COMMONS

Access to transport for disabled people still unacceptably poor

17 September 2013

The Government must work harder to improve accessibility for disabled people across the nation's transport networks, warns the Transport Committee in a wide ranging report published today.

Chair's comments

Launching the report, Louise Ellman, Chair of the Transport Committee, said:

"In the UK some 11.5m people already live with a recognised disability and more than a fifth of them experience some difficulty when using transport networks. So it's essential that the Department for Transport delivers an ambitious Accessibility Action Plan.

Changes made ahead of the 2012 Paralympic Games delivered access for disabled people to significantly more parts of the public transport network for the first time and highlighted the immense value of such improvements for all.

Yet a year later, there is a risk that some of the momentum from London 2012 is being lost because further key accessibility improvements planned by the Department for Transport are been watered-down or abandoned.

On buses, the Government's decision not to require all drivers to have basic training in disability awareness is unacceptable.  MPs also call for a national public awareness campaign to ensure all bus users respect space intended for wheelchair users; financial incentives for bus and coach companies to bring forward the capital investment required to deliver a fully accessible vehicle fleet.

Penalties should also be imposed on operators who claim to offer accessible routes but then fail to provide accessible buses, and ministers should require the phased introduction of audio-visual information systems on all buses over the next ten years as part of the DfT's Accessibility Action Plan.

On the rail network, disabled travellers should not have to book organised assistance in advance, so over time this requirement should be phased out by every train operator. Including disabled people in developing new rail infrastructure should be another key ambition: The DfT must ensure their needs are central to prioritising and developing schemes for the next wave of 'Access for All' railway improvements, says the Committee. "Making physical improvements to stations also doesn't take away from the importance of having staffed stations to help all travellers make safe and secure journeys."

Low awareness

MPs heard evidence of low awareness among disabled people of Transport Direct, the DfT's journey-planning web portal, which has recently been upgraded to enable the planning of accessible journeys. The report recommends a targeted marketing campaign to raise awareness and increase the number of people using the service.

Transport Committee welcomes the DfT's support for disabled travel training, but are concerned at the lack of funding available for the set-up of such schemes, which are often self-financing following an initial investment by a local authority. The report calls for local authorities to include such schemes in future bids to the Local Sustainable Travel Fund.

On taxis and private hire vehicles MPs call for financial incentives to encourage investment in a fully accessible vehicles by operators, with a target to deliver a fully accessible taxi and private hire fleet within ten years. The Committee also recommends the DfT works with licensing authorities and the taxi trade to develop and implement without delay a nationwide programme of disability awareness training for taxis and private hire vehicle drivers.

Change to EU rules

For air travel, the Committee calls for a change to EU rules so that in future airlines are required to allow carers to travel free of charge when the airline judges a disabled person incapable of travelling independently, as is the case in the USA. They also call for the European Commission to reform the rules governing compensation paid by airlines when mobility equipment is damaged in transit.

The Transport Committee also calls for the Cabinet Office to convene a working group of ministers and officials to improve cross-government working on accessibility in order to secure the full benefits to be gained from widening disabled people's access to employment and training, healthcare and wider participation in all parts of society. MPs also emphasize the urgency for closer working between the DfT, local government and the new Disability Action Alliance to promote the development of successful local accessibility schemes.

Further information

Image: iStockphoto

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