The government should consider new laws to force all bus companies to introduce audio-visual announcements on their vehicles if they do not bring them in voluntarily, according to the equality watchdog’s new disability commissioner.
Chris Holmes, a commissioner with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, was giving evidence to the Commons transport select committee’s inquiry into access to transport for disabled people.
Holmes told the committee that such announcements bring a “greater sense of safety” for passengers, who also feel more “comfortable”.
He said: “One would hope that all transport operators would see the benefit and want to have that on their system. If it doesn’t come about I think it is a legitimate area to look at regulation.”
Dai Powell, chair of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), said it cost just £2,000 to fit an audio-visual announcement system onto an existing bus, compared with the £190,000 cost of a new London double-decker bus.
He said: “There is a cost to industry, but the benefits far outweigh that.”
Powell said there was “no reason” why the government could not set a date by which audio-visual announcements had to be introduced on all buses.
But Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat transport minister, told the committee later: “The evidence is that that will be a significant cost to the industry.
“They provided evidence which I take at face value that there is not a commercial case for it.”
He added: “I happen to think it is very helpful to have audio-visual information on buses, and not just for people with disabilities.
“I am not at the moment inclined to make this a mandatory requirement because of the cost and the impact on services I think it could have but I have again encouraged the bus industry to take forward the provision of audio-visual information and I have indicated I will monitor how they are getting on.”
Holmes, who was director of Paralympic integration at London 2012, told the committee there were lessons to learn from the way that the bosses of all of the companies operating at Heathrow – including 94 airlines – were brought together to ensure a seamless transport experience for disabled people last summer, as part of what was called Team Heathrow.
He said: “When I was putting together the vision for the Paralympic Games, it was not just to have an extraordinary celebration of sport… what I really believed we could do if we got that right was make a fundamental shift in attitudes towards and opportunities for disabled people.
“Obviously sport was at the heart of that but that had to flow through into transport, education, employment, and at Heathrow you are seeing those legacy benefits from the work we did with Team Heathrow.”
Holmes told the MPs that it was important to show some of the less accessible transport providers “what good looks like”.
And he said it was “quite clear” that to get more disabled people into work, it was vital to improve the accessibility of public transport.
Powell said there was a “huge difference” in the accessibility of public transport across the country, particularly between urban and rural areas.
And he said there was a need for more consistency, particularly with transport information, so that disabled people were more confident about travelling.
Powell also said the bus industry should look at itself as a “retail industry”, with drivers needing to be “very polite and good and helpful to their customers”.
He also called for research into how many disabled people travelled with which airlines, as he said there was still a “discrepancy” between how different airlines dealt with disabled passengers.
He said: “We still need a lot more training done with airline staff and with certain chief executives of airlines [to show]that disabled people are passengers like everyone else.”
4 June 2013