Transport Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 116

Back to Report

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Transport Committee

on Monday 11 March 2013

Members present:

Mrs Louise Ellman (Chair)

Jim Dobbin

Karen Lumley

Karl McCartney

Lucy Powell

Adrian Sanders

Iain Stewart

Graham Stringer

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Sophie Christiansen OBE, Paralympian, British Equestrian Federation, Marije Davidson, Policy and Research Manager, Disability Rights UK, and George Fielding, Kidz Board Chair, Whizz-Kidz, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Good afternoon and welcome to the Transport Committee. Thank you for coming here this afternoon to help us with our inquiry. Could you give us your name and, if you are here from an organisation, your organisation? This is to help us with our records.

George Fielding: My name is George Fielding. I am the Chair of the Kidz Board at Whizz-Kidz. We are a board of 12 ambassadors who represent the whole ambassador network from around the country. There are 1,000 ambassadors in total.

Sophie Christiansen: I am Sophie Christiansen. I suppose my label would be a Paralympian.

Marije Davidson: My name is Marije Davidson. I come from Disability Rights UK. It is a pan-disability organisation led and controlled by disabled people. I have brought Susie Lithman-Romeo with me, a speech-to-text reporter.

Q2 Chair: Thank you very much. What would you say are the biggest challenges faced by transport users with disabilities and their carers when making journeys?

George Fielding: It would be foolish to sit here and say that we need a major overhaul of the system. From my side, all or the majority of the problems that we have are attitudinal. It is a really good time to hold this discussion because it has improved since the Paralympics; it is of paramount importance that we get it right and that we see the changes that we have begun to see in London throughout the country. A difficulty that I and my ambassadors have seen is the consistency with which these changes have been put in place. But, as I say, they are all attitudinal as far as I am concerned.

Q3 Chair: Ms Christiansen, could you tell us what you think are the biggest challenges?

Sophie Christiansen: How long do we have? In terms of assistance, we can book 24 hours in advance, but that takes away spontaneity and flexibility. Also, it can be quite unreliable. Many users have to use certain trains, and they have to wait and see whether they get help at their station. It is really unreliable. There is also the question of access-whether there are lifts or step-free access. There is also a lack of information on what is at a station or a bus stop and whether it is accessible. In this day and age, with the use of technology, that is wrong.

Marije Davidson: The main challenge is in terms of attitude of the Government, transport operators and other passengers to disabled people. I would add that there is a lack of information and communication before making the journey and during the journey. There is inconsistency across the country in terms of the accessibility, availability and reliability of public transport.

Q4 Chair: In your experience, have things improved over recent years? Have things got better or worse or has there just been no change?

George Fielding: The best journey I have ever had commuting into London was during the Paralympics. I could see that they had prepared for that. The viewing experience and the experience of people commuting to the Games were really seen to be as important. The majority of people went above and beyond the call of duty to support disabled people.

I would echo everything these guys have said about spontaneity and lack of information. We cannot be spontaneous. I never book my journey because, like many people, I don’t believe it is consistent or reliable. I believe that, once you get to know the people who work at the stations and bus stops, and they get to know you on a one-to-one basis, you are absolutely fine. That is fantastic, as public transport is key to the independence of disabled young people.

I think it is great that the changes that need to be made are minor. I believe problems would be vastly improved, if not eradicated, if disability awareness training was implemented across the board by bus drivers, taxi drivers and people who work at stations. As soon as they have an awareness of wheelchair users and people with disabilities, they are all kind individuals and want to help. It is just that there could be improvement about awareness of all these different disabilities.

Q5 Chair: Ms Christiansen, what is your experience from what you have seen of the Paralympics or of the changes? What has been done that has improved things?

Sophie Christiansen: In terms of improvements, the Paralympics definitely helped in terms of having trained staff there at the start and end of your journey who knew what to do. I think it is the key legacy that we have from the Games. Also, the manual ramps to get off and on trains produce step-free access.

In terms of improvements, I have noticed that taxi drivers are more willing to stop nowadays and get their ramps out for disabled people. For me, physical access is still the key. In this day and age, if there is new planning, it should be completely accessible. I am worried that projects like Crossrail might not be accessible, even though it is 2013 and it is a new project. Access should be at the forefront of new planning permission.

Marije Davidson: I agree. So far we have seen lots of improvements over the last year. Disability Rights UK - one of our legacy organisations - published a report showcasing improvements, ‘Doing Transport Differently’. I will hold it up. This is a guide for disabled people. The main purpose is to give disabled people the confidence to travel, because there are many improvements, but a lot of disabled people don’t know about them or they don’t know how to use the services that are available.

There have been a lot of improvements. I agree that the Olympic and Paralympic Games provided a momentum, but at the same time there is still so much to be done. One lesson that we can learn from the Olympic and Paralympic Games is that they had a real focus on what we can do to make certain that disabled people can use transport in the same way as others. They made access a condition of the master transport planning on franchising. They actually included it as a condition so that people had to think about how to make it accessible. Give funding as well for projects. It is really about the priorities of how that funding is used. Is it something that happens afterwards as an afterthought-"Oh, we have a little bit of money left over, so let’s spend it on access"-or do they build it in from the beginning, like Sophie said, right up front?

There was so much training of different people at the front but also in the back offices. I am sure that the big bosses in transport authorities have learned from this. It is not that difficult if you think about it. Working with disabled people and the involvement of disabled people has been very important.

Q6 Chair: In relation to the Paralympics, is there anything that you would have changed in terms of transport? Did things work well? You are all saying it did work well, but is there anything that you think should have been done differently there?

George Fielding: I was shocked-not shocked, but I think we could have learned the lessons a lot earlier. We were so fortunate that we had the Paralympics in 2012. If you look at organisations like Whizz-Kidz and Disability Rights UK, we have all been saying that for quite a long time. I don’t want to backtrack, but obviously I am on this panel with very like-minded and very experienced panellists. In relation to what Sophie says about Crossrail and all these big infrastructure projects, I don’t see, with my expertise with the Kidz Board, why it is not mandatory that organisations like Whizz-Kids and Disability Rights UK go round Crossrail or the high-speed rail line and audit it beforehand, and maybe audit it more regularly, and have a regular input into new upgrades and things. That is something that I would put in place.

I would agree with what my friend from Disability Rights UK said about the confidence of young disabled people. I would say that the parents of disabled people are the most loving and committed people, but I don’t think it helps that I, as an 18-year old, only really learned how to get on transport two and a half years ago. I think it is a great credit to our transport network that I can feel confident getting up to London, and I would feel confident using it. From a disabled person’s point of view, I don’t think there is anything stopping young disabled people from experiencing independence earlier. Once you get to secondary school, you can make sure you walk to school with a friend. Just get used to transport; get used to anything. The sooner you get experience, the better. That will help with the rate that young people are going to university. It would help in general if they just had more experience from an early age. As I said, that is a difficulty with parents. It is something we could all work on across the board.

Q7 Chair: Ms Christiansen, in relation to the Paralympics, is there anything about transport there that you would have changed?

Sophie Christiansen: I was very disappointed in the lack of improvements made to the main stations. I am very aware how expensive putting lifts in is, but other transport networks around the world are amazing and light years in front of us. Every station is accessible and there are lifts at every station. I just wanted to see the Paralympics maybe improve the numbers of stations that were accessible. In general, what happened with the Paralympics was good.

Q8 Chair: Ms Davidson, is there anything you would like to say about the Paralympics themselves and the way transport was organised?

Marije Davidson: I think we have to bear in mind that both the Olympic and Paralympic Games were very much about London and a few other places. It is important to mention that very good work is being done outside London, such as in Merseyside, Blackpool and Sheffield. Sheffield has travel training for young disabled people. It is about encouraging them to use travel. The Paralympic Games has improved transport, but it has mostly been about London. I feel that the legacies are all about London and there is not enough thinking about how we can translate that to other parts of the country.

Q9 Iain Stewart: Mr Fielding, I was interested in your comment about a lot of the problems being ones of attitude rather than regulation. Solving attitude problems involves proper training of staff who operate the transport systems. From your experience, is there a transport company or organisation that has a particularly good training scheme in place to make sure that staff are aware of the different issues for disabled passengers and are sensitive to them?

George Fielding: I live in Dorking, and all those in Dorking know me and how to help. I don’t travel across the country, so I wouldn’t be able or want to point out particular companies. What we can learn from that is that people are very willing to help and very tolerant on disabilities. They perhaps just need more educational training or more assistance from disabled people about how to support them better. I wish I could answer your question about certain companies. I would love to travel the country but I don’t, so I am not really in a position to comment on that.

Sophie Christiansen: I think as public transport users we don’t see the training that people have. A lot could be learned from LOCOG and how they hosted the best Games. They had disabled people at the forefront of every decision they made. So the transport and accommodation were all accessible because they had gone to disabled people for advice. I think the training of staff should involve contact with disabled people and many disabilities so that they know how to cope with a variety of disabilities.

Marije Davidson: I agree. It is very important that attitude isn’t just about disability training. This is really vital. Personally, after the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, I have really noticed an improvement in the attitude of staff on trains. They talk to me, and that is because of training, but it is about much more than that. It is really about what facilities are available.

For instance, you can have very nice staff, but there is a woman whose story I may be using a couple of times today. This woman’s mother is disabled and uses a mobility scooter. If her mother wants to go and visit her friends in another part of the country, her daughter rings the train company to say, "My mother wants to travel from A to B on that day." The people are so nice but they absolutely don’t understand. They ask many questions, saying, "Oh, you have a mobility scooter so you can’t go from here to there, but you can go from there." Do you realise how difficult it is for us to arrive at unmanned stations? They have to send someone. You can have very nice disability policy training, but, if the stations are unmanned, then there is no one to help them and you have to make a special arrangement just for that person. That makes it quite difficult to have a spontaneous journey. Disabled people feel that it is not proper. They should have the same right as other people to travel. I think that is a really important part of it.

In terms of attitudes, an important part is the attitudes of fellow passengers. One thing we learned from the Paralympic Games was that part of the training also involved assertiveness. If a bus driver saw there was a wheelchair and buggy problem-when there is a buggy on the bus in the wheelchair space-how do you get that person to move the buggy so that the wheelchair can make use of that? The bus drivers actually got training in how to address other passengers to explain why they had to move. That is a very important part-to improve the assertiveness of bus drivers and to improve the attitudes of fellow passengers.

Q10 Iain Stewart: In the way that LOCOG clearly consulted with disabled groups in planning the Games, do you find that train companies, bus companies and others regularly consult disabled groups to see how their services are doing or when planning new services? Does that happen on a regular basis or not really?

George Fielding: I don’t want to interrupt, but I would say that the Paralympics was a great target. Everybody was united in wanting to make the Paralympics the best they could possibly be. Therefore, every company saw its individual part in this bigger picture, and that helped. I wouldn’t even be able to name the operator or the person who operates my local buses. I wouldn’t be able to do it, but all the disabled people that I know would be willing and approachable.

I feel I must say now that I wouldn’t be able to commute into London or be half as independent as I am without the kindness and generosity of the general public. As people have said before, maybe they need extra awareness, but people are so willing to help. If a company hasn’t brought out the ramp for me, then a fellow commuter will go and find a person. I don’t want to be drawn into saying that everything is doom and gloom. To answer your question, because I know I went off on a tangent there, it is not nearly enough. I know that everybody would be willing to help.

Sophie Christiansen: I don’t know whether they ask disabled people or not, but that is the way forward. It is hard for people to understand what disabled people go through. I don’t know what it is like to be deaf or blind, so maybe part of the training could be for people to get in a wheelchair and do a journey in a wheelchair. They can then see what it is like. They could be blindfolded or whatever, just to see what it is like.

Marije Davidson: There are examples of civic authorities or transport providers working with disabled people, but it hasn’t happened everywhere. It is really important to work with disabled people across the range of impairment. It is quite often about people with physical impairment but not about people with mental health issues, people with dyslexia or reading difficulties-a whole range of people. You only find out what the issues are if you talk to those people. It is really important right from the beginning. There is a role for local authorities to do that as well, because they franchise or issue the licences for taxis, buses and other local transport. They could do far more in that area.

Q11 Mr Sanders: Thank you, George, for the brilliant idea of trying to involve people with some form of disability at the planning stage of a transport network or system, whether it is the design of a new vehicle or whatever. That is going to be, I hope, a recommendation we can make and thank you for it.

The Paralympics were very atypical. They were a very special one-off. How much of that success that you have described was down to things like the volunteers as well as the training, which is not something you are going to find in the rest of the transport system? Is that what we ought to be aiming for within the transport system? Should there be volunteers there to keep an eye out or designated staff who have a responsibility to look out for passengers who may need support?

George Fielding: I guess we are going to keep this pattern going. The Kidz Board has done auditing of both Glasgow and London, for the Commonwealth Games and the Paralympics. You are exactly right. One of our concerns was that we wanted people to have designated roles. It makes people more accountable. We can put a face to the name and a name to the face. I think that would help.

On a specific day in September we went to Hampden Park. We hope that they are now going to employ somebody for the duration of the Commonwealth Games so that they can be at Mount Florida and Grand Central station just to assist young disabled people. In short, I think that would be fantastic. Perhaps if somebody had the role of looking after disabled commuters at every main station-not every station but the bigger stations-that would be helpful and perhaps increase accountability.

Q12 Chair: Ms Christiansen, do you have any views on the issue of whether we should have volunteers as well as designated staff?

Sophie Christiansen: I agree that the Paralympics were a one-off, but we can learn a lot from them. There were so many volunteers there to help. They were falling over backwards to help, but you just can’t implement that all the time. I agree that having volunteers would be a good idea in addition to staff. It is good to have more people around to help. The main issue is that, when you get somewhere, there isn’t someone around to help; so yes, more people.

Q13 Chair: Ms Davidson, do you want to comment on this?

Marije Davidson: I would agree that we definitely need more people and more staff, yes. As I mentioned before, there are not enough staff around. I would be fairly concerned if we started to rely on volunteers to give support to disabled people. It is not good for the accountability of an organisation, with all due respect to them.

Q14 Lucy Powell: I have a relatively quick question. Obviously we don’t really like generalising in these things, but could I ask you to generalise a little bit and tell me which modes of transport are better or worse in your experience, if there is that generalisation? Say there isn’t if there isn’t, but I heard what you were saying earlier, Sophie, about taxis, for example, not stopping for you. I just wondered where things are on the spectrum.

George Fielding: I would say that I now feel confident using all transport.

Lucy Powell: Great.

George Fielding: As I was saying, you just need experience. I don’t want to trivialise this, but when I was coming here today the taxi ramp had literally rusted. The taxi driver plainly did not want to pick us up; it had literally rusted in place, so you could see that he didn’t pick up disabled people that often. It is very inconsistent. Sometimes you can get the most fantastic taxi drivers, but I would say that taxis are probably the worst.

Sophie Christiansen: I have had good experience with taxis, but they are expensive and they are not really public transport, are they? Trains are generally quite good if there is someone at the other end to meet me. Quite often coming back, you can’t find assistance and then it is spontaneity again. When I get back to my destination, there is no one there to help.

With tubes, it is all about access. My mainline train goes into Paddington, but when I get to Paddington I can’t access the tube. Paddington is one of the biggest stations in the UK, if not Europe. Why can’t I access the underground at Paddington? I have had good experiences on buses as well, but I know people, again, who have experienced malfunctions with the ramps. Regular testing for ramps before buses leave the depot would be a good idea.

Marije Davidson: I don’t want to generalise because I think it is unhelpful for people who don’t have the choice. They may live in an area where there are only buses or where there is not much public transport anyway, and they have to rely on taxis. Where I live, I have two bus lines from two different bus companies going past my house. I always avoid one because of their attitude and because they don’t have information on their buses. I always use the other, even though that does not go as frequently and it stops a little bit further away from my home. That is okay because I can walk, but I have a choice of both buses.

What is also important to bear in mind is that it may be okay for a disabled person to make a journey if it involves just one mode of transport, but, if it is train, bus and the tube or whatever, then it becomes very hard and difficult because there is a weak link where it can break down. That is a really important argument.

It is interesting that taxis have been mentioned as one example. I wonder if that is because there are no taxi accessibility regulations. There are regulations for trains and buses. They are becoming accessible. It is not fast enough but they are becoming accessible. Their maintenance is okay. We are asking for regulations for taxis, for example to make sure that their ramps are maintained, and that may be an issue.

Q15 Karen Lumley: You have talked about the Paralympics in London. Do you think other parts of the country have picked up on best practice in London and are implementing it themselves?

George Fielding: I don’t-

Chair: Have you seen any changes picking up from the example that was set in London? You are shaking your heads. Has anybody seen any changes on that? I don’t think so.

Marije Davidson: I think some of the organisations have been doing good work, but is that just because of the Paralympics? I am not sure.

Q16 Karen Lumley: Referring to other countries, are there any experiences you have had in other countries? Do you get better treatment?

George Fielding: If you will allow me to talk about air travel, I hope that connects to what you are saying. That is probably the hardest to use, as a whole. I don’t know if you have ever seen a disabled person get on an aeroplane, but they have these aisle seats that you climb into and they push you to your seat. Those are not mandatory. I believe they are mandatory on long haul but I have heard differing experiences. The worst is that, because they did not have an aisle seat on the plane, one of my colleagues at Whizz-Kidz had to crawl to the toilet. It was short haul, but that is what he had to do. I am not saying that is commonplace, but we at Whizz-Kidz don’t understand why those are not mandatory.

My wheels have batteries in them. Some employees of airlines say, "They can go on the flight, no problem," and then you will get to the cabin and they will say, "Actually, no." What I would say is: make these aisle seats mandatory and make the rules clearer so that all staff know. I don’t mind taking these batteries out, but it changes from day to day. I have to talk from experience.

These wheelchairs, as we often say, are our shoes. Therefore, there is the absolute nightmare that occurs sometimes-not all the time or the majority of time, but it can occur-that the wheelchair breaks. Then you are left without a wheelchair for your holiday or wherever you are going. It is something we can do and the Government can do. We need to improve the connection between disabled people and air travel, because it is not easy.

Sophie Christiansen: I went to Vienna last year and their underground system is perfect. I came back absolutely disgusted with London’s underground. In Vienna, every single station is accessible. When the trains stop, they have a little ramp that comes out of the carriage so there is no gap between the carriage and the platform. It is all automatic, so they don’t need any staff.

When I went to Greece for the Paralympics, their transport was really good, even though they have an old network. Their transport was good. We could be learning from other countries, quite frankly.

Marije Davidson: I am from Holland I went to see my family last weekend. It is interesting because I was on a train and it had audio-visual information about the next stop and the end stop. And apparently it is the same for buses, even in the village where I am from. As you may know, audio-visual real-time information has been here in London for a few years. Since then I have been using buses far more than I used to before. It is not out there because of the cost, apparently. I asked, "Why do they have it here in a small village? They have buses with real-time information." They said, "Because of the EU. We use real-time because of European Union regulations." That is why they have that information. They gave other examples, and it is because of European Union regulations that it is happening, not because their Government is so kind. I just think it is really strange that the UK Government have decided to lay down exemption regulations in training and information, when actually it is a real driver to make things happen and improve the lives of disabled people and their families.

Q17 Iain Stewart: We have had a good discussion about where companies don’t necessarily provide the access that disabled people need. We have had some written evidence to our inquiry that suggests there can also be a problem of abusive behaviour towards disabled people who use public transport, either from fellow passengers or from staff. I would be interested in your views as to how widespread a problem that is and, also, if you feel that, when incidents happen, they are taken seriously by the operators.

Chair: Have any of you had any experience of abusive behaviour from either passengers or staff?

George Fielding: I have never experienced any problem. I have always been tolerated, and people accept me for who I am. I have never experienced anything so I wouldn’t overemphasise it. Of course it can happen, and, where it happens, it needs to be eradicated because it is not acceptable. I wouldn’t stress it too much. I can sit here and say I wouldn’t change anything about who I am and how I come across, or how I am accepted in my community. I am incredibly grateful, but, of course, where stuff like that does happen it is not acceptable.

Q18 Chair: Have any of you had any bad experiences?

Marije Davidson: I have. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission reported on an inquiry into disability-related harassment. It gives loads of examples. It flags up transport as a hotspot for disability-related abuse. The evidence is out there and it is happening. What I think is a real problem is about reporting, where disabled people can report if something happens to them and what action is actually taken. There should be much more of a zero tolerance campaign about what is unacceptable. Part of that particular behaviour is also because there are not enough disabled people using public transport. If there were far more disabled people using transport, then it becomes more normal. If there are more disabled people using transport, then it would give rise to less abuse.

Q19 Chair: Ms Christiansen, have you had any bad experiences in relation to staff or people?

Sophie Christiansen: I would follow on from what has been said. In order to change attitudes, people need to come into contact with disabled people more regularly. To me, public transport is the key to that. We need it to get out, get to work and socialise. Once public transport allows disabled people to get out, abusive behaviour will reduce because it is commonplace for a disabled person to be in the environment.

Q20 Chair: Finally, before we finish this part of the meeting, I would like to ask you about another issue. There is going to be a change in benefits. Disabled Living Allowance is going to be withdrawn. It will be replaced by a Personal Independence Payment. That means changes in relation to Blue Badge parking and to Motability. Is this something any of you are aware of? Are there any particular concerns you have about it? Does anybody want to tell us anything about that?

George Fielding: I can’t comment. It is not something that Whizz-Kidz has expertise on.

Sophie Christiansen: With the change in benefits, I think the message that Government are sending is that more disabled people should get into employment and get off benefits. But how can they when they can’t get to work in the first place? With Motability, I didn’t even know the changes that will happen. I rely on my car from Motability for everything and to get out. I use my car when I cannot access public transport. I also know that parking is a massive problem. There just aren’t enough disabled parking spaces in relation to Blue Badge holders, especially in London. You are opening up a whole can of worms there by reducing the benefits.

Q21 Chair: Ms Davidson, do you have any comments on these changes?

Marije Davidson: Yes. We are very concerned because there is an estimate that about 180,000 people will lose access to Motability. For many of those people, the car is the only reliable means to get around, especially if they live in rural areas where they don’t have other methods. Also, if you think about families where a disabled parent has to go to work, then go shopping and pick up their child from nursery or school, and then go home, if they did that with public transport, even as a non-disabled person it is already a nightmare, but as a disabled person that can become really impossible.

We are also concerned about people losing their PIP when they use it to pay for support costs or the extra costs when they need to take someone with them on the buses. There are a lot of extra costs that are not covered by other services. Social care does not cover that. They may pay for the person assisting them, but they do not cover the cost of taking someone with you.

One thing that might happen is that more disabled people will have to rely on public transport because they can’t use a private car. For most disabled people, it will become very expensive to use public transport because of the extra cost involved. In terms of linking to other passporting such as the Blue Badge, because the criteria become more difficult for disabled people to access Blue Badge, that is another problem. Then it becomes a postcode lottery with local authorities as to who gets a Blue Badge and who doesn’t-or a White Badge or a Green Badge. I am very worried.

It is not just PIP; it is about funding for education in England. A lot of people, when they are in education, get funding to help with transport, but they lose that funding as soon as they go on maybe an apprenticeship or they get a job. If they don’t have PIP or other benefits in place of that, then their chances of living independently and going to work don’t exist any more.

Chair: Thank you very much to all of you for coming, for being so helpful and giving us so much information about your own experiences.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Niki Glazier, Co-ordinator, Mental Health Action Group, Lucy Hurst-Brown, Chief Executive, Brandon Trust, George McNamara, Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Alzheimers Society, and Srabani Sen, Chief Executive, Contact-a-Family, gave evidence.

Q22 Chair: Good afternoon and welcome to the Transport Select Committee. Could you give your name and the organisation you represent?

Niki Glazier: I am Niki Glazier. I represent the Mental Health Action Group.

George McNamara: I am George McNamara from the Alzheimers Society.

Lucy Hurst-Brown: I am Lucy Hurst-Brown from the Brandon Trust.

Srabani Sen: I am Srabani Sen from Contact-a-Family.

Q23 Chair: Thank you. What would you say are the biggest challenges faced by transport users with disabilities? How much difference is there when we are talking about people with disabilities that are not seen? Is that a special problem and separate from people with seen disabilities?

Niki Glazier: It is an additional problem, certainly. Not only are you dealing with your own symptoms and difficulties in getting yourself out of the house-certainly, in the case of mental health, the process of getting yourself out of the house to the bus stop can be a huge challenge-but, if, having plucked up all of your courage and willpower, you then get on the bus and the first thing you get is a bus driver challenging your bus pass because you don’t look disabled, that is absolutely devastating for somebody for whom it has taken so much to get out of the house and on the bus in the first place. The combination of dealing with your own difficulties and your own anxiety, whatever your problems are, and then dealing with that lack of awareness and understanding is huge. It can be a lack of understanding on the part of the transport staff themselves and a lack of understanding and tolerance from the travelling public as well.

For example, if you need to use disabled seating because you need to sit near the front of the bus to feel safe that you can get off as and when you need to, if you have anxiety or you have a panic attack and you need to get off, that may be the only way you can travel-by sitting at the front. We know that members have been frequently challenged for sitting in disabled seating because it is not evident that they have a disability.

Q24 Chair: Is that lack of understanding a widespread problem for people whose disabilities are not seen?

Niki Glazier: I think it is. We did a national survey about 18 months ago now. We had responses from all round the country. They all reported these kinds of problems, so I think it is really quite widespread.

George McNamara: People with dementia tell us that they face a number of challenges when trying to access public transport in particular. For example, it may be a difficulty in paying the fare and counting out the money. It may be the communication with the driver. Increasingly, what can add to the complications and challenges is when transport routes have been on diversion or there have been changes to the transport system.

Similarly, particularly with hidden disabilities around dementia, there are 800,000 people in the UK with dementia at the moment and it is likely to go up to over 1 million by the end of the next Parliament. There is a massive lack of understanding and awareness around dementia. That has an impact on a person’s confidence and anxiety in using the transport system.

Lucy Hurst-Brown: The use of transport for people with learning disabilities is really critical because by far the majority are unable to drive and, therefore, for them transport is absolutely central to an included life. Many of the people we support have an intellectual impairment and, therefore, a hidden disability. Some also have physical disabilities and sensory impairments on top, so there is a range of complex issues that challenge their ability to use transport easily. The hidden aspects are some of the most challenging. I would say that we have heard a lot about physical access being very difficult for people, but people with intellectual impairments have a lot of difficulties around accessibility in terms of information. Literacy and numeracy skills can be compromised, and people find it very difficult to understand route maps, fares and charging arrangements and signage. Those sorts of things become very challenging and very disorientating for people.

Over and above that, this whole issue of public acceptance and awareness of their needs is very tricky as well. We had a conference this year about transport and the challenges for the people we support, and the biggest fear that people who talk to us have is of bullying, abuse and just having a really negative and difficult challenging journey. It was right up there and probably the highest on our list.

Q25 Chair: Is that a widespread issue for a lot of people?

Lucy Hurst-Brown: It is a widespread issue. It is the biggest fear of all.

Srabani Sen: I agree with everything that this panel has said and also what the previous panel said. I would like to draw out some of the issues that perhaps have not had the prominence that we have heard so far.

Contact-a-Family supports parents and families with disabled children; that is our focus. One of the biggest issues that parents raise with us is cost. Often, if you have a disabled child or a disabled young person in your family, that person may well need a travel buddy or a companion; so often you have to pay two sets of fares and not just one. You have to use taxis more often because public transport is not accessible. Families face the issues that we have heard about in terms of harassment and very poor behaviour from some staff. There is a massive issue around cost, which was one of the questions you asked the previous panel about Personal Independence Payments and the welfare reform changes. When you combine those two things together with the fact that often families of disabled children are poorer anyway, there are real issues around cost.

There are particular issues that have not come up around rural availability of transport. A lot of the discussion we have had so far has assumed that we are all living in the cities. There are already issues and challenges around public transport in rural areas. Those are particularly exacerbated if you have a disability. If you are a young person wanting to get a bus to go into town to go to the cinema and you don’t have a disability, you can just walk down the lane to the next village to get the bus or walk over a hill or through a field. You can’t always do that if you have a disability, whether that is physical, mental or a learning disability.

The other thing that has not come up at all so far, and which is a real issue for disabled children and their parents, is around school transport services. They can be really problematic. We have had examples of children with challenging behaviour being denied school transport, when the reason they need the school transport is because of their challenging behaviour and therefore they cannot use public transport. There is a whole range of issues around that.

Q26 Chair: What sort of transport is involved there? Are those commissioned school buses or buses used by everybody and not just for schools?

Srabani Sen: That is specific transport that a local authority has a duty to provide if there is a difficulty with a child getting to school. There are issues around the training of the providers who provide those kinds of school transport and also the accessibility of those forms of transport as well. No; it is specific transport we are talking about here.

The final issue I would raise, which was touched on a little bit in the previous session, is the inconsistency of your entitlement depending on where you live, which makes it very difficult if you are a family with a disabled child to know what you are entitled to and to know what your rights are. It can often vary from local authority to local authority whether or not you get a Blue Badge, what kind of support you get, or what kind of concessionary travel you may or may not be entitled to. Those inconsistencies are a real problem as well.

Q27 Chair: Is that shared by others too? Is there a problem generally with the issue of knowledge about entitlements to concessions in different forms?

Niki Glazier: It is a very big issue within mental health for two different reasons. One is because people who have suffered ongoing, longer-term mental health problems tend to lose confidence and self-esteem. They don’t tend to ask for what they sometimes need or feel that it is not going to be available for them.

That is combined with the fact that, in terms of publicity around assistance on transport, we have never seen any case studies given about people receiving assistance because they have a mental health problem or something like autism. When people look at these great brochures talking about assistance and things that are available, there is nothing that says, "This is for you. This is available for you too." They look in there and think, "Well, I am not there." That sends a very powerful message to them. There are a significant proportion of people with mental health problems who are not accessing the help that they could have.

When we did our survey, something like 80% of our respondents said that they knew nothing of a disability railcard. They knew nothing about it and did not realise they were entitled to it; yet cost is a massive problem for them. There were some 40% who did not know about a bus concession, even though that had been introduced fairly recently. They felt that they were not entitled to it. Again, when you look down the list of the major sectors in the concessionary bus legislation, you can see all the major sectors of disability apart from mental illness, which is the largest single sector of disability.

We are really concerned. People have literally looked down and said, "I am not there; it is not for me." You have to look down into the catch-all section where, if you don’t get a driving licence, you may be able to get a bus concession. We feel that is very discriminatory. It is putting people off and it means that they can’t have a bus concession when they so badly need it. They cannot manage the constant business of having to apply for a driving licence, then handing it in, reapplying and then handing it in again. You need it when you are most ill, when you cannot manage to do that. Instead of being given it on the basis of their diagnosis, as for other disabilities, they have to jump through another hurdle, which is about being able to drive.

That is not the same if you have an adapted car. You can drive your adapted car; you can also have a bus concession at the same time. You can choose from day to day or week to week which you want to use. It is not the same if you have a mental health problem. You can have either/or but you can’t have both.

Q28 Chair: What are the experiences of the other panellists on this issue of people having information on their entitlements? Does anybody have anything they would like to add?

George McNamara: I would say that for people with dementia it is not necessarily about the eligibility but the design and accessibility of that mode of transport, be it, for example, getting the train or the bus. They are the biggest challenges and obstacles that people with dementia are facing. That has a knock-on effect in terms of their confidence. It can often lead to social isolation. That is what our recent reports are finding out. In a rural area it may be just because of availability, but in inner cities we find that due to the complexity of some transport networks this is also a deterrent in terms of the way in which people with dementia use the transport system there.

Lucy Hurst-Brown: I would say one of the big challenges is that the information itself is not always accessible. Even if the information is there, for someone with a learning disability it can be very difficult to understand and make sense of it. In addition to that, I would say that there is a real issue about eligibility criteria from local authorities working across borders and different people having different resources available to support them in their transport needs, or indeed to have somebody travel with them on transport and how many hours of support they are going to get to make that possible.

In relation to concessionary passes, there is massive variation across the country as to what that actually means. We have people in London whom we support, who have concessionary passes that enable them to travel any time of day or night. We have people in Cornwall where there is a real issue about how frequently there is any public transport, but when it goes you can’t take public transport during a peak time. That means it is stopping you using the very thing you need to use in order to get to a job or any of those sorts of things.

Q29 Chair: Are you saying that people do not have the information to know what applies?

Lucy Hurst-Brown: The information itself is very difficult to get hold of. That is partly about information coming out from many different providers across different authorities and trying to make sense of all of that, as well as it being translated into accessible formats.

Srabani Sen: I would emphasise that there are two separate but related issues. One is getting the information you need in order to navigate the system locally. Separate but related is the issue of the fact that your entitlements vary depending on where you live in the country. They are two separate but related issues. That sounds a bit dry and boring, but what I really want to highlight is the impact of that.

For example, for disabled children, it can mean the difference between going to school and not going to school. It can be the difference between being able to get to a GP appointment and not getting to a GP appointment. It can be the difference between having friends and not having friends. If you look at some of the issues affecting disabled children and their families, the research we have done shows that two thirds of families with disabled children feel really isolated because they cannot get out and about. That is one of the main drivers.

When you consider that 23%-nearly a quarter-of families with disabled children do not have a car because they are often poorer than families with non-disabled children, when you add up all those total impacts, put them together and think of them in the context of the lives of these families, the impact is really quite severe.

Q30 Iain Stewart: I would be interested to get your view on the extent to which transport companies and other organisations like Transport for London or the passenger transport executives proactively engage with groups like yours to take on board your concerns and aspirations. Does that happen on a regular basis or do you constantly have to fight to be heard?

Niki Glazier: The latter. I would say that we have spent the last five years knocking on doors for that precise reason. Most of those organisations, when we do explain to them what the needs are and what is missing, are positive. More respond positively, but, yes, that is the hard work at the moment. It is that learning curve. It is trying to get that message across and that understanding because it has been lacking for so long.

Q31 Iain Stewart: Is there a particularly good one that you could hold up as a best practice example?

Niki Glazier: We have been working locally in Derbyshire with some of our bus providers. They have responded very positively and we have seen improvements there as a result of doing training with their bus drivers. I don’t know nationally. I think there is a long way to go. We are campaigning at the moment to get the national bus and train providers to listen to our message, to make reasonable adjustments and to get the learning there. We have to go to them at the moment.

Q32 Iain Stewart: Is that a similar view for the rest of you?

Srabani Sen: We have some fantastic examples. One of the things that we would make a distinction between is consultation, which is fine, and what we would call participation. The Government have invested, through Contact-a-Family, in setting up what are known as parent-carer forums. Every single area in England has a parent-carer forum. These parent-carer forums work at a strategic level-and I emphasise "strategic level"-with commissioners to jointly plan services in a local area and then jointly work to commission those services based on what the needs of that area are and the population of disabled children in that area.

For example, in Newcastle, they are working specifically on transport issues as we speak. I believe there are some examples in Southend of where parent-carer forums have engaged, in that instance, with school transport providers in working out how to develop the best services. There are some great examples of when you go beyond consultation and work jointly to develop services. The services are generally much more cost-effective, of a much higher quality and they are meeting the needs of the local population. We would say that consultation is fine, but you can do a heck of a lot better by working jointly.

Our stance is that parents with disabled children and disabled children themselves are the experts in terms of what services will work for them. Bringing that together with the expertise of commissioners makes for much better results. We are happy to forward some of those examples to the Committee if that would be helpful.

Lucy Hurst-Brown: From our perspective, I can’t remember a time when we have been directly consulted by any public transport organisation spontaneously. What I will say is that, when we approach transport organisations now with particular issues or try to get involved, they are much more open and have people whose concern is about making transport accessible and listening to customers in a way that I don’t think we experienced at all five years ago. There are now some very good examples of good practice. A lot of these things are not terribly high tech; they are not very complicated. It is massively about awareness and good training-those sorts of things. There seems to be a general interest and a general recognition that these things are important, but there is a long way to go to getting that cultural shift.

George McNamara: From our perspective-the Alzheimers Society-the needs of people with dementia have often been overlooked. In recent times we have experienced a growing interest across transport providers, albeit from a very low base. For example, FirstGroup in terms of their bus drivers have recently committed to have 17,000 bus drivers dementia-aware and trained. They are also looking at other ways of engaging and changing their processes, policies and wider training for their bus drivers to become more dementia- aware. That is a step forward that is really good.

In other areas-for example, in London-Transport for London have their travel support card. That is a specific card for people with hidden disabilities. It enables somebody to write down, for example, if they have dementia. Again, that can help. They can just show it to somebody on the underground and so on.

There are things coming through. Fundamentally, it is about a real sea change in understanding dementia but, importantly, how to respond in a way that is productive as well.

Q33 Iain Stewart: I am relieved to hear that there are some good examples coming through. Do you have any thoughts about how that could be more widely shared? Is it through statutory regulation or is it best left to a voluntary arrangement or ATOC? I am not clear what the best way forward is.

Niki Glazier: We have had some positive experience with the CPT-the Confederation of Passenger Transport. We went to them and had the opportunity to talk to the national bus providers. They have been really supportive. They are now looking to help us to produce training DVDs and are marketing and promoting that information out to the transport industry in terms of buses, coaches and trams. We would like to see ATOC responding in the same way.

Then there are airlines. There are lots of other issues to move on to as well. For us, it is very helpful when the umbrella organisations pull people together and say, "Look, this is good practice and this would be good", and encourage their members to work with it. That saves us a lot of time and effort.

George McNamara: From our perspective again, we do not want to jump into any legislative approach. What we have in England is the Prime Minister’s challenge on dementia. One key strand of that is around the creation of dementia-friendly communities. That is about people with dementia being able to live well in their community, of which transport is a vitally important element and a factor of that. We believe there is already a driver in place. We are seeing, for example, some areas of the country bringing together people with dementia; but also key stakeholders, of which transport is one, are now starting to look at what changes they need to make to make transport more accessible.

For example, in York, Joseph Rowntree has been working with the British Transport Police and also the train providers. They have produced a partnership between both of them about how to best support people with dementia if they have difficulties in terms of their travel.

Q34 Chair: Is that operating now or is it something in the pipeline?

George McNamara: In York, yes.

Q35 Chair: Is it successful? Is it working?

George McNamara: The initial findings from Rowntree are that it is making quite a significant difference. It is bringing together the duty of care of the train provider alongside the role and responsibility of the British Transport Police. It is not just about addressing it within the transport context. The Transport Police can enable the person to get home safely as well.

Lucy Hurst-Brown: There are two initiatives and both have very powerful applications across the country. One is something that is being piloted in the Ex-Avon area, particularly Bristol, called the Safe Haven project, which is about creating places across the local communities where people who get lost or confused, have difficulties or are anxious can stop off at a shop, an office or police station and get support, whether it is using the phone to ring a support worker or notifying somebody and getting steered back on track.

The second thing is that we have been very involved in something called travel buddy, which is employing people with learning disabilities who are confident on public transport to travel buddy with other people and help them to learn routes. We have been working with FirstGroup, which has funded some of that work for us. That is proving to be hugely useful and massively productive, not only in terms of giving people the skills to learn the routes that they are travelling on but also giving them the confidence to do that travelling and to know what to do if they get into difficulty. There are some really interesting and innovative models around that could be applied.

Q36 Chair: Ms Sen, do you have any suggestions?

Srabani Sen: In terms of answering your question, it is a bit of all of those things. In any system you need a few carrots and a few sticks. It is getting the right balance. It is definitely important to share best practice, because there are some really fabulous wins you can get from getting it right, both for service planners and providers as well as customers of those services.

I think that sometimes legislation can help. For example, in a related sphere at the moment the legislation going through in the Children and Families Bill has within it a requirement for local service providers of health education and social care to work with parents in shaping services and defining needs locally and how you are going to meet those needs. It seems sensible to me that there is some kind of legislative push to ensure that disabled young people and their parents and carers are involved in shaping services, because that can only help.

The other thing that would be an enormous help is tying up Government policy. For example, we have Government policy in a range of different areas with a range of different goals-for example, wanting to get people back in to work and making sure that children are achieving their educational potential. All of those things link to transport. As somebody said before in the earlier session, if you cannot get to your job as a disabled person or as a carer of a disabled person, then it is very difficult to hold down the job. If you cannot get to school, how are you supposed to achieve your educational potential?

There is something about Government thinking about their range of objectives and how they can support each other, and how we make sure the systems and the infrastructure work together to achieve the overall Government objectives.

Q37 Mr Sanders: I have a specific question for Niki. It was something you said at the beginning about somebody who may have some condition that means they want to sit at the front of a bus. For the life of me, I can’t work out what the answer is to that, particularly if somebody does not want to declare publicly, with a badge or some pass, that that is their problem. What is the answer? How do you address that?

Niki Glazier: There are various strands. You might be aware of the Government’s Time to Change programme, which is trying to educate and change reactions to mental health and mental illness so that people feel more comfortable in sharing what their particular difficulty is. That is the long-term goal.

Obviously, we need to have bus drivers who are better educated and have a better understanding so that they will support that person if they are challenged. There could be cards that someone could show, which say, "I have a non-visible disability. Please accept that and allow me to sit here. I am disabled like other people." Those sorts of things can come in as well.

It is a difficult one. Disability labelling and badging has historically been about wheelchairs and physical disabilities. That is understandable. There should be things that remind people that not all disabilities are visible. There is a strong assumption out there in the public-and I have probably been guilty in the past myself-of thinking, "If you don’t have something obviously about you that looks disabled, then why are you sitting there?" There are a lot of strong messages that can be given out about that. Not all disabilities are visible. The public haven’t, on the whole, got that yet, I don’t think. There is a long way to go.

Q38 Mr Sanders: George, are you related to Norman McNamara?

George McNamara: No; I am not, no.

Q39 Mr Sanders: Have you heard of him?

George McNamara: Norman McNamara in Torbay, yes.

Q40 Mr Sanders: He is an absolute star and I just wonder what a great model he is. He suffers from dementia and wants to make Torbay the most dementia-aware community in the country. He is far on down the track to doing that, with hundreds of businesses signed up, particularly hotels, accommodation providers and tourist facilities. Anybody with dementia can come to Torbay for a holiday and realise that it is probably more dementia-friendly than anywhere else.

Do you not have some sort of a campaign to try and replicate that elsewhere, particularly given how successful it looks like it has been and is gaining recognition nationally now?

George McNamara: Indeed. I think this comes under the umbrella of the challenge on dementia and dementia-friendly communities. As the Alzheimers Society, we have a commitment in terms of making living well with dementia a priority. The example in Torbay is one we are using. We are working with Norman’s example quite extensively but also others as well. We are seeing that there is a stimulus, not just from people with dementia and their carers, but also transport providers. Local authorities are also recognising the importance of accessibility to transport for people with dementia in order to enable them to live well and be active within their community. It is something that we have been using and working with. We will be having a conference in late July looking at dementia-friendly communities. Transport will be an area of interest in that.

Q41 Chair: Ms Hurst-Brown, has your organisation conducted a study looking at the attitude of non-disabled people to people with unseen disabilities? Can you tell us anything about that?

Lucy Hurst-Brown: We commissioned a small piece of research looking, yes, at the general public’s awareness of non-visible disabilities and, in particular, learning disabilities. We found that 7.45% of the people spoken to had witnessed bullying or very unpleasant experiences amongst adults on buses. There were also a very high percentage of people who either would directly intervene or were frightened to but wished they could directly intervene in those situations.

Q42 Chair: Thank you; that is helpful. Is there anything else anyone would like to add in the area of the attitude of other people?

Niki Glazier: I am going back slightly. It is important to the question asked just prior to that on the issue of disability awareness training. I want to make the point that, along with us banging on doors talking to people and that sort of consultation engagement exercise, it is important that from the other angle-the stick angle, if you like-the Department for Transport is giving a very clear and strong message about the expectation and requirement for companies to respond to that and deliver that disability training. At the moment it feels like we are asking a favour. I do not know if that is echoed elsewhere. We are asking, "Would you please?", or "Could you please?" There could be a stronger message coming out about that. It is quite concerning that the Department has now chosen to defer the recent European regulation requirement on disability training. From the Government’s perspective they could be giving a more powerful message perhaps to the providers.

Q43 Iain Stewart: I have one supplementary question on the point the Chair was asking about. I read something at the weekend about a new number or text service being launched so that, if a passenger on a train sees yobs misbehaving, being intimidating or whatever, they can text a number and it will alert the Transport Police. Is that something that you were aware of or consulted about, or do you see a potential application for people with unseen disabilities?

Lucy Hurst-Brown: I am aware of it because I read it in the newspaper, not because we were involved in any of that process or talked to them about it. I think it is a fantastic idea. I would like to see something like an app generated that people could use. Not everybody who has a learning disability would be able to text the right number, but, if it could be built in to a mobile phone with a coloured button or that sort of thing, then the idea is brilliant. It needs to be translated further so that it becomes usable for people.

Srabani Sen: The other point I would add is that it is how we make sure that any training that happens is effective. We did a straw poll in January as part of our gathering evidence to submit to the Committee. I know you were talking a lot earlier about the Paralympics and the effect that that was having. The sort of feedback we were getting was, "During the Paralympics it was fabulous, and then we came down to London at Christmas and it was just as bad as it ever was." There is something about understanding what training is being given and whether or not you can involve disabled people and their carers in that training, and then monitoring whether or not that is having an impact. As well as being able to report either a staff member behaving inappropriately or a passenger behaving inappropriately, there has to be something about checking whether or not the training that we are giving is effective. That is really crucial.

George McNamara: On this issue of technology, briefly, in terms of what you have described more broadly, we have to be careful here that we do not have a digital-by-default policy that excludes people with dementia. What we have found throughout our work generally, where we have surveys and so on that are available online but also in hard copy, is that probably nine out of 10 of respondents ask for hard copies. The ONS also found that 70% of over-75s have never used the internet. We need to have that balance. Obviously that will change over time, but at this current juncture it is important not to forget that.

Chair: Thank you to all of you for coming and answering our questions so fully.

<?oasys [pg6,cwe1] ?>Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Paul Breckell, Chief Executive, Action on Hearing Loss, Peter Rayner, Vice-President, National Pensioners Convention, Tanvi Vyas, Campaigns Officer, Muscular Dystrophy Campaign Trailblazers, and Richard Leaman, Chief Executive, Guide Dogs, gave evidence.

Q44 Chair: Good afternoon and welcome to the Transport Select Committee. Would you give your name and organisation, please?

Tanvi Vyas: My name is Tanvi Vyas. I am the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign Trailblazers Campaigns Officer.

Paul Breckell: I am Paul Breckell, Chief Executive of Action on Hearing Loss. We are the largest UK membership charity supporting people who are deaf or have hearing loss.

Peter Rayner: My name is Peter Rayner. I am the Vice-President of the National Pensioners Convention.

Richard Leaman: My name is Richard Leaman. I am the Chief Executive of Guide Dogs. Our mission is to make sure that every blind person in the UK has the same freedom of movement as everybody else. We are delighted to be here.

Q45 Chair: Thank you very much. Could you tell us what you see as the main challenges faced by disabled people and their carers when travelling or when wanting to travel?

Peter Rayner: For persons of reduced mobility, into which my generation falls rather successfully, the thing that worries us is consistency. The difficulty is that some stations, to take rail to start with, are staffed but some stations are not staffed. Some trains are staffed but some trains are not staffed. In those stations where there aren’t any staff, boarding aids and other things are a problem. We have difficulty with information, in so far as information technology in some cases misses some of my generation. Also, we don’t make much sense of some of the ticket machines. Older or vulnerable people will not really travel unless they feel safe. It is not just a question that they may well be safe, but they don’t perceive themselves as being safe. It is to do with staffing and seeing the visible things that reassure them. Close-circuit TV may be one thing; good lighting may be another. It is these sorts of things.

It is the fact that we cannot rely on consistent transportation from one place to another. I won’t even go into inter-modal transfers. That is another problem between bus to train, train to taxi and taxi to walk. With regard to start and finish, you may start in London where it is a good system for a variety of reasons, because money has been put into it, but you may travel to somewhere where that system is not quite as good. Therefore, that is not seamless travel, so without going on too much, our problem is the consistency of the product, such as it is.

Q46 Chair: You mentioned London and other places. Are there any places that are better than others from your information?

Peter Rayner: London, for example, has stations manned for the continuation of the service, presumably for reasons to do with Transport for London, who fund such a situation. In other places staff aren’t there from, say, midday. You will have a journey where you start from somewhere where you are cosseted and feel secure, and you end up somewhere where there is not anybody apart from a machine on which you press a button and ask it questions. I mentioned London, because clearly London has had money invested in it for a variety of reasons.

Paul Breckell: The biggest challenges for deaf people are around inaccessible forms of communication. Particularly pertinent is poor access to real-time information. It is not so much an issue around journey planning, but when changes happen mid-journey it is essential that visual information is available and that staff are on hand. Some of the key issues for people with hearing loss are about those unscheduled changes and making sure that there is sufficient information. It may be a different set of requirements from just some of the simple mobility requirements.

Q47 Chair: How do you think that could be achieved?

Paul Breckell: Some of that is just about enforcing the legislation and those regulations that are already in place to make sure that visual displays are up to date. There is a requirement that 51% of seats on trains have a sight line to a visual display. We have had case studies where members of ours say that all the visual displays say is, "Listen for further loudspeaker announcements", which defeats the object. Making sure the visual displays that are there are used well is really important.

I know it has been a common theme throughout the afternoon, but it is about staff awareness, disability awareness and in this instance communication awareness, in particular, to make sure that staff consider the needs of people with hearing loss when there are changes to transport plans.

Q48 Chair: Ms Vyas, what are the main challenges?

Tanvi Vyas: Trailblazers have found that some of the main challenges, as my colleagues have said, include physical access and the attitudes of both staff and other passengers; and also changes in communications can make a really big difference. Some of the issues could include the example of making sure that equipment is well maintained and communications are there if there is an unplanned change in the service.

One of the other main issues is managing an increase in demand. As there is an ageing population and as things get a little bit better in terms of physical access-for example, the prams and the wheelchairs on buses-there need to be designs in place to make sure that everybody can access the transport network.

Q49 Chair: Mr Leaman, what are the main challenges?

Richard Leaman: For blind and partially sighted people we see several challenges. The first is consistency. I have to agree that across the country we find that services, staff training, website information and general support to blind people is incredibly patchy. If you live in London, it is pretty good; if you live in the rest of the country, it is a lottery. As an example, 87% of our service users have been left on a bus because the bus driver did not tell them when they were at their stop. In fact, 27% of our service users have had a bus driver refuse to tell them when they are going to get to a bus stop. In the last couple of years 91 people have been refused access to a taxi, even though the law is very clear about guide dog owners getting into taxis. Staff training, implementation of the law and fitting of audio-visual equipment is very patchy but very important.

Q50 Chair: Does the Passenger Assist system on rail work?

Tanvi Vyas: In some ways it is improving. However, there are really big challenges in terms of the fragmented service. I would like to say that, depending on where you are in the country, it is not necessarily an issue; it is just the consistency. One day you may not be going along to the same station because you might be travelling to work from different stations. It is not as though it is always a regular person and that you are always going to see the same faces. With the APRS, there are some situations where there is a breakdown in communication. You may have booked 24 hours in advance; however, the information has not got through. In other situations it is improving. For example, with e-mail APRS systems, sometimes they are proving to be quite useful. Technology should be increased.

Q51 Chair: Are there any other experiences of that?

Peter Rayner: It will vary from organisation to organisation. A lot of it depends upon the emphasis that management chooses to put upon the subject. In some places some organisations do respond but some organisations don’t. It really comes down to training. Indeed, this Act does not protect to that extent. It talks about training in terms of awareness. Even in the TSI on instructions and regulations it says that there must be "awareness of disabilities". It is not just awareness. I am aware of the needs of the two gentlemen either side of me, one representing those who are deaf and the other those who cannot see as well. They manifestly and obviously have different requirements. The difficulty is that staff training has to be more specific. It is very good in some companies but it is very odd in others. It does not recognise these substantial differences that exist within this user group. It is a big problem, but it is not legislated in the same way within each mode of transport. Bus, rail and taxi legislation are not exactly the same.

Q52 Chair: Do you want to identify any of the good or the bad companies?

Peter Rayner: One can identify with the mentoring and the schemes that exist in London to take people into the system, make people feel happy within the system and travel with them for a period of time. How much this would go on and how much this costs, I do not know. I am not too sure how much is window dressing. I would like to think it is not. Indeed, most of the feedback I get from organisations is that it works. Somebody gets used to the organisation after two or three trips and then they are happier within it. That sort of thing has to be encouraged, but there are big black holes elsewhere.

Paul Breckell: We would certainly say the same in relation to Transport for London. London is a really good example of an accessible city, in the main. I know you have received evidence already about physical access, but in relation to things like travel information apps, text updates, visual displays and wi-fi access on the tubes, London made some great strides particularly leading up to the Olympics and Paralympics. Out of London it is extremely patchy. Again, there are some good examples, Edinburgh City Council being one, but it is a real lottery, as the case has already been made this afternoon to a large extent, when you move out of London.

Richard Leaman: We would agree that Transport for London is in many ways an exemplar. We have also recently worked with FirstBus to open up a programme of training all their staff in how to support blind and partially-sighted people. There are good examples out there and yet, in the absence of any significant regulation for audio-visual equipment on buses, there are bus companies out there who do not wish to have AV installed. It would be about £2,000 a shot; it is not a lot of money. The same bus companies are also not interested in training their staff to support blind people. There are notable pockets of bad behaviour and one or two of good. Our view is that, unless we regulate, unless the PSVAR regulations are adjusted, these companies will continue to avoid their responsibilities to support some of the most disadvantaged people in our society.

Q53 Iain Stewart: I want to follow on from those points. Technology is developing in quite a rapid way. The range of visual and audio aids that trains and buses can have is improving all the time. Do the manufacturers consult with groups like yours to see how they could improve what is there or what new innovations are on the horizon?

Richard Leaman: Guide Dogs is working with one or two bus manufacturers. That is why we are sure that the cost of implementing audio-visual can be very low. We are not asking for a London iBus scheme, which is expensive and involves traffic management as well as giving passenger information. There are simpler forms of AV equipment in the region of £2,000 to £3,000 for a single-decker and a double-decker bus respectively.

We also feel-and I will be happy to provide the Committee with a recent DVD we have produced on this-that there is a much larger infrastructure question to do with technology. We feel that disabled people should be able to start a journey and plan it very simply online, get their tickets online, arrive at the station and be told which platform to go to by their audio device, their telephone, and then be moved to the right part of the train and be told whether the toilets are engaged or not. When they get to their appropriate destination, the shop should have barcodes that tell them where their particular piece of shopping is. The technology is out there to support disabled people. We are trying to encourage manufacturers, chain stores and transport providers through this DVD and with our partners in this work-who, not surprisingly, are Microsoft-that we can make the world a better place for blind and partially-sighted people and disabled people by using technology. But it is not the only answer. Most blind and partially-sighted people are not employed. Asking them to buy a £150 or £300 iPhone is not an option. Sometimes there is no signal; sometimes the battery runs out. We still need to have an infrastructure that has audio-visual equipment and people on hand who are trained and can back up the technology for those who can’t afford it or for those whose technology is not working.

Paul Breckell: Our experience is similar in terms of good engagement with equipment manufacturers. Echoing the point, one of the key issues is following that through with the transport providers themselves. There are some opportunities from procurement, so right from the point of making sure that accessibility is built in when contracts for the provision of rail or bus services are let, through disability awareness, through adaptive technology and then on into making sure that that is delivered in practice. It is about that whole pathway in terms of making sure that accessibility is considered at each stage.

As has been said, the technology is available. That is certainly part of the picture. The human factor is important too. Staff training and awareness is part of that. It is bringing it together as a package for disabled people-and people with sensory loss in this case in particular.

Peter Rayner: The bus companies and train companies have to accept that this is a fair chunk of the market. It is 38% of the total market. Once you sell it to them that it is good for their business and they are designing for everybody, not just those of us who are old or disabled in some way but that the other transport users are benefiting from it, then that is the way to do it. That is the only way you will get people in this money-conscious world to invest their money.

Through the AGE Platform in Brussels, I am part of the Universal Access and Independent Living Group. Many large organisations of IT are interested in selling this because, at the end of the day, they will sell equipment and the operators will benefit. It has to be sold as something that is of value to them rather than as something we are asking for, for nothing.

Q54 Iain Stewart: Presumably you speak to your sister organisations in other countries. Is there a European country that has a particularly good system of addressing these issues that we could refer to?

Peter Rayner: Spain, for example, is very good as far as sighting and blind organisations are concerned. The lottery in Spain funds that particular thing, so a lot of money is spent. It varies in different parts. I would have thought that the Germans and possibly the Dutch are probably better than anybody else in mainland Europe in terms of movement about the country with mechanised ramps and an integrated system.

Tanvi Vyas: Even with regard to buses, for example, there are some designs of buses that work better. I found that in France, Spain and Germany there are buses called the Mercedes Citaro that have more free spaces. There is more than one accessible space so that parents with prams and more than one wheelchair user would be able to fit in at the same time. With regard to access in terms of the metro systems, they are completely level access because they are brand new. We understand that, in London, the underground is 150 years old, but when Crossrail comes in it will be brand new stations. The excuse on that issue should not be in place. It is one of those things that we want to make sure is opened up to the wider market to ensure everyone can use their facilities.

Paul Breckell: Our experience in relation to comparisons with the European Union is that the UK has been comparatively good, to be fair. A lot of the legislative changes in the EU have been bringing things up to UK standards rather than beyond. We have some really good practice examples from America as well. Yellow New York cabs now have audio-visual equipment as standard in terms of the new breed coming on line. Access to private hire vehicles is an issue in the UK. There are some good examples from the United States, both in terms of private vehicles and public transport.

Tanvi Vyas: On the subject of private hire vehicles, we find that in rural areas a lot of the Trailblazers and young disabled people are not able to use the transport at all. For example, in Kendal, people are only able to use it between 10.00 and 4.00 when buses are not in use for the schools. This seems like an absolutely alarming situation compared with London. If there is one accessible taxi in the area and he has a day off, it can prohibit someone from being able to go out and engage, be able to get to work or go out with friends.

Richard Leaman: I would add to what was said earlier on in the two previous sessions. The big issue is perhaps not how we compare with other countries but how we work within our own United Kingdom and this consistency across the regions. Blind people do not see their journey from one local authority to another or from one country to another. They see it as a continuum. One of the significant challenges they are facing, which we need to address, is the fact that, as they hop from one area to another or from one mode of transport to another, it is incredibly difficult to make that journey; to book those tickets; to expect some sort of service whether there is AV or not, whether the bus driver will talk to you or not or whether the taxi driver will let you in. It is shambolic, and we have to find a way to get consistency across the modes of transport and to get the Department for Transport within itself to look at disability across the piece and not in separate pillars across each of the transport modes. Then we need to get the law enforced more effectively where it exists. Where it does not exist-and I am again thinking of audio-visual equipment on buses-we need to regulate for this or the bus companies will continue to avoid it.

Q55 Chair: Is the new Transport Direct journey planner website useful?

Richard Leaman: For blind people, no; it is inaccessible. I have to say that that is not an uncommon experience. If you go to some of the transport websites that show you the timetables, they are in pdf format, which cannot be read by blind people.

Q56 Chair: Does anyone think it is useful?

Tanvi Vyas: Unfortunately, when we asked the Trailblazers they had not heard about it, so promotion of it in the first place would be extremely helpful. The Stations Made Easy website and directions have been found to be very useful because they have lots of intricate information, but again the promotion of the website itself has not been good.

Peter Rayner: There is too much reliance upon online information as far as older people are concerned. While many of us are able to understand and work within IT, 70% of persons over 70 years of age in Europe are not part of the web. We have to find a way of making them. I am not shutting my mind to it. I am merely saying that too much information technology at this stage leaves many old people isolated from the very information that these gentlemen or we are all seeking to get.

Paul Breckell: As I have already stressed, planning is not as much of an issue as real-time updates. While there are some real-time updates in relation to the site, the options there are not as full as some of the other proprietary sites like National Rail Enquiries and so on. In that sense it is not particularly adding anything. Also, there is not any British Sign Language content on the site. For a proportion of people who are profoundly deaf, which is approximately 10%, it is not accessible from that perspective.

Q57 Chair: It does not sound as if the solution has been found there. The Disabled Living Allowance is going to be replaced by Personal Independence Payments. That has implications. Are there any concerns about that?

Tanvi Vyas: As people are taken off the DLA and will not receive any Disability Living Allowance at all, that means a lot more people may be reliant upon public transport because they do not have as much of a disposable income to use for transport providers. That could be a real issue.

One of the other issues is with regard to the concessions. If you are in receipt of Disability Living Allowance, if someone is no longer available to prove that and there is sometimes an issue with a disabled person’s railcard, you can get a doctor’s note, but again that costs money, which could put people off.

Q58 Chair: Are there any other comments on the change?

Paul Breckell: I would just follow on from that really. There are about 40,000 with hearing loss who receive DLA at the moment, and about 4,000 specifically because of their hearing loss. One of the key issues is around the potential loss of concessionary travel entitlement. If in the move from DLA to PIP those people lose the living allowance, there is potential to lose the concessionary travel entitlement too. That is a key issue because the two should not go together.

In terms of the design of PIP, we argued unsuccessfully that communication should be a separate strand. It is actually built into daily living within PIP. We do not think that is sufficient in terms of covering all of the various issues there will be relating to accessibility around buying tickets, journey planning, asking for directions and the presence of another person to assist and so on. We are worried that there are some issues in terms of mobility that aren’t going to be fully built into PIP.

Peter Rayner: The main concern we have is that we cannot convince one Government Department of the value of inclusion to another Government Department. We believe that concessionary travel, for what it is worth, and getting the older and less active into the system benefits not just those people but society. They spend their money in the precincts and they are healthier as a consequence. They do a lot of voluntary work. One can put a value upon it, but it is difficult to persuade the Department for Transport on the occasions we have talked with them. They always talk about the cost of concessionary travel rather than the value of it. Our objective is to try and make people realise that older people are not tomorrow’s problem; we are tomorrow’s solution if you give us inclusion.

Richard Leaman: At Guide Dogs we were very concerned about the potential changes that the Government had envisaged for guide dog owners in particular. Thankfully, they have reacted to our concerns and that is no longer a problem. For us, there are going to be partially-sighted people who will fall just below the bar, who up until now were getting an allowance but who will not get an allowance in the future. They will then fall into a grey zone where they are not able to drive but are not entitled to an allowance for their disability. For us, the proof of this will be in the eating. Let us see what comes out. Let us see how people are assessed, where that bar is set and to what extent blind or partially-sighted people are going to be affected. At this moment we are reserving our judgment on that.

Tanvi Vyas: I want to mention the Motability scheme. This would also affect many people. If people are not able to drive their adapted vehicles or go into the family vehicles because they no longer apply, that could lead to many more people relying on public transport. Again, the demand for the transport will increase.

Q59 Mr Sanders: What single thing could Government do that would improve your lot? Is there one single idea on which this Committee could make a recommendation to Government?

Chair: Here is your opportunity.

Tanvi Vyas: We believe that writing something into the franchising agreements could make a big difference-so measuring, monitoring and reviewing accessibility. It is not necessarily having the physical access in place, but making sure that you evaluate it, see how successful it is and how things can get better. They should speak to disabled customers and see what could be done better. Perhaps having a good practice guide for stations is positive. It would show what works well and celebrate companies that are doing well. That is commendable. However, we believe there could be something in place that could provide for penalties if people fall below a minimum standard. At the moment there aren’t any teeth within Government infrastructures to say, "If this isn’t happening, then are there going to be any financial penalties in place?"

Paul Breckell: I would say making sure that the regulations really are there to enforce the legislation. The legislative framework is there. That is in relation to audio-visual equipment and displays and staff accessibility training. We must make sure as a whole piece that we make transport accessible more broadly for people who are deaf and have sensory loss.

Peter Rayner: One million older people are in receipt of the bus pass in the UK. If that bus pass were to be used as the senior railcard, because all it does is prove age and who you are, that would give the train companies an 11-million client base to sell their senior railcard to. They would make money and we would put our money into the economy. Older people as well as the train companies would benefit.

Richard Leaman: The one single thing that we would like to see is the Government making buses more accessible. I don’t agree with one of my colleagues on this bench that the regulation is there. It is not there for audio-visual equipment on buses, and it needs to be. Secondly, we were very disappointed that Ministers saw fit not to enact some of the EU regulation with regard to training of bus operators. They have avoided that and taken an opt-out. If the Government were to make buses more acceptable by regulating for audio-visual equipment and insisting that bus operators train their people, they could transform the transportation of blind people outside London in this country.

Chair: Thank you very much for coming and answering our questions. I am sorry you were kept waiting because we were quite late when we got to you. Thank you very much indeed.

Prepared 13th September 2013