The boss of a public transport lobbying organisation has apologised to campaigners after being criticised for two “misleading” comments made to peers investigating the impact of the Equality Act on disabled people.
Simon Posner, chief executive of the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT), which represents the bus and coach industry, gave evidence to the Equality Act 2010 and disability committee on 3 November.
But it has now emerged that two separate complaints have been made about the evidence he gave to members of the committee, which includes the disabled peers Baroness [Jane] Campbell, Baroness [Sal] Brinton and Baroness [Celia] Thomas.
One complaint concerns comments Posner made in which he told Baroness Campbell that the abuse of wheelchair spaces on buses was “possibly not as widespread as many people would have us believe”.
But Doug Paulley, a disabled activist who has taken legal action against a bus company over its failure to enforce the space, wrote to the committee to express his concern after hearing the remark.
He pointed out that such abuse was widespread and that CPT had taken part in Department for Transport (DfT) research that showed a “substantial majority of wheelchair users… identified that there were problems with their space on the bus being occupied by a buggy or pushchair”.
Paulley has pointed out that Posner was working at CPT at the time the research was published, and that he previously worked in the mobility unit at the Department for Transport, which commissioned the research.
Paulley said in his email to the committee: “Comments that such conflict is infrequent are met by derision when made or read out at meetings of disabled public transport users.”
But Posner has also angered the disability charity RNIB, after claiming in his evidence that “the people we are dealing with in RNIB would tell us the great majority of their members now have smartphones and use them”, and that RNIB had been telling CPT that blind and visually-impaired people “do not particularly like having this
system coming up that we sometimes cannot hear because we are plugged into our telephone”.
In a letter to Posner, copied to the committee and seen by Disability News Service, RNIB’s campaigns manager Michael Wilson says: “These are not statements we would agree with and are very concerned that RNIB is being misrepresented.”
Posner has now written to RNIB to apologise and told the charity it was not his intention to misrepresent the charity’s position.
A CPT spokeswoman said it was “never our intention to mislead or misrepresent any group or individual and CPT of course apologises if this was the case”.
She said that Posner’s comments to the committee on the use of smartphones were made in the context of ongoing research and a trial of a mobile phone app, in which CPT had “worked closely with a blind person who headed up our focus group”.
She said: “Whilst the individual concerned was not a member of RNIB the comments made were echoed to bus operators involved in the research and trial by a number of blind and partially-sighted people.
“So far as the use of wheelchair space on buses is concerned, it is a fact that many hundreds of wheelchair-users use buses every day without experiencing any problems.
“However, one case of a wheelchair-user not being able to access a space would be one too many and the bus industry will continue to do all it can to ensure that all their passengers are able to use their services.”
RNIB was not able to comment on Posner’s evidence by 9pm this evening (19 November).
But Paulley said CPT’s apology was “mealy-mouthed”, and added: “To take a quote from the DfT research, which the CPT helped organise and present: ‘Overall, less than one in ten wheelchair-users said that this never or rarely happens.’
“So the ‘one is one too many’ from the CPT is so much bullshit. Everybody who has made any significant use of public transport with a wheelchair or with a wheelchair-user knows it.”