Bus Services Bill [HL]

Written evidence submitted by Baroness Campbell of Surbiton (BSB 24)

NC9 (Accessibility policies)

Rationale for submission

This submission is a synthesis of my contribution to the Bus Services Bill throughout the Lords stages. During the process I met regularly with the Transport Minister, Lord Ahmad, took advice from disability organisations and individual experts concerned with transport accessibility, and drew upon the evidence submitted to the Lords Post- Legislative Scrutiny Committee on the Equality Act and its Impact on Disabled People.

1. I am making this submission to explain why the amendment on accessibility policies is so important. When the Bill was in the Lords, I was closely involved in efforts to explain why the Government should consider such a requirement.

2. Transport barriers are one of the key areas which prevent disabled and older people from living independent lives. This was underlined by the evidence to the Lords Select Committee on the Equality Act and Disability, of which I was a member. Bus travel is a public service and over 11 million disabled people are part of that public.

3. The Department of Transport’s overview of the Bill says the aim is to unlock opportunity. The Prime Minister’s vison is to have a society that works for everyone. Accessible bus networks across the country will help the Government towards meeting their disability employment gap targets.

4. The Government says it wants an integrated transport policy. Consistency is vital for that to happen. Without it, disabled and older people do not have the confidence to travel, especially when they may have to cross local authority boundaries or different modes of transport.

5. Bus travel is an essential mode of travel for many disabled and older people. But standards of accessibility are highly variable among bus companies – some are excellent and others leave a lot to be desired. Disabled and older people need to know in advance what provision is made.

6. There is much greater uniformity among train operators. It is a condition of their licence that they set up and comply with a Disabled People’s Protection Policy (DPPP) stating how they will protect the interests of disabled customers. This is enforceable by the regulator, with fines for non-compliance.

7. Many companies see this not as a burden but as an opportunity to show what can be done. It has also helped raise standards across the industry. Why should the position be so different in the bus sector? After all, they have to make provision for their disabled customers anyway under the Equality Act.

8. The Government say the two sectors are differently structured and responsibilities are split between the bus companies (for the vehicles) and local transport authorities (for bus stations and bus stops). But that shouldn’t prevent some comparability – everyone recognises that small companies might not be expected to do as much as bigger operators.

9. This kind of flexible approach was adopted by the Government when they introduced regulation-making powers in clause 17 on audio-visual announcements (AVs). The Traffic Commissioners will be able to enforce these as a condition of companies’ licences, and fine them for non-compliance. But the regulations allow for different requirements to apply in different circumstances.

10. Guidance isn’t the answer, as the Government claim. It’s not the same as an enforceable licence condition and it can too easily be ignored (as experience shows us in other areas of disability accessibility) – often by the very companies that most need to follow it. Enforcement backed by guidance is needed, as the AVs clause provides. That’s why I support the amendment on accessibility policies, which is modelled on that clause.

11. The Government often refer to burdens on companies. I have yet to see any evidence of what these are. There will be no extra burden unless – through their own fault – companies are fined for non-compliance. In contrast, the burden on disabled people is immense and not of their making.

12. The Secretary of State has to consult before issuing guidance for bus companies. This includes the Disabled People’s Transport Committee. They will be able to provide expert advice on a template for companies (train companies have one for their DPPPs). The Government are also planning guidance for local authorities. The two together would help bring coherence to bus accessibility.

March 2017


Prepared 16th March 2017