services etc—even simple variations to normal routines such as buses stopping at varying distances from a stop especially in rural locations where pavements may be interrupted or only on one side of the road, temporarily relocation of stops or being out-of-use can have significant impact on ease and experience of a journey and for some may increase risk of an adverse incident occurring.

Suggested action: we would like to see better information sharing prior to planned service changes to routes etc available so that people have time and opportunity to make alternative arrangements or put additional support in place to manage these changes in routines. Members of the Northumberland Forum for people with learning disabilities and the North East Talking Travel Group have identified that they would like to see the development of mechanisms for coping with unexpected change or when things go wrong in terms to supporting people in making individual plans, use of technology to support independence and the support required and available to provide assistance in these circumstances

Accessibility and frequency of some services leading to lack of social contact, reduced independence, difficulties in getting around within local communities particularly in rural areas, in the evenings or at weekends—this increases disabled people’s reliance on other forms of transport and increases the proportion of income required for transport for some. The issue of proximity to bus stops is a factor for a number of older people and those with long terms conditions, physical disability, learning disabilities or complex needs who have difficulty with walking any distance or the location of some rural stops where the pavement is interrupted or only on one side of the road.

Members of the dementia forums in Northumberland have also raised anxieties about either the person with dementia and/or their carer giving up driving and becoming more reliant on public transport, again particularly in rural areas where bus services are less frequent.

We would also like to see improved co-ordination of travel services by different providers to make journeys involving buses/trains or different buses operators easier to avoid lengthy waits or multiple changes to get to some local destinations.

Suggested action: we would like to see viable accessible transport and door-to-door provision considered in all planning of urban and rural community developments. We would like to see more step-free access particularly on rural routes where kerb levels vary, stops are onto the road, lay-by or grass verge and existing vehicles are not always fully accessible

Vulnerability to hate crime, intimidation while getting to and from bus stops, waiting or using public transport—people would like to see greater challenge and effective action by transport providers in partnership with police when appropriate to address negative attitudes and behaviour ranging from non-compliance to hate crime incidents involving other transport users. Carers have concerns about people with learning disabilities, those on the autistic spectrum and people living with dementia being at risk when using public transport through drivers not being aware they may be vulnerable particularly if they have a more hidden disability such as autism, being more vulnerable to incidents of antisocial behaviour and risks if there are unexpected events like changes to service, delays or getting off at the wrong destination by mistake. Overall there is often a lack of confidence in public transport staff’s response to ensure personal safety from both carers and people with learning disabilities or dementia.

Suggested action: we would like to see media campaigns and enforcement around disability awareness and people’s right to travel safely and with dignity.

There are concerns about the attitude of some transport staff and lack of understanding of less visible disabilities like autism with variation in understanding of simple ways to communicate and support people through providing reasonable adjustments. Overall people tell us public transport staff attitudes are key for disabled people. This is regarded as significant even where information, infrastructure and disability-specific technology require improvement, public transport staff attitudes are said to make a real difference to more positive experiences and increased confidence to use public transport.

Suggested action: we would like to see more comprehensive, practically based training for all public transport staff, including clear guidance on the provision of assistance to people with a range of impairments including learning disabilities, autism and dementia.

Further more we would like to see co-ordination of activity to link the development of other initiatives for example dementia friendly communities with the improvement of transport services to meet the needs of our disabled and ageing populations.

May 2013

Prepared 13th September 2013