National Express claims that 97 per cent of its fleet of coaches is now wheelchair-accessible, six years before the 1 January 2020 deadline for all coaches to comply with public transport access regulations.
But despite the company’s claims, the system it uses to ensure wheelchairs are securely fastened in place is not compatible with many popular models.
The problem emerged after a discussion between Eleanor Lisney, a leading disabled activist, and National Express’s accessibility and inclusion manager.
He told Lisney that her Quickie Salsa M power wheelchair – widely available on the NHS – did not fit the base of the “Magic Seat”, which he admitted was “sadly, not so magic in this instance”.
Wheelchair access to new National Express coaches is by a lift at the front of the vehicle, and for those disabled people who cannot then transfer into a standard seat, their wheelchair can be locked in place into one of the Magic Seats.
But passengers are advised to call a dedicated phone line to check their wheelchair is “compatible” before they book a ticket.
Lisney said that National Express’s failure to make their vehicles accessible to some disabled people meant that these passengers were being excluded from a cheaper means of travel, while many disabled tourists would also face such problems.
A National Express spokesman was unable to say what proportion of wheelchairs were compatible with its Magic Seats, or how many disabled customers it was having to turn away.
He said: “We are absolutely committed to customers with accessibility needs and with 97 per cent of our fleet already wheelchair accessible, we have striven to be well ahead of the requirements set out in the Public Service Vehicles Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR), which oblige all UK coaches to be wheelchair accessible by 2020.
“We are pleased that thanks in part to the measures taken, we have seen the number of journeys taken by wheelchair-users increase by 36 per cent this year.”
He added: “There are hundreds of different wheelchair designs available on the UK market and some models will not fit in our vehicles.
“However, we have taken every measure possible to make sure as many customers with accessibility requirements as possible can travel with us.”
1 January 2014