Today, the government has announced a £2.5 million funding package which will support people with disabilities to travel more confidently on public transport.
The funding includes £1.5 million to support 13 Mobility Centres across England and £1 million for lifeline ferries and seaports serving the Isle of Wight and the Isles of Scilly.
The Accessibility Minister, Wendy Morton, who visited the Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation (QEF) for Disabled People’s Mobility Centre in South London last week, said the money will “help people to access services… and scale up and extend the services [the government] has been piloting.”
At the Centre, Ms Morton tested out a mobility assisted car and listened to the day to day travel challenges disabled people face on public transport. She told Learning Disability Today: “What today has really reinforced for me is the importance of independence, confidence and the ability for people to make choices.
“It is really important that through public transport, people are able to have the independence to travel around the country, go to work, go to social events and meet with friends and family.”
Enabling people to travel if they cannot drive
The funding will see 13 Mobility Centres in the UK rollout a ‘Hubs Mobility Service’, which will help people with disabilities to travel the country even if they are unable to drive.
The service works by offering people advice on things like passenger assistance, route planning and mobility equipment hire, as well as signposting them to support services. The ‘Hub’ pilot scheme has been operating at QEF since 2019.
Amanda Beck, Transport Hub Project Lead at QEF, told LDT: “The idea behind the Transport Hub is providing some alternative solutions for people who can’t drive and want to know what their options are.
“Ultimately, it’s all about trying to keep people connected. Obviously, everyone has different circumstances, but it’s trying to find out how we can help them adjust to their circumstances with some practical advice or solutions.”
The Hubs have been successfully piloted at seven of the Centres over the last two years and have already helped over 4,000 people regain and retain confidence to travel.
Julie Brooks from Rose Hill, Surrey, used to drive and work 50 hours a week, but became a wheelchair user seven years ago after she was diagnosed with Charcot Foot.
Ms Brooks told LDT that the Transport Hub at the QEF Mobility Centre is “fantastic” and has helped to boost her confidence.
The Transport Hub referred Ms Brooks for a powered wheelchair or scooter assessment, which has enabled her to try out different types of mobility equipment to work out what best suits her needs.
The Hub also connected Ms Brooks with Transport for London, which plan on taking her to a local bus garage to help practice getting on and off the bus in order to build her confidence to begin using public transport again.
Ms Brooks hopes the extra funding will enable more people with disabilities to get the support they need. She said: “All this information should have been given to me as soon as I became a wheelchair user – it should be given to everyone who has a disability. Why I didn’t meet Amanda six or seven years ago when I first started using a wheelchair I’ll never understand.”
Advice on route planning and signposting to support services
The Transport Hub have also supported Martin Bell of Sunny Bank Trust to begin to use public transport again following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.
Mr Bell, who has a learning disability, said before the pandemic, he used to use public transport “all the time”, but he felt unable to during the pandemic because he was “scared to go out”.
He said the help he got from the Transport Hub “really improved” his ability to use public transport by providing him with “loads of information and support”.
Consultations with the advisory committee will continue “to improve the accessibility for all passengers”
Ms Morton says she will continue to consult with the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) to gain an input from people with disabilities and discuss what they need to improve the public transport network.
“I can assure you that I remain absolutely committed to doing all that I can to improve the accessibility for all passengers and customers across the country,” she said.