Transport staff who fail in their duty to provide an accessible service for their disabled passengers should face disciplinary action, a former Disability Rights Commission (DRC) director has told a parliamentary meeting.
Will Bee, who led the DRC’s work on transport and is now an independent consultant, said the attitude of transport staff and other passengers to disabled people was “becoming more and more of a factor” in how to improve the accessibility of public transport.
Bee, who was also the DRC’s first director in Wales, suggested that simply training staff in disability equality was not enough.
He told a seminar on transport and disabled people, organised by the all-party parliamentary disability group: “We need a culture that says that getting it wrong is a disciplinary offence. It’s not simply a matter of training and training and training.”
Bee said that it should not be essential for a disabled person to possess “sheer bloody-mindedness” in order to be able to use public transport.
He added: “It needs to be a matter of culture that the service is delivered right and I think there need to be sanctions for those who do not.”
Maria Eagle, Labour’s shadow transport secretary, said that the coalition’s planned move from working-age disability living allowance to the new personal independence payment would see up to 100,000 people lose their access to Motability vehicles, which was “a retrograde step” when there was not “fully accessible public transport”.
And she pointed out that one of the government’s earliest actions was to announce the abolition of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC).
She criticised that decision, and said that her experience as a former minister for disabled people was that it was “better and cheaper” to seek disabled people’s views through groups such as DPTAC before a policy was drawn up, rather than afterwards.
Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat transport minister, claimed the government had improved bus, taxi and rail accessibility, while the proportion of disabled people experiencing difficulties with public transport was “on a downward trend”.
He said that, by March 2015, at least 75 per cent of rail journeys would start or end at a fully accessible station, compared with 50 per cent when the Department for Transport’s Access for All programme of rail station access improvements was launched in 2005.
Baker said: “Our aim is to remove the barriers that people face, not just the physical barriers but attitudes towards disabled people, from staff and fellow passengers alike.”
He said Britain had come “a lot further than many other countries have come”, although he accepted that “it is not a time to be complacent”.
The minister also said he had been encouraging bus companies to “take further action” on provide audio-visual information for passengers, but was “happy to review that if progress is not sufficient”.
Disabled activist Zara Todd told the seminar that at least 40 per cent of her journeys in and around London either ended in failure or took double the time they should because of the inaccessibility of the transport network.
And another disabled campaigner, Susan New, questioned why other parts of the country did not copy the “best practice” she saw when travelling on Brighton’s buses, where there were two wheelchair spaces, and wheelchair-users could drive straight onto the bus, without the need for a ramp.
Liz Chandler, corporate development director for Merseytravel, the transport authority for Merseyside, blamed this failure to copy best practice on the “complexity in the way transport in the UK currently operates”, which “leads to the mess we sometimes have”.
12 February 2013