Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

New inquiry to examine whether public transport works for disabled people

The Transport Committee has launched a new enquiry to discover whether public and private transport is working for disabled people.

It aims to find out whether disabled people and people with access needs are able to travel easily, and whether some types of transport are better (or worse) than others.

The Committee will look at the effectiveness of law and guidance about accessible transport, how it is enforced and any gaps in it that need to be filled. It also wants to hear about how easy it is to make complaints when transport isn’t accessible, and how they are addressed.

People with access needs less likely to travel

The Committee has launched the inquiry after hearing from campaigners and charities that various modes of transport are not easily accessible for people with a wide range of disabilities, health conditions and access needs.

Research has shown that people with access needs are still less likely to travel, and feel less confident about travelling, than people without access needs.

While public transport barriers for disabled people are not new, the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated the problem after staffing cuts and pay freezes were introduced in many public sector industries, including public transport.

Now that the number of passengers using public transport is back to pre-pandemic levels, staff shortages have left people with disabilities without the appropriate assistance.

One man, Chris Nicholson, who is a wheelchair user, said he was left stranded on a platform for four hours and was forced to drag himself up the stairs after staff refused to help due to ‘health and safety policies’.

A report by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) found that between 1 April and 31 October 2022, eight major UK airports were found to have provided an “unacceptable” level of service to disabled passengers.

The research was commissioned after several disabled passengers were left stranded on planes for hours after they had landed waiting for ground staff to bring them their wheelchair.

People with disabilities feel “locked out” of public transport modes

Transport Committee Chair Iain Stewart MP said it is clear that there is “a great deal of discontent among people with disabilities about the way transport services are run”.

“Many simply feel locked out of various modes of transport, from trains to planes and taxis, which of course means exclusion from work, education, socialising and all sorts of experiences that many take for granted. Even reaching a train or a bus can be difficult if the streets are not designed inclusively. There are myriad ways that different disabilities can render an individual’s experience on public transport intimidating, stressful, or simply impractical,” he said.

Mr Stuart says the inquiry will take a “nuanced look” at the system of legal obligations that govern how transport services should be run in a way that’s accessible for all, and at the means of enforcement and redress available to groups who feel side-lined.

“We will also look for a solution to the absence of any simple-to-use means of redress for people who are mistreated or denied their rights. People shouldn’t have to threaten huge, well-resourced transport companies with court action – typically a burden on complainants’ time, money and mental health that can take years to conclude,” he added.

The survey will be open until 20th March

The Committee has launched a survey to capture the experiences of people with access needs when using transport services, and their experiences of attempting to complain or seek redress.

The survey will be open until Monday 20th March 2023; you can access it here. An easy-read version can be found here.

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