MPs warn government over ‘unacceptably poor’ access to transport


theweeksubMPs have warned the government that it must do much more to improve access to transport for disabled people, which they say is “unacceptably poor”.

The Commons transport committee this week published the results of its inquiry into the barriers faced by disabled people using transport.

And it warned that improvements planned by the government were now being “watered down or abandoned”.

The Labour MP Louise Ellman, who chairs the cross-party committee, said: “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 [being]watered-down or abandoned.”

Among the committee’s recommendations, it wants to see an end to the requirement for disabled rail passengers to have to book assistance 24 hours in advance of their journey.

It also wants bus companies to face financial penalties if they advertise accessible routes and then fail to provide accessible buses, and says ministers should ensure the phased introduction of audio-visual information systems on all buses over the next 10 years.

The report also says there should be a public awareness campaign to hammer home the message that bus-users should respect spaces intended for wheelchair-users, and financial incentives for bus and coach companies to deliver a “fully accessible” vehicle fleet.

The committee also said it disagreed with the Department for Transport’s (DfT) decision to take advantage of a five-year exemption from new EU rules on compulsory disability equality training for bus and coach drivers.

There were similar recommendations for taxi and private hire companies, with suggested financial incentives to encourage investment in fully accessible vehicles, and calls for a nationwide programme of disability equality training for drivers.

The committee also said that EU rules on air travel should change to allow free tickets for carers or personal assistants when an airline has decided a disabled person cannot travel alone for safety reasons.

The report calls on DfT to develop a way to assess the financial benefits for disabled people of improving access, so that it can carry out cost-benefit analyses on future spending decisions.

And it says DfT should involve disability organisations in deciding which rail stations should benefit from access improvements through its Access for All programme, and in identifying the most “effective” improvements at each station.

The report was welcomed by disabled people’s organisations.

Lianna Etkind, campaigns coordinator for the charity Transport for All, said: “It’s true that, currently, access to transport for disabled people is unacceptably poor and this urgently needs to change.

“In particular, we are pleased to see the committee agree [to]call for an end to the discriminatory requirement for disabled people to book rail assistance 24 hours in advance.

“Disabled people want and need to travel with the same freedom and spontaneity as everyone else.

“We call on the government to act on the report’s recommendations, and work towards a transport system that enables us to participate in work, leisure and civil society on equal terms with non-disabled people.”

Disability Rights UK (DR UK) also welcomed the report, which it said highlights “many of the issues facing disabled people that are reported to us on a daily basis and are the subject of discussion at our events”.

Among the recommendations it particularly welcomed were those on wheelchair spaces on buses, disability equality training for staff, ensuring accessible bus routes were truly accessible, and on changes to EU air travel regulations.

A DR UK spokeswoman added: “We also strongly support the recommendation for cross-government working to improve access and the recognition that better access is essential if disabled people are to be able to participate in our communities as equal citizens and take up employment and training opportunities.”

19 September 2013