The rail regulator has been forced by a disabled campaigner to reconsider its refusal to tell train companies to ensure their rail replacement buses are fully accessible.
The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) issued guidance to train and station operators in July on what they should include in their new accessible travel policies.
But accessible transport campaigner Doug Paulley (pictured) pointed out that the regulator had failed to make it mandatory for train companies to provide accessible replacement buses when rail services are disrupted.
Paulley warned last year that he was considering taking legal action against a train company over the failure to ensure that its rail replacement buses were accessible.
He believes that such buses should comply with the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 2000 (PSVAR).
But when he read ORR’s new guidance he realised that it fell short of a requirement that the buses should comply with PSVAR, stating only that companies should make “reasonable endeavours to secure accessible rail replacement services and taxis”.
Paulley contacted solicitors at Deighton Pierce Glynn (DPG), who sent a legal letter to the regulator.
The letter argued that the ORR guidance was unlawful, and it asked the regulator instead to require all train companies to ensure that all their rail replacement buses during planned and reasonably foreseeable disruption were fully accessible.
Last week, in response to the letter, ORR told DPG and Paulley that it would rethink this section of the guidance.
ORR now plans to ask train companies to provide data on the accessibility of the buses and coaches they have used in the last year, said DPG.
It is also seeking its own legal advice on whether PSVAR applies to rail replacement buses.
And it plans to publish another consultation exercise on this issue by the end of next month.
Contacted by Disability News Service (DNS), ORR confirmed the new consultation, but refused to confirm that it was seeking legal advice and data on the accessibility of rail replacement buses.
It also refused to say why it had ordered a new consultation.
The ORR guidance came despite recommendations from both the Department for Transport (DfT) and its accessible transport advisers, the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee – in their responses to a consultation on ORR’s draft guidance – that it should be mandatory for rail replacement buses to be accessible when disruption “is planned or reasonably foreseeable”.
DfT refused to say if it shared Paulley’s concerns about the legality of the ORR guidance.
Paulley told DNS that it was “reprehensible” and “closed-minded” that ORR had still not mandated accessible rail replacement buses when he had been “banging on on this issue for years”.
But he said: “I am delighted that ORR has agreed to take this step.
“Inaccessible rail replacement buses form a significant barrier for disabled people, causing further disruption and distress.
“Alternative accessible transport in the form of accessible taxis appears an attractive alternative but isn’t.
“They aren’t spontaneous, reliable, comfortable or sometimes even safe, and their segregated provision is problematic.
“I very much hope the ORR’s re-examination will lead to better access for disabled people during disruption.”
DPG’s Louise Whitfield, representing Paulley, said: “We are very pleased that the ORR has taken our client’s concerns seriously in the light of our representations.
“This is a very important issue about equality and access to train services, that cannot be underestimated.
“Given the clear legal position on the relevant regulations, we cannot see how the ORR can reasonably conclude that rail replacement buses need not be accessible.”
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