The coalition government is refusing to back proposed laws that would provide new rights for disabled bus and coach passengers across Europe.
The government’s failure to back the measures has been fiercely criticised by the National Federation of the Blind of the UK (NFB UK), which described them as a “once in a generation opportunity”.
The European parliament has already approved the new laws, but they have yet to be agreed by the individual EU member states, with negotiations currently taking place.
If approved, they would provide free assistance to disabled bus and coach passengers, compensation for lost or damaged mobility equipment, a duty to provide key information in an accessible format, and mandatory disability awareness training for drivers and terminal staff.
But Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat transport minister, said: “While we support the aims of passenger rights for both disabled and non-disabled people, we do not believe that an EU regulation of the nature proposed by the European parliament helps achieve that.
“Increased regulation will result in increased costs on the bus and coach industry and will inevitably mean they are simply able to provide fewer services, which will certainly not help disabled people.
“I am determined to ensure that local bus services are improved to the benefit of people with disabilities, but we must do so in a way that is not self-defeating.”
Douglas Gilroy, the NFB UK’s vice-president, said the government’s attitude was “wholly inadequate, unacceptable and totally fails to address these problems which we face daily”.
He said bus travel was “essential to many of us being able to lead an independent life”, but that “too many blind people have a bad experience when travelling by bus and this urgently needs to improve”.
He added: “Sighted people can see the timetable; the bus approaching the stop; [the] destination and service number of the bus; [and] the point at which someone reaches their destination.
“Many blind people cannot, so we will simply become second class citizens. I thought we were trying to create a fully inclusive society for all.”
30 September 2010