The new chair of the body that advises the government on accessible transport has questioned whether it is right to release research that exposes the discrimination faced by disabled passengers.
There were hopes that the appointment of wheelchair-user Matthew Campbell-Hill would lead to a new era of transparency at the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC).
But he has told Disability News Service that whether it is a good thing to release DPTAC reports and letters exchanged with government ministers “depends on how that information gets used”.
Campbell-Hill (pictured) said: “My question is: what is the use of it being released? If people weaponise it and put people on the back foot, you slow processes down.
“I can’t think of examples where that approach has helped with regulation in moving forward, but it doesn’t mean they don’t exist.”
He said he knows of organisations where releasing such documents to the public has reduced “confidence” in discussing policy, but he does not have examples of organisations where releasing that information has improved “outcomes”.
And he said that deciding whether DPTAC would do more to release its research reports and letters to ministers was not high on his list of priorities.
Campaigners have previously had to use freedom of information laws to obtain DPTAC documents that showed how the committee had criticised the government’s efforts to address the discrimination faced by disabled rail passengers.
Those documents have helped persuade the equality watchdog to take action under the Equality Act against both the Department for Transport and the rail regulator over concerns that cuts and reforms to train services were making the network ever more inaccessible.
Among them was DPTAC’s Rail Workforce Reform report, which was obtained by the Association of British Commuters (ABC) and concluded that staffing levels on a section of the rail network were “completely inadequate to deliver an accessible railway”.
In 2019, ABC obtained a letter to ministers from DPTAC’s then chair Keith Richards which warned that the government was falling “a very long way short” with its plans to ease the “toxic” impact on disabled people of running driver-only trains through unstaffed stations.
But Campbell-Hill has told DNS that it was not DPTAC’s role to “beat people into submission”.
He said: “That’s a slow way to create change. If things are weaponized, it puts people on their back foot and it slows down change.”
Instead, he wants the committee to offer advice “as early as possible” so access issues can be resolved before they become “live wire conversations” and DPTAC has to spend time in “firefighting positions”.
Campbell-Hill said it was too early to give his views about the impact on disabled passengers of government plans to close ticket offices and cut staff on the railways.
But he told DNS that he has had disability-related problems with every one of the eight or so return rail journeys he has taken as a wheelchair-user in the last 12 months.
He was dropped off at a rural station where the lifts had been shut off because it was after 10pm; he has been left on trains without assistance to disembark; and he has missed trains because he hadn’t arrived early enough for staff to arrange the assistance he had booked.
He said he does not feel he would be able to rely on rail transport if he had to use it every day to travel to and from work.
He reduced his use of public transport during the pandemic, and rarely uses buses – as he lives in a rural location where they are not accessible – and now makes most of his journeys in his car.
Other than his own experience of public transport as a passenger, his work in the transport field has centred so far on his role as a non-executive director at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, a Department for Transport agency, where he chairs the health, safety and wellness committee and leads on advice on self-driving vehicles.
Campbell-Hill – a technology and media consultant and retired international wheelchair fencer – was appointed as DPTAC’s new chair last month.
The appointment of a disabled person as the new chair was widely welcomed, but he told DNS that he does not believe that “lived experience is a basic requirement for a job around disability”.
He said: “I don’t see my disability as a qualification… I think it dumbs down what people do and what people have achieved to assume that their having a disability gives them a qualification above others.
“I would be very sad personally to think that I got the role because I was disabled and not because I have been working for quite a long time advising in novel technology adoption in highly regulated areas and looking at how we can ensure that the most people get access to these technologies.
“There are different types of data, and lived experience is an important part of that data. My experience of those train journeys, that is data.”
He said repeatedly during the interview that he wanted to improve the understanding of DPTAC’s role, which is to advise the government on issues around accessible transport.
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