Accessible transport campaigners have warned the government that it needs to make significant investment in removing physical access barriers, after ministers launched two new campaigns aimed mainly at improving staff and public attitudes to disabled passengers.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps launched an advertising campaign – It’s Everyone’s Journey (pictured) – which aims to “highlight how we can all play a part in making public transport inclusive”.
He also announced the launch of a new scheme for transport operators – the Inclusive Transport Leaders Scheme (ITLS) – which will “acknowledge and celebrate” their work.
ITLS is based on the government’s much-criticised Disability Confident disability employment scheme, although with stricter membership criteria.
Whereas employers can sign up to Disability Confident without employing any disabled people, transport operators will need to prove they have “laid foundations for a more accessible service provision in the long-term”.
This will include proving they have had proactive engagement with disabled people and delivering disability equality training to staff, before they can achieve even the entry-level ITLS accreditation.
DfT said its research had shown that “behaviours that make public transport a daunting place for disabled people are often unconscious, such as not looking out for a fellow passenger who might need a seat or be in distress”.
It’s Everyone’s Journey is supposed to “raise awareness about the needs of disabled people when using public transport” and “prompt members of the public to think and consider how their behaviour might impact others”.
But the timing of the launch of the two campaigns has highlighted the need for the government to fund significant investment in accessible vehicles and infrastructure across the transport network, and not just work on improving public and industry attitudes to disabled passengers.
This week, campaigner Katie Pennick, a wheelchair-user, spoke to the media about how she had to fight to be allowed to board an inaccessible train.
Last month, disabled campaigners attacked the government and transport providers after operators were given permission to continue using more than 1,000 inaccessible rail carriages – about eight per cent of the national fleet – after missing a deadline set 10 years ago.
And earlier this month, ministers gave the industry permission to use inaccessible vehicles for rail replacement services for another three months, despite having 20 years to prepare for another legal deadline.
Kirsty Hoyle, chief executive of Transport for All, said: “Transport for All are pleased to see a campaign that encourages all commuters to be more mindful of the needs of others.
“It’s Everyone’s Journey should be the start of a culture change in transport; placing the onus on society to understand that under the social model it is incumbent on all of us to support the access needs of others and remove disabling barriers.
“However, we want to ensure the government keep forging ahead with the Inclusive Transport Strategy and the vital infrastructure changes that are required.
“No amount of public goodwill will increase access for those disabled people for whom our network is physically inaccessible.’’
She added: “We have been involved in shaping this portfolio of work with DfT and welcome initiatives that aim to create cultural change.
“We are looking for tangible commitments and direct outcomes, an example of which is the leaders scheme’s requirement for board-level access responsibility.
“The scheme needs to demonstrate, quickly and clearly, how it is making change for customers – not just the impact on the organisations involved.
“What will this scheme mean for the daily experience of disabled people on transport across the UK?”
Doug Paulley, who has played a significant role in highlighting discrimination across the transport industry, also emphasised the importance of infrastructure improvements.
He said: “Other passengers’ attitudes are obviously important, but the fundamental barriers complained about by disabled people are inaccessible infrastructure (for example lack of level boarding), inadequate staffing and attitudinal issues by service providers.”
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