A government progress report paints far too rosy a picture of the accessibility of public transport, say campaigners.
The Department for Transport (DfT) report – which mostly relates to England – updates progress on its accessibility action plan, which was published in December 2012.
The report includes figures on the accessibility of buses, taxis and trains, but campaigners believe it exaggerates progress and ignores many of the barriers still facing disabled passengers on public transport.
It says that more than 150 rail stations will have an accessible route for passengers by 2015, as a result of the Access for All station improvement programme, while more than 1,100 stations have received smaller scale access improvements.
But Lianna Etkind, campaigns and outreach coordinator for the user-led charity Transport for All, said that less than one-fifth of rail stations were accessible – 452 of 2,533 UK railway stations have step-free access via lifts or ramps to all platforms – despite the Access for All funding.
Etkind said Access for All had achieved “some really worthwhile things” for disabled people who lived near the stations that had benefited, but the funding allocated to it was “a drop in the ocean” of what was needed.
And she said that although the progress report stated that 78 per cent of buses met government accessibility regulations, this failed to take into account the number of bus routes that were being removed due to funding cuts.
She added: “It is great that disabled people by and large… can travel for free, but for so many people they may have a bus once a week or not at all.
“Many, many bus routes have been cut in the last year, and many more are expected to be cut.”
And she pointed out that having a wheelchair space in an accessible bus was “next to useless” if bus companies were not prepared to ensure it could be used by wheelchair-users.
The court of appeal is set to deliver a definitive ruling later this year on disabled people’s right to access the wheelchair spaces on buses.
Etkind said the action plan itself showed a “horrifying lack of ambition” when the aim – as laid out by the Office for Disability Issues in Roadmap 2025, under the last Labour government – was for disabled people to have equal access to transport by 2025.
She said it was “difficult to see how this will be achieved” if the pace of change did not increase.
Dr Sarah Campbell, a prominent disabled campaigner, said she was bemused by the government’s claim in the progress report that 58 per cent of the 78,000 taxis in England and Wales were wheelchair accessible (in London this is 100 per cent).
In her local area, taxi accessibility “isn’t anything close to that”. The biggest provider has “several” accessible vehicles, she said, but “they are not suitable for electric wheelchairs and they will not guarantee to send you one on time”.
She added: “Most other fleets similarly only have one or two and elsewhere there are simply no vehicles at all.
“If this is the situation here, I would very much like to know how on earth they can reach a 58 per cent estimate UK-wide.”
Campbell said that travel problems for disabled people were “compounded by our local bus policy which currently does not compel passengers to move out of the wheelchair space if they do not want to”.
She added: “Currently, if I wish to travel independently with my electric wheelchair, my only safe option is to use a single taxi provider which I have to book 24 hours in advance.
“This is a very far call from a majority of accessible buses and taxis which this report seems to think is available. Am I simply unlucky or are things even worse than the report admits?”
8 January 2014