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Transport Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 116
Taken before the Transport Committee
on Monday 15 April 2013
Mrs Louise Ellman (Chair)
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Ann Frye OBE, Consultant on Disability, Faryal Velmi, Director, Transport for All, Mike Hewitson, Head of Passenger Issues, Passenger Focus, and Guy Parckar, Head of Policy and Campaigns, Leonard Cheshire Disability, gave evidence.
Q60 Chair: Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to the Transport Select Committee. Would you give your name and organisation, please?
Ann Frye: I am Ann Frye. I am an independent consultant.
Faryal Velmi: My name is Faryal Velmi. I am from Transport for All.
Mike Hewitson: I am Mike Hewitson from Passenger Focus.
Guy Parckar: I am Guy Parckar from Leonard Cheshire Disability.
Q61 Chair: Thank you very much. What are the main difficulties encountered by disabled people when travelling?
Ann Frye: They are the things you have been hearing a lot and seeing in written evidence. From my perception and from the disabled person’s point of view, the two things I would highlight most particularly are lack of information and lack of training. Even though the vehicles and the infrastructure are now a great deal more accessible than they were, many people do not have the confidence or the knowledge to travel, or they have had bad experiences travelling. The weakest links are information and training.
Q62 Chair: Is this to do with specific modes of transport or is it a general observation?
Ann Frye: I think it cuts across all modes of transport. I have seen it in rail, aviation and buses across the piece and across the country. It is not universal. There are some excellent examples, but, if there is a weak link, that is almost always where it is.
Faryal Velmi: Despite the Paralympics, which was a great spotlight on accessible travel in London and the UK, we are still in a situation in 2013 where many disabled simply feel that they cannot access mainstream public transport. Physical access is definitely a huge issue. There are obstacles and gaps between trains and platforms. Yes, there is definitely a lack of staff assistance and availability. The cutting of staff, especially on the railways, has been a big issue. Increasingly, people feel that, if they do make journeys, then their journeys are often a lot longer than those of non-disabled people. Increasingly, we are seeing more and more disabled people take up their right to ride and assert their rights, which is fantastic, but what we would really like to see is more political will and funding to make our trains and stations physically accessible.
Q63 Chair: Is that the main thing you have come across-trains and stations?
Faryal Velmi: Not just train stations. I would say tube stations are a big issue in London and access to buses. While we have low-floor buses in the UK, there is still a big problem about wheelchair and scooter users being able to ride them. There are a variety of different issues, such as pushchairs in the wheelchair space and bus driver training. We have seen a lot of advancements since that landmark piece of DDA legislation, but progress seems to be achingly slow towards achieving a Britain where disabled and older people with mobility problems are able to travel with the same freedom and independence as everybody else.
Q64 Chair: Mr Hewitson, Passenger Focus has done a lot of work on this. What are the main areas you have identified?
Mike Hewitson: There are certainly physical access issues still remaining. The actual vehicles themselves-the buses and trains-are better now than they were. The issue now is getting on to the bus and the train-particularly the buses. It is all well and good having a bus fitted with a ramp, but, if the bus cannot get close to the kerb to lower it, the equipment will take you so far and the process fails you at that point. I still think there is an element of that to look at.
I would echo some of the barriers to use, such as access to information and particularly the confidence to use it. The confidence to use public transport comes through quite strongly. One of the areas surrounding confidence is staff-the training of staff and the attitudes and helpfulness of staff. There are some initiatives. There are the "Help Me" type cards that people can show to bus drivers in particular. They are very useful, but a lot more can and should still be done in making that business as usual rather than something special.
Q65 Chair: How helpful are the cards and do they work?
Mike Hewitson: I think they are helpful, particularly when you have a hidden disability and somebody asks, "Why are you sat in this seat?" If you have something that you can use to show people and the staff, I just think it makes it a little bit easier than it might otherwise be. I can understand people not wanting to be stigmatised in having to carry something, but of course it is not compulsory. It is just sometimes helpful to have something that you can show to people.
Q66 Chair: Mr Parckar, what is your experience from what you have heard?
Guy Parckar: I would very much echo some of the comments that have already been made. In advance of providing our evidence, Leonard Cheshire Disability surveyed our campaigners quite extensively and conducted a wider survey of over 1,000 disabled people UK-wide. The things that came back from that were very much the things that have been mentioned. What was pretty much universal across transport was staff awareness and understanding. That was the thing that could really make the difference between an inaccessible journey that is not working for people to a fully accessible journey, if that support is there, if the transport provider knows how to work with disabled people and just talks to disabled passengers and has that level of understanding. Clearly, physical accessibility is still an issue in some areas. Train stations are a particular example-particularly in rural areas. Big central city stations are more accessible. Some of the smaller stations are unstaffed and there is no one to help. That came through as a particular problem from campaigners. Information is another critical area. People were saying that they were told something was accessible but when they got there it wasn’t. Obviously, that can completely destroy someone’s intention to travel.
Q67 Chair: Are there any specific issues on the two areas of taxis or aviation? They have not been mentioned.
Ann Frye: On aviation, there is a huge issue. We have now had European legislation for a number of years on passenger rights, but there is still a great lack of awareness among people with disabilities that they have any rights. People do not know what they are entitled to. Most people book a flight through an airline and assume that the airline is responsible for everything that happens. In reality, the assistance that they get is the responsibility of the airport, so there is quite a breakdown in communication. There are still a lot of instances where people have asked for assistance and it doesn’t materialise, or, again, there is a lack of training among the staff who provide it.
The idea of the European legislation was to get harmonised provision at both ends of your journey. There is a huge difference around Europe, and indeed in this country, in different airports in the quality of service that is provided. That remains a major issue.
On taxis, again, the position is very patchy across the country. In some areas there are no wheelchair accessible taxis. In other areas, there are accessible taxis that don’t suit people with disabilities who are not wheelchair users. Again, there is a huge issue with lack of driver training, where drivers look the other way and don’t see a disabled person because either they can’t be bothered or they have not been trained in how to assist properly. On taxis, it is both the vehicles and the training that are a huge need but also to have a vehicle that meets everybody’s needs.
Q68 Sarah Champion: I used to run a children’s hospice, so, unfortunately, I have hundreds of bad experiences across the board. Could you redress that? Do you have any examples of good practice that we could learn from? I liked Mr Hewitson’s example of a card, but does that happen in reality? Could you all share some good practice with us?
Mike Hewitson: The card is a very good example. You can print it yourself or get some help with it; that has worked. The Paralympics have shown the value of people and signage as well, in particular.
When it comes to the wheelchair space on buses-or the mixed-use space, as people would refer to it-there is competition for space. Is it squatters’ rights? What happens if there is a buggy in there when someone wants to get a wheelchair on? There are all those associated issues. Increasingly, can you get your mobility scooter into that space as well? We need some best practice surrounding clarity of who this space is for. It is something that Transport for London is doing. We need an awareness campaign in relation to "This is a wheelchair space" and "This is what to do." It is part of public awareness. That is a good example of changing attitudes as well as providing some clarity.
Q69 Sarah Champion: Ms Velmi, would you be able to speak a little more on that?
Faryal Velmi: Yes. At Transport for All, we have been campaigning for many years for publicity around the wheelchair space on buses. It was decades of campaigning from disabled people that got that space in the first place. Increasingly, on our streets, we see wheelchair users left behind because they are not able to be in that space. The recent campaign that Transport for London ran across all the buses, highlighting that that space is for wheelchair users, was great. We would like that continued and rolled out right across the country.
Q70 Sarah Champion: Ms Frye, do you think that the DDA and Equality Act have made any practical improvement to the transport system?
Ann Frye: Absolutely-a huge improvement. It focused the minds of the transport industry, for the most part, for the first time on what needed to be done. Of course, the legislation required physical access. I was involved in the Department for Transport at the time. We took the decision that the DDA should make technical regulation for vehicles rather than just give people a right, on the grounds that having a right to get on a bus is of little use if the doorway is too narrow or the step is too high. Setting out those design parameters meant that, for the first time, we started to see vehicles that were designed around people’s needs. There has been an enormous advance.
If you look across the board, the rate of purchase of rail rolling stock or buses has not been as rapid as had been hoped for, but I still think that the end dates that were set by the DDA have been enormously important in focusing the minds of manufacturers and operators on deadlines that have to be met. I would certainly hope that those are stuck to. They were long deadlines and they have given enormous impetus.
As I say, there has been a huge advance. The weaknesses are in the areas that were outside the legislation, in a way. It is the soft areas like information and training that got left behind and also, in part, the gap between the vehicle and the infrastructure, as others have touched on. If there is a white van-it is always a white van-parked at the bus stop, you cannot get the bus up to the kerb so you cannot deploy the ramp. A lot of the investment is not fully realised in that sense. People lose confidence because they will have a bad experience and maybe won’t travel again. We are absolutely on the right course. If you look around Europe, I would still say that the UK is one of the best across the board in what we have done in our legislation.
Q71 Chair: Does anybody else want to comment or add to what has been said on the impact of legislation?
Guy Parckar: I would very much echo what Ann has said about the positive impact of the specific details in the Disability Discrimination Act. Those soft areas around staff training and awareness are perhaps the areas where we are now facing more challenges. There is one point that links to the previous question in relation to taxis as well. One of the things that cropped up in the surveys that we did was in people being charged more for their journey when using taxis. That is something that should be prohibited anyway under the Equality Act, but section 165 of the Equality Act-which is a little section that adds specific duties around taxi provision-has not been brought into force yet. That would help to clarify some of those duties. There is still a role for legislation, but there is also still an awful lot of work to do around those softer areas and those areas where maybe the DDA or Equality Act interacts with other things.
We hear from a lot of people, as Ann said, that you get to the bus stop and there are things blocking the pavements, or the dropped kerbs are not in the right places so you can’t get to the bus stops. Those things can completely disrupt and ruin a journey that would otherwise be accessible.
Q72 Iain Stewart: I would like to follow up my colleague’s initial question about best practice. A number of you have mentioned that the training of staff needs to be sensitive to the needs of disabled passengers and being able to assist them. Can you point to a particular bus or rail company, local authority or whoever that does have a very good training package available that perhaps other companies could emulate?
Ann Frye: With a bus company, it is an attitude rather than a package. There is a company that says it never recruits people because of their driving qualification; it recruits people because of their people skills. It says you can teach anybody to drive but you can’t teach empathy. If you recruit people who have empathy and they understand the passenger and the passenger’s needs, teaching them how to drive a bus safely is, in a sense, the easy bit. To me, that is a very sensible policy. There are a lot of people out there working as drivers who really don’t like interaction with passengers-with or without disabilities. They are never going to make your journey comfortable or pleasant. A lot of the feedback that we see from disabled people is about abrupt and uncivil behaviour from drivers, who perhaps should be doing a different job. I would strongly advocate starting with empathy, and teaching driving skills later.
Q73 Iain Stewart: Does anyone else have a good example they can point to?
Mike Hewitson: That point emphasises that it is not always the training but the attitude that goes with it. That is quite hard to get across in a training course. From a rail perspective, there have been a lot of staff training initiatives. ATOC have published a DVD; I cannot remember what they called it. I think they are coming later, so they will be able to tell you. If something comes out nationally, it helps to set some sort of national expectations and standards. You always need to adapt for local types of railways and conditions, but there needs to be good central core guidance that other people can design courses around. I would point to some of the cascade work that the railways have done, particularly on the new Passenger Assist programme.
Faryal Velmi: When you come to transport, the bedrock of any type of disability or equality training should really involve disabled and older transport users themselves. Unfortunately, I do not think this is the case across the UK. However, there has been a turning tide. I know that, in London, Transport for London is making headway trying to do this, which is welcome. That needs to be the real guiding focus. We cannot get the confidence to assist the disabled to use a transport mode if disabled people are not genuinely involved in being part of that training. That is something that would be pretty radical but would change things.
Guy Parckar: I would absolutely agree with that. Pointing to a London example, Leonard Cheshire Disability did a piece of work just before the Olympics with the Docklands Light Railway and Serco, who manage that. The focus was very much on getting disabled people and disabled passengers who use those services involved by talking to the provider, pointing out what the issues were and what barriers they faced. Often, it just flags up things that the provider has not thought about. There are things like evacuation plans, for example, and what happens if there are wheelchair users, and particularly more than one wheelchair user, in a station when there is an evacuation. Has that been planned for? Disabled people with that experience can point out and identify things. That really does make a difference.
Q74 Iain Stewart: By and large, do you find that the train and bus companies are responsive to you when you make suggestions, either in a proactive sense to introduce new procedures or equipment, or reactively if you report complaints about uncaring bus drivers or similar things? Do you tend to find that transport companies are responsive when you try and engage with them?
Guy Parckar: I would say there is a mixed picture. It would depend very much on the individual you happen to get through to. Yes; certainly we have heard from campaigners who have had huge problems and experienced a difficulty accessing the service. They say that the ramp was promised, but it wasn’t there and they were stuck on the train. They complained but were treated aggressively and no one came. We have had experiences like that, and we have had others where, yes, there was a problem and there was a really swift response to it. I cannot say that I have found there has been one particular company or one particular mode of transport that has responded well. It is that sort of personal-
Q75 Iain Stewart: It is an individual thing.
Guy Parckar: It is. It is who you get through to and how that system works.
Faryal Velmi: Transport for All runs an advice and advocacy service. We certainly get many callers who feel very frustrated that, sometimes, even repeat problems don’t get dealt with. It often causes people who are frustrated to give up trying to complain. That is a big problem because we are very vociferous about people complaining. If we don’t complain about access problems, then transport providers don’t know that there is an issue. It is really important to promote complaining-to get people to put down what their problems are and turn that into a positive so that we can see change.
Faryal Velmi: There is also a role, particularly with the railways and Passenger Assist when people have booked assistance, and an ideal opportunity for a follow-up. "How did it go?" It does not have to be complaints. It does not always have to be negative. You can attract some of the "What went well?" elements by a follow-up. It does not have to be a survey either. It can be a phone call or a postcard, or anything to that effect.
Q76 Iain Stewart: Passenger Focus do regular surveys of what passengers’ experience has been. Do they do specific research into the disabled?
Mike Hewitson: We have done two particular bits of research into what was the Assisted Passenger Reservation system-now Passenger Assist. We are hoping to do another one later this year, a year after the Olympics, rather than in the midst of the afterglow of the Paralympics, to see how well it is going and what it is like on a normal Wednesday as opposed to an Olympic Wednesday. We are hoping to do that again.
Most of our research is themed-on fares, ticketing and disruption. There is a disability element to each of those as well, so we can find out if there are any specifics. Of course, a lot of the issues are the same in that people want their train or bus on time. That does not change, so it is broadly relative anyway, with specific dips into it. If we are doing quantitative work, of course we can cut that by the number of people who said that they had a disability and look to isolate those figures on their own.
Q77 Karen Lumley: I want to go back to the subject of taxis. Yesterday I was at a church meeting where they were trying to raise money to provide a disabled vehicle to bring people to church because they could not rely on the taxis in my town, which is fairly disgraceful. When people apply for a licence to local authorities, do they have any training in providing services for disabled people, especially if they are being licensed for a disabled taxi?
Ann Frye: It is entirely up to the local authority. Because the Government have not implemented the DDA provisions on taxis, the decision about whether or not to license accessible taxis is a matter for borough councils or district councils, which is odd, because all the other transport functions are at county level. So there is already a slight disconnect there. The local authority decide whether they will license accessible taxis in whole or in part and whether they will require any kind of training. Some councils mandate training as a condition of licence, including refresher training, and it is training delivered by people with disabilities; others do nothing of that kind. It is a very varied picture across the country and it is entirely in their hands.
Q78 Karen Lumley: Do some councils innovate by having cheaper licences for those that have disabled access vehicles?
Ann Frye: There are various ways of doing it. Some will only issue new licences to accessible vehicles. If you want a licence and you are not already a driver, then you get an accessible taxi. There are different ways of distinguishing; it can be on cost or it can be on availability. Having given the licence, you then need to make sure that that vehicle is available to disabled people and not just absorbed into the fleet. I know of the experience they had in Dublin where they introduced a lot of accessible taxis. Disabled people said that they were never available. It was because they were all out at the airport as they were very popular for people with luggage. The policy was there but the reality was not functioning.
Faryal Velmi: We would echo a lot of the things that Ann is saying. The lack of wheelchair accessible taxis is a big concern, as is training. Even in London, when you speak to the drivers of some large minicab firms, they have had absolutely no disability, equality or awareness training. It is quite shocking. There need to be much stricter guidelines and even legislation to make sure that this happens.
Another big issue, which Ann raised again and we get complaints about on a regular basis, is taxi drivers just driving past disabled people, particularly wheelchair users. People basically cannot be bothered with the hassle of having to deal with that. The flipside of that, though, is that, when a taxi does stop, you have the meter ticking as the person is trying to get on, which, again, is not fair.
Q79 Mr Sanders: Going back to best practice, can you point to another country that does this better than us? It may be that there is a better country than us on trains, another country that is better than us on coaches, and another that is better on stations. Have you looked at where there is better best practice that could be promoted over here?
Ann Frye: A policy that I find very appealing has been adopted by the Norwegian Government, which is a policy of universal design. They have said that every Department of Government must deliver all its policies against the brief of universal design. In other words, everything has to be fully accessible to people with disabilities but also easily usable by everybody. As we have said for so many years, if it is better for disabled people in the transport sense, it is probably going to be easier for everybody to use. If you look at low-floor buses just as one example, that policy in Norway is now rolling out as an absolute requirement on every policy coming out of every Government Department. They will start to see a more joined-up approach to accessibility very rapidly.
One other example of a country where some things at least are done very well in this sense is Spain. That is very largely because they have an enormously powerful organisation of blind people, who get all the money from the Spanish lottery, so they have huge purchasing power. They asked blind people to design the ticket machines in the Barcelona metro. They now have ticket machines that are completely intuitive. They used to have to employ people to stand by the machine telling tourists and everybody else, "You put your money here and your ticket comes there," and so on. Because they have been designed by blind people, it is intuitive for everybody to get the system working, and they have cut down on the people who have to stand and help. That is just one example, but there is a lot in Spain that I would say is particularly good for people with disabilities.
I do not think anyone is doing better than we are in terms of standards of vehicle design, but they are doing better in some of the pedestrian infrastructure and things of that kind.
Guy Parckar: There can also be variations within countries. To give one example, we occasionally get reports back of someone visiting a particular city and having an overwhelmingly positive experience. That shows there is a role for local government as well as central Government to focus in on city provisions. I remember someone telling me about buses in Berlin being absolutely fantastic, that they had a wonderful experience and it was better than anything they had seen before. I am sure these things develop over time, but there is that role for cities and local government to really focus in on how they purchase services and looking at things like licences for taxis. It could become a zone of best practice for accessibility. That can be done alongside the national level provision as well.
Faryal Velmi: I would make the point that, within the UK, there are some great pockets of best practice, but, unfortunately, they are not replicated in other parts of the country. If you go to some of the cities in England, Wales and Scotland, you will see so many different types of bus design. There is a great need within the UK to replicate best practice where it is good. I would really urge the Transport Committee to look into this because it is a big issue.
Q80 Mr Sanders: Ann mentioned somebody parking in a bus stop area. It is against the law-but which authorities enforce it? There is one London borough that does enforce it with video cameras. If you have stopped there, a few weeks later you get a penalty notice saying that you stopped there and there is no excuse for stopping there. It may be that a lot of the regulations and the laws are out there, but it is about getting local authorities to use the weaponry that is available to them. Is that something that you perhaps ought to be campaigning on rather than expecting us to do so?
Guy Parckar: Enforcement is a big issue. It is the same with the Equality Act. One of the challenges with the Equality Act is that it is unbelievably difficult to enforce anything through it, particularly in terms of equal treatment. Essentially, you are required to go to court with it, and there are very few people who can afford to or who are willing to go to court to take up that sort of complaint. We need to look at better ways of enforcing that.
I go back again to the point of trying to build in accessibility right at the start. Ann’s point about universal design involving disabled people right at the outset is very important. If you build accessibility in right at the start, it makes the whole process so much easier. If you look at the way in which franchising works for rail companies or licensing works for taxi companies, and make sure that accessibility is one of the key things that have to be built into that whole process, you could go a long way to progressing things.
Q81 Chair: How does the Passenger Assist process work on the railways? Does it work effectively or not?
Mike Hewitson: It is certainly getting better. It seems to have worked well during the Paralympics from the discussions we have had. Everyone will have an example or a time when it did not work. We surveyed it in a very traditional style by getting people with disabilities to make journeys and tell us what happened. Then we did it again and it got slightly better. The Olympics gave it a certain impetus as well; we have the new Passenger Assist. It seems to have coped with that, but the acid test is to go out, have another go and get that first-hand experience.
One of the big advantages is that communication is quicker. If someone takes a booking and speaks to the other train companies, you have evidence that it has been received rather than just a fax being sent and not knowing whether it was ever received. You now have a greater sense of assurance that someone will be there. Until we actually go and check, it is quite difficult.
Q82 Chair: We have had quite a bit of correspondence from people saying that it does not work very effectively. They talk about making arrangements and then they are not being carried out, or problems of booking trains and needing to do something at short notice and not having enough time to do it in. Is that something that echoes your experience, Ms Velmi?
Faryal Velmi: Absolutely. First, the move over to a computerised system is progress. Any type of innovation is welcome, but there is a big issue about this. There is the caveat of booking 24 hours in advance. The idea of disabled people and older people with mobility problems being able to travel spontaneously is something that is really important. Yes, we do get calls through of people having arrived and there is no one there to help them. That really knocks people’s confidence. You often have to ask them to try again, but sometimes that is a big issue.
I would also say this. We do not yet have in the UK-and I do not think it would be very expensive-a map that covers the entire rail network, which shows us which stations are accessible and which are not accessible. This is something that would be really cheap and would make a big difference in assisting disabled and older passengers. It is something that I hope will happen soon.
Q83 Iain Stewart: I have a supplementary question on Passenger Assist, but my question has a wider application as well. Are there any discussions being had about using mobile phone technology to improve Passenger Assist so that, if the train arrives and there is no one there to assist with the ramp or whatever, there is a number you can call or a text you can send to alert the station that a passenger requires assistance? Is that in development at all, or should it be if it is not?
Mike Hewitson: I cannot give you a full answer to that one, I am afraid. I can go away and find out for you. Certainly, smartphones offer you a lot more ability to have that instant contact. The problem, of course, is whether everyone has access to that type of technology. Should the possession of a £150 or £200 phone be your requirement to have that first-line response, particularly when you are in areas where you are told not to wave your phone about and, all of a sudden, that is precisely what you are doing in order to get assistance? There are some issues to address there. There is that sense of a back-up if it has gone wrong-absolutely. If you are on the train and you have been carried past the station because there is no one to help you off, then it is small consolation. That should be taken care of.
Q84 Iain Stewart: I believe you need to give up to 24 hours’ notice to use it. You might be able to reduce that time.
Mike Hewitson: Yes. There are certainly discussions, even now, about whether it can be reduced and where. If you are going from a fully staffed big station to a fully staffed big station, then there must be some means of bringing that down further. There must be some means of getting you on the train and making sure assistance is arranged while you are en route. That is certainly in hand. One of the problems with the 24-hour notice is if you need an accessible taxi to start the journey, because getting hold of one of those can be quite difficult.
Q85 Chair: Is the Department’s new Transport Direct journey planner website helpful? Has it made any impact? It does not seem to have done.
Mike Hewitson: I do use it, actually. I find it useful getting from home to the local bus routes or from the end of the rail leg on to the bus to the destination. My personal experience is that it isn’t always good at joining the bits up in the middle. It is getting better, but some of the rail journeys it can send you on can be a slight zig-zag. It is quite useful for local information if you say, "There’s my door, so how do I get to the bus stop to go to somewhere?" That is particularly true if you are not used to public transport or buses. When we did some research in Milton Keynes on, "Why don’t you take the bus if you could?", one of the strong answers was, "I just don’t know how to. I don’t know how to start the process or where to look." From that perspective, a walking route from your door to the bus stop that takes you to x is a starting point. The through journey is sometimes the difficult bit.
Faryal Velmi: We tried it out a few times as well. Some of the journeys did seem a bit bizarre. In London, we have the journey planner, which generally seems to be a bit more sophisticated but still has its own issues and teething problems. Well, they are not teething problems. There is going to be investment in the journey planner, but, potentially, that could be this idea of best practice happening in one part of the country and being used to develop the national accessible journey planner.
I would like to say that there is, increasingly, a big push to have a lot of information online. There is still a big community-a big constituency-of people in the UK who don’t have access to the internet. That is a big issue. We still need maps and hard copies of things. It is very easy for some transport companies to stick all the maps online. We need to make sure that the maps and other resources are still produced for people.
Chair: Thank you very much, all of you, for coming and answering our questions.
<?oasys [np[pg6,cwe1] ?>Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Steven Salmon, Director of Policy Development, Confederation of Passenger Transport, Giles Fearnley, Managing Director of UK Bus, FirstGroup, and Tom Stables, Managing Director, National Express, gave evidence.
Q86 Chair: Good afternoon and welcome to the Transport Select Committee. Would you give your name and organisation, please?
Steven Salmon: I am Steven Salmon from the Confederation of Passenger Transport.
Giles Fearnley: I am Giles Fearnley, Managing Director of FirstGroup’s UK bus division.
Tom Stables: I am Tom Stables from National Express Coach.
Q87 Chair: Mr Salmon, the Confederation of Passenger Transport did not initially submit any evidence to the inquiry. Was there any particular reason for that?
Steven Salmon: We felt that, although we had opinions on the part of our members, we didn’t actually have any facts about the balance of judgment between what you provide and the standards that it is provided to. We really felt that that was not a question for us.
Q88 Chair: But it is an issue that is of concern to you.
Steven Salmon: We fully understand that it is an issue that is of concern to a lot of people, yes.
Q89 Chair: Mr Stables, National Express has said that it is a retrograde step for the Government to exempt the UK from new EU regulations on bus and coach passenger rights. Tell us what your concerns are and whether you think other operators share your view or support the exemption.
Tom Stables: We are concerned that we continue to move forward in this area. We believe that it is the right thing to do. We have made great steps ourselves towards accessibility and want to ensure that we achieve a level playing field across the sector.
Q90 Chair: How important do you think this issue is?
Tom Stables: It is something that we would like to see progress on. We believe it is fair and the right thing to be doing. We don’t believe that having an inconsistent delivery is in anybody’s interest.
Q91 Chair: Mr Salmon, did the Confederation become involved in this issue? Did the Confederation lobby the Government and ask for exemption?
Steven Salmon: Yes, we did.
Q92 Chair: Could you tell us why and what the views of your members were who wanted that?
Steven Salmon: We found ourselves in a position where the legislation was going in a very similar direction to where the UK industry was going anyway, so it would not have been an enormous cultural difficulty to introduce it. Our members, given the <?oasys [pc10p0] ?>choice of doing something voluntarily or doing it under regulation, will almost always choose to do it through natural progress through the market.
I will give you an example. There is a clause in the Passenger Rights Regulations from which the Government has taken an exemption, although not to the extent that it could have done, that would require operators to give customer-facing staff disability awareness training. Of course, that is very widely done, but we did not want ourselves to be put in a position where you could not use a person if their disability training was not up to date. It is the difference between doing something but actually being required to do it by law. It was because of the prospect of a statutory requirement to do these things that we asked the Government to take the exemptions that they did.
Q93 Chair: Mr Fearnley, your company has done a lot on driver training. From the evidence we have already heard this afternoon, that is clearly a very major issue. Could you tell us something about what you have done in that area?
Giles Fearnley: Certainly. We take disability awareness among our drivers very seriously indeed. For some years now we have incorporated modules within our driver CPC training and are increasingly doing so. We started the external face of our disability awareness some years ago with a card that could be issued to passengers to show to the driver when they get in. I know the gentleman from Passenger Focus referred to such things earlier. We found there that a number of disabled passengers were really pleased to have these. They could say, "Please listen carefully; I speak quietly," or, "Please tell me when we get to the high street," or whatever. Drivers also found them very helpful so that they could respond to their passengers’ needs much better.
Moving on and since then, we are now working very closely with a number of disability groups such as Guide Dogs, Alzheimer’s and RNIB, to mention just three. As we develop driver awareness with the Alzheimer’s Society, there is a gentleman there-who is one of our regular customers in fact-called Trevor Jarvis, who is the ambassador for the Prime Minister’s challenge on dementia, who has produced a DVD. That is now incorporated in all our driver training programmes. It explains the issues around dementia, increasing our staff’s awareness of it and how they can help those passengers who may be suffering during their journey.
Just today, we have put out a joint release in Worcester with the Royal National Institute for the Blind. A number of blind and partially sighted people are now visiting our Worcester depot, where we employ about 250 drivers, to talk to them about their issues and how drivers can help them. We will incorporate the awareness and understanding that comes from that in further modules. I could go on; there is a whole range of examples right across the disability spectrum. We are finding it very valuable indeed. We are in the business of carrying more passengers. We are encouraging and helping disabled people and their carers to travel. That is good, but, importantly, it is helping our drivers relate to them and assist them on their journey.
Q94 Chair: Mr Stables, your company has also been involved in driver awareness training. What kind of evidence do you have of how much difference it has made to journeys taken by disabled people?
Tom Stables: We think it is making a great difference. All our drivers now go through CPC training, which includes disability awareness. We have also recently produced DVD materials, so it is much more available to people. We find that engaging through champions with the front line has really worked. We have particularly drawn inspiration from Danielle Brown, the Paralympian, who has been out on our network and goes to see drivers at our driver drop-ins to highlight the sorts of issues that she and other people face. It is around engagement and this has helped more people to make more journeys. It is something that we are very actively hoping to encourage.
Q95 Chair: Mr Salmon, is there much variation in the requirements of local authorities and others contracting services for driver awareness training? Is this something that is ever specified?
Steven Salmon: It is very commonly specified. I would say it is more often specified than not. That is one of the reasons why it is so widespread.
Q96 Chair: Have they done that voluntarily or are they required to do it?
Steven Salmon: It depends how you interpret the public sector equality duty under the Equality Act. There are a number of things that the authorities do when they are commissioning bus services, including, as we have just said, making it a condition of contract that you give your drivers appropriate training. You could also argue under the same Act that they should be procuring buses that have audible and visible information on, but generally speaking they don’t.
Q97 Sarah Champion: Mr Fearnley and Mr Stables, it was very good to hear about all the training that you have put in place. As I declared earlier, I used to run a children’s hospice. Unfortunately, it was standard for me to hear from teenage users and parents that a beautifully adapted bus would come to the bus stop, see them in their wheelchair or needing additional assistance and just drive straight on. Once people have had the training, how do you enforce that their mindset is changed so that when they are on the last run of the day, it is raining, they want to get home and they don’t want to get out or they don’t want to lower the bus, they are open and accessible? I am quite sure that, if you ask them at the end of the training, they will tell you that, yes, they understand, and, yes, they will do it. If both of you could answer, that would be great.
Giles Fearnley: I will go first. We take all complaints that we receive from customers, whether they are able-bodied or disabled, very seriously indeed and investigate thoroughly. Obviously, we give particular reference to the sorts of examples you mentioned there if they involve children. We never hesitate to talk to our drivers, explain the issues and try to encourage and help them the next time. There is, obviously, the stick of disciplinary procedures, but we would much rather work with people and help them to understand the issues they might have caused in a situation like you are describing, the circumstances behind that and the danger they might have left a child in or something like that. We help them to deal with passengers, because, yes, it is human nature that some people find it difficult to deal with a disabled person and possibly would rather not. We really work with them. Some of the work, as I have just explained, that we are doing as a business-in particular, in Worcester with the RNIB-is very much designed to bring our drivers and partially sighted or blind people together for conversations to help. We are focused on this and would take any issue very seriously indeed.
Tom Stables: Likewise in terms of treating the complaint seriously and investigating with the driver the root cause of the problem. In terms of delivery of the service, it is important to us, often, that booked assistance is made. We know that, while all our vehicles have lifts and are accessible, it is not always so with the physical infrastructure that they service. We may have different needs as a coach operator from a bus operator. While a stop may be okay for a bus, it may not be for a coach. We urge people to contact us because we know where we can serve robustly.
All our drivers are briefed in advance so that they know who to expect where, which allows them to prepare the vehicle in advance. A little bit of advance notice is very helpful for us.
Q98 Sarah Champion: It is unfortunate that it has to get to a complaint. Ms Velmi from Transport for All was saying that people should complain, so clearly you are echoing that.
Tom Stables: Yes; feedback is vital.
Giles Fearnley: I would echo that.
Q99 Sarah Champion: They can compliment as well as complain.
Tom Stables: Yes.
Q100 Iain Stewart: I would like to ask about the provision of audio-visual equipment in buses. As part of our research for this inquiry, I took a blindfolded bus journey with Guide Dogs for the Blind in my constituency. It was a scary and very disorientating experience. The bus did not have any audio announcements of stops and I was completely lost as to where I was on the journey.
Mr Fearnley and Mr Stables, what percentage of your companies’ fleets will have audio-visual equipment installed?
Giles Fearnley: For ourselves, in England, by the end of 2013, we will have about 10% of our fleet installed.
Tom Stables: On our coach fleet we don’t routinely fit audio-visual equipment. All our drivers are briefed and expected to give announcements tailored to the circumstances.
Q101 Iain Stewart: The evidence we had from Guide Dogs for the Blind was that it would cost between £2,000 and £3,000 per vehicle to install that equipment. Is that a figure you would recognise?
Giles Fearnley: Yes. £2,000 would buy a system. It won’t be the most sophisticated system, but that is the capital cost, of course. There is also the ongoing maintenance of that.
Q102 Iain Stewart: You might not fit one in every bus immediately, but over a reasonable time period is it affordable for companies like yours to install this equipment in at least the majority of your fleet?
Giles Fearnley: As I said in answer to an earlier question, we are very much in the business to grow the passenger base. We want to understand how this equipment can support that as a business case, as well as supporting individual people. There will be 400 buses or so by the end of this year, as I have said. At the moment, we only have them equipped on four or five routes, with probably 70 or 80 buses. We have a programme going through the year. It is too small a number to get a view as to whether we are seeing increased passenger numbers as a result, but we do hear the cries being made for this and we want to understand much more how this can benefit.
Q103 Iain Stewart: Do you think the 10% figure is typical for your fellow operators?
Giles Fearnley: I really do not know. It is not a statistic that we've really collected.
Steven Salmon: Of course, London sits in one particular place because of iBus, but there are places outside London where firms have been specifying it for a number of years and done a bit of retrofitting. In places like Swindon and Reading, which would not necessarily immediately jump to mind, there is a lot of that equipment about, whereas there are other operators who have not bought a new bus for 20 years. They are continually buying quite old buses and running them until they are very old buses. They do not have that sort of equipment now and probably won’t have in the foreseeable future.
Q104 Iain Stewart: Is it fairly easy to retrofit an older vehicle, or does it have to be designed into the bus?
Steven Salmon: It is possible, but I would emphasise that the £2,000 or whatever is just the beginning. You then have to get appropriate material to put on it and keep it working. It will probably cost in the matter of hundreds of pounds per year. It might sound like a little to an organisation like Giles-sorry, you are not an organisation; an organisation like First- whereas, if you run 20 old buses, 20 times £2,000 is probably more money than you have in the bank.
Q105 Iain Stewart: I have a related question. If there is a prohibitive cost to installing vehicles with this equipment, is there a technological alternative? If visually disabled people were equipped with a special phone-I don’t understand technology-or something that was personal to them that alerted them to where they were at any point in the route, is that something that is being explored or could be explored?
Steven Salmon: There are some interesting developments there. There are two strands going on. There is software that sets out to be assistive technology for people with partial sight or whatever, but there are also some generally available apps like Bus Checker, which is quite inexpensive, which will monitor where you are. It will give you an alert when you are getting near your stop. There is an app under test by RNIB Scotland at the moment, which has been developed by Traveline Scotland, which is deliberately setting out to be assistive technology. It will talk to you and announce the stops to you as you go along the route. It will also tell you when the next bus is coming when you are waiting at the stop. There are these things that are very near to coming out into the public domain, as well as the assisted things that are there already, like Georgie, which use our data. We give Georgie the data on the next buses for nothing. That is our industry contribution on that.
Q106 Mr Sanders: Like Mr Stewart, I spent some time with a constituent with a disability that has not been mentioned up to now-which was a learning disability. Audio is just as beneficial to them as it is to somebody with a visual impairment, particularly somebody who cannot interpret a timetable, for example, or be absolutely clear about where they need to get off the service that they are travelling on.
I am interested to know whether you monitor the numbers of people with disabilities who are using your services, or whether that is not something you have ever thought of doing.
Tom Stables: With the statistics that we currently monitor, we know how many people book assisted travel. Currently, that is a reasonably small number. Last year, it was 539 people. Currently, it is about 60% up year on year, so we are seeing more people by promoting it. We have about 13,000 disabled coach cards that people use to get a discount. Beyond those two measures, it is not something that we specifically monitor unless somebody tells us in advance.
Q107 Mr Sanders: How does the percentage growth of people with disabilities compare with the percentage growth of other passengers?
Tom Stables: It is a phenomenal growth rate compared with the general base. It is a new service and the awareness is being pushed, so it is probably not that great a comparison towards our overall growth rate.
Q108 Mr Sanders: What about First?
Giles Fearnley: The only statistic that would be close to that would be the number of wheelchair users and mobility scooter users. We would have no record of others with disability.
Q109 Mr Sanders: Most areas have monopoly providers, but, given that the infrastructure of bus stops can be shared, and not everywhere in the country has the sort of Transport for London resource that there is here in the capital, how can you improve that infrastructure for people with disabilities, such as waiting at the bus stop and having the information available either orally or in signage? That is taken for granted nowadays in London, but it just is not there outside the capital or the main cities.
Giles Fearnley: No; it clearly needs willing local authorities to work with bus companies and to provide the framework for that infrastructure. We are certainly increasingly providing real-time information on our buses and our services to feed into information, and, if it were to be available, audio systems. We would certainly want to encourage authorities. Increasingly, as an industry, let alone those of us who are working in deeper partnership with authorities, this may well be something that develops as time goes on as a further output from partnership working in local authorities contributing to the sort of infrastructure and information that you are talking about.
Tom Stables: Serving locations and bus stops across the country, we have a lot of local authorities to work with, which we are actively trying to do. We also believe in the technology. As we mentioned earlier, we have Coach Tracker, which enables you to see where you are and the services, and where they are in relationship to you. That is putting tools in people’s hands. Clearly, the integration of our systems with the myriad across the country is a significant challenge, as you would imagine.
Q110 Mr Sanders: Does the Confederation have a view on this?
Steven Salmon: I will give you an example of something where quite a bit of thought and joint working has gone on in the last few years. That is how you put out quite old-fashioned information at the bus stop about when the buses are coming. There are a number of ways of doing that. There is the old-fashioned way, which is a fantastic amount of information that not everybody understands. We and our local authority partners are gradually moving towards things that are in bigger print and have less information, but are clearer. The research suggests that more people can make use of that. That kind of dialogue and development goes on all the time.
Q111 Mr Sanders: What about the divide between who pays for the infrastructure? Is there a view there, because local authorities are cash-strapped and companies have to look at the bottom line of what is effective investment? Does the Confederation have a view on that?
Steven Salmon: Economics always speaks quite clearly in these kinds of areas. It is a very local matter usually about whether there are enough people who would benefit from improving a particular piece of infrastructure to make it worth doing. You can, to some extent, sidestep this. If you have good enough information or data on where the stop is flat and straight, the bus can get next to it and deploy its equipment-I know Tom has wonderful information on all his stops-and you can find out that four of the five stops in a town are accessible, provided you can feed that information to the person who needs that accessibility who is going to catch the bus, that is probably a better answer than spending tens of thousands of pounds on making the fifth of the five stops accessible.
Q112 Mr Sanders: What do you say to an organisation representing people with disabilities that says that it ought to be universal and that that should be our aspiration? Our aim should be that everywhere is accessible for people with disabilities, and how we work towards that is what you should be looking at-not looking at the bare minimum of, "Well, we can offer these stops." How do you move from where we are to what people with a disability have a right to expect?
Steven Salmon: It is perfectly legitimate to want to move towards that, but, given that there is only as much money as there is, there is just a risk-and we could have already got ourselves into a position that said, "By 2012 or 2013, you must no longer run a bus that doesn’t have particular features"-that you have equal access to nothing, because the economics don’t support running it any more.
Q113 Chair: I want to ask you about wheelchair access. We have had a lot of representations about the ability of people who are in wheelchairs to be able to get on a bus when they want to. How do you deal with that on buses? Does the driver have a responsibility to make sure that wheelchair users can get into the right space? What happens if somebody else is there with a buggy or something else? How do you deal with it, Mr Fearnley?
Giles Fearnley: The issue lies very much with the driver. Sometimes it can prove a very difficult one for him to resolve. Thankfully, while you hear of these issues from time to time, by far and away in the majority of instances where a wheelchair user wants to use a bus, even if somebody is already in that space perhaps with a pushchair or whatever, it is accommodated. It really is only the very few where problems occur, but, nevertheless, there are too many of them. As part of our training, we give drivers conflict training and advice as to how to deal with situations and to try to positively encourage somebody to move for a wheelchair user. Normally that works, although there are occasions when there are issues. The one thing the driver cannot deal with is if the wheelchair space is already full up with wheelchair users and there is somebody else waiting at the next bus stop. That is just one of those situations where we can’t-
Q114 Chair: What about when the spaces are being used by somebody with a buggy and a child in it? What happens then?
Giles Fearnley: Very often, in defence of our passengers, the person with the buggy will themselves deal with the situation and move aside for the wheelchair. That is by far and away the norm. Occasionally the driver has to ask. Again, normally, the issue is resolved, but every so often we get that very difficult case where the person absolutely refuses to move and the issue becomes exposed. It is extraordinarily unfortunate for the wheelchair user, as it is for our driver trying to deal with the situation. He cannot force something when his powers of persuasion are failing, but in our training we try to <?oasys [pc10p0] ?>help our drivers to deal with such situations and know how to approach people and be persuasive. Sometimes we find that, while somebody with a buggy may initially be very difficult, the force of the other people on the bus, just by glaring and everything else, will make the situation melt away. That can happen, but, yes, every so often we get one that just doesn’t.
Q115 Chair: Do we have proper records of how many incidents occur? We have had a lot of response from people who have talked to us about it.
Giles Fearnley: I do not have the number now, but certainly in First we would be able to work out how many complaints we get on this particular subject. We would also be able to look through how many drivers have reported, "There’s been an issue at so-and-so bus stop because…". We would encourage a driver in that situation to let us know so that they don’t feel alone in this, and it may be we can get the wheelchair user’s address and make an apology. We would have some data. I do not think it will record everyone, but we would have some data. It will be very small numbers, although I realise that for those that it affects it is really big.
Q116 Chair: Mr Stables, is this an issue that you deal with as well?
Tom Stables: It is not an issue that we believe is significant to us. As we have said, we operate in a slightly different way with regard to how coach accessibility is dealt with. Practically, we do ask people to book ahead, because in terms of the way the coach is configured we have to move seats for a wheelchair to be fixed in if a passenger is not going to transfer from their chair to the normal coach seat. So, in a practical sense, it works better. Our drivers, in the same way, are trained and encouraged to deal with those circumstances. If another passenger is sitting in the chairs or seats that get modified, they are asked to move. It is that position that we ask our staff to deal with. It is not something that we are aware of causing a major problem.
Q117 Chair: Mr Salmon, there is a dispute about the legal position in relation to this and in relation to the meaning of the provision that operators must make a "reasonable adjustment" to allow disabled people to travel. One of the areas where this is an issue is in relation to the different use of space with wheelchairs or other users. Is this something that the Confederation is involved in? Have you raised any issues about the lack of legal clarity on this issue?
Steven Salmon: I would not say there is a lack of legal clarity, except to the extent that it is always difficult to apply the concept of reasonableness to a given set of circumstances. Our main function in this has been to stimulate discussion between our members, and from time to time with the DFT on behalf of our members, to try and find a resolution to what is a very contentious area. Of course we know what the law says. We help our members to follow the law, but disabled people are not the only people who have rights under equality legislation. One of our <?oasys [pc10p0] ?>members was threatened with legal action on the basis that his requirement that any pushchair brought on to his bus must be capable of being folded was discriminatory against women. There are many issues to resolve here.
Q118 Chair: What are the issues that we should be aware of where the law is unclear or interpretations vary?
Steven Salmon: As I have tried to say, it is not exactly a matter of whether the law is clear or not, but precisely what should happen to protect everybody’s rights and interests when conflict arises-that is disabled people, the staff who are entitled to work in a safe environment and the other passengers. It is extremely difficult to deal with legally. I do not think any of our members would have failed to recognise the scenario that Giles was talking about a few moments ago, but it is very difficult to bring the law in to solve an issue where there is some conflict over a limited resource.
Q119 Chair: Yes, but what are the issues that the Confederation, representing the industry, has identified? Are there any issues that the Confederation has identified and is raising?
Steven Salmon: Only to the extent we have identified with DFT that this is not something where we have said this can be sorted by law.
Q120 Chair: But, as a Confederation, you have not taken any steps to identify issues where there are problems.
Steven Salmon: We know what the issues are where there are problems, but that is not the same thing as going to Government and saying, "We have identified these problems and here are our ideas for laws to solve them."
Q121 Chair: It is not necessarily about laws. I am trying to work out what the role of the Confederation is in relation to the rights of disabled people to travel and whether the Confederation, as an organisation representing the industry, has identified problem areas. It appears that they have not, unless I am misunderstanding what you are saying.
Steven Salmon: No. We have identified the problem area that there is conflict over the use of space on buses of a particular kind. Of course we want to resolve that in the interests of our users, including disabled people, but we have yet to come up with the perfect solution to that.
Q122 Chair: You told me earlier about local authorities virtually all seeking training for drivers as part of legislation. Does the nature of that requirement vary a great deal?
Steven Salmon: In essence, no. It is usually aimed at raising drivers’ awareness of different kinds of disability and appropriate ways of working with people who have those disabilities.
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Q123 Chair: Would the Confederation know about the nature of the training that is being given and if it varies from place to place?
Steven Salmon: We don’t compile data on that, although, if the Committee wants it, I am sure I could find some approved syllabuses for these courses.
Q124 Chair: I am interested to know if the content of the training varies from one place to another.
Steven Salmon: It is very similar.
Chair: Thank you very much for coming and answering our questions.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: David Mapp, Commercial Director, Association of Train Operating Companies, Gareth Williams, Director of Regulatory Affairs, Eurostar, and Margaret Hickish, Access and Inclusion Manager, Network Rail, gave evidence.
Q125 Chair: Good afternoon and welcome to the Transport Select Committee. Would you give your name and organisation?
Margaret Hickish: I am Margaret Hickish from Network Rail, where I am the Access and Inclusion Manager.
Gareth Williams: I am Gareth Williams from Eurostar where I am Director of Regulatory Affairs.
David Mapp: I am David Mapp. I am the Commercial Director at the Association of Train Operating Companies.
Q126 Chair: Are you satisfied with the degree and nature of the training given to your staff to enable people with a disability to be able to board trains and feel comfortable with the journey?
David Mapp: Yes, broadly we are. In preparation for today’s hearing I reviewed three sets of training courses that three different train companies provided. It is comprehensive training in terms of legislation, the specific rights of disabled people, appropriate behaviours and practical issues like loading wheelchairs on to trains and so on, and generally the provision of support and information.
Q127 Chair: Do all staff receive training?
David Mapp: Staff that are directly engaged in supporting disabled passengers all receive training.
Q128 Chair: Do you raise awareness for the disabled traveller of their right to have a taxi to take them to an accessible station, if the station they are at is not accessible?
David Mapp: Yes. If the best solution for that particular disabled passenger is that we book an accessible taxi for them from the station from which they want to start their journey to the next accessible station or a station where we can provide our staff support and assistance, then, yes, we make them fully aware of that.
Q129 Chair: Are they always made aware of it or is it something they have to inquire about?
David Mapp: They are made aware of it if they specifically book assistance, but it is something that is also generally featured in train companies’ DPPPs-Disabled People’s Protection Policies-which are published on websites and made freely available to disabled passengers.
Q130 Chair: Mr Williams, what about Eurostar and training for staff?
Gareth Williams: We revised and revamped our training on disability and mobility access issues last July. I think that is much improved and we are incorporating that in our current and future training going forward. We have worked with various groups to try and get that right. There is always capacity to improve. The big issue for all operators is making sure that the training that is given is then applied consistently in practice and trying to join up what we and our staff do with other locations where people are continuing their journey with others-and to get that interface correct.
Q131 Chair: Ms Hickish, are you satisfied that the training given is adequate and can cover a whole range of disabilities?
Margaret Hickish: Absolutely. Network Rail has just reviewed all of our training, particularly in the light of what we learned from the Games. We intend to set out this new programme; so we are on a journey to deliver this. We are going to use disabled people to deliver this training so that our staff get to talk to disabled people when they are being trained. I think that is particularly important because real life experience makes a big difference to how people can empathise with travellers.
Q132 Chair: When is this going to start?
Margaret Hickish: Next week, literally.
Chair: That is timely.
Margaret Hickish: Absolutely.
Q133 Chair: What form will that take? How will it work?
Margaret Hickish: There will be a full day’s disability awareness training, which is part of a week-long training session. People will also be trained in safety and things like putting down the boarding ramps; so there will be the physical activity of putting down boarding ramps. We are spending a day on disability awareness training so that all of our customer-facing staff will have the confidence to talk to disabled people, but also so that disabled people can feel confident that this is not the first time our staff have ever encountered a disabled person.
Q134 Chair: What kind of feedback do you get about the effectiveness of what you are doing?
Margaret Hickish: So far, our feedback has been particularly positive. People have found that, because it is a different type of training, it is much more about reaching people on a more emotional level rather than just telling them about the law and all the rules they must follow. It is much more about allowing people to empathise and understand that disabled travellers want to be impetuous and be able to live life like everybody else, but also that disabled people have some terrific lives and it is not always leisure travel. That is particularly important to get across.
Q135 Sarah Champion: I would like to declare an interest in that I am an ambassador for Whizz-Kidz. Both Whizz-Kidz and Trailblazers suggested in their written evidence that accessibility ambassadors or champions would be a really good thing to have in most of the key stations, if not all the stations. Leading on from what you have just been saying, I wonder if you support that or if you could see a danger that people might just say, "Okay, that’s their problem," and others can abdicate responsibility.
Margaret Hickish: One of the big challenges is that, if you identify a single ambassador, they become the only point of contact. It can also be an issue that the staff only really identify with the disability of that individual. That is a major challenge, particularly for people who have hidden disabilities. Hidden disabilities are one of the great areas that people don’t really understand. Parts of our training programme will bring in people who have hidden disabilities to talk to people about it. I already have some volunteers where people have mental health issues, and people who have other conditions such as diabetes and epilepsy can come along, as well as some blind people, who are all very keen to do this sort of training. It is about giving people a positive experience of disabled people. It is also very important that people have a positive experience before they feel it is something that becomes a burden. That is speaking from personal experience rather than anything else. It is really important that people feel it is a positive thing to do.
Q136 Sarah Champion: Mr Mapp, leading on from that, do you think that an accessibility champion or the model of having volunteers going to the station is something that you could advocate to others?
David Mapp: We have 2,500 stations, so you clearly can’t have a champion for every station.
Q137 Sarah Champion: Why?
David Mapp: It is an idea that we would be happy to look at in principle, but I share some of Margaret’s concerns. It is important that it isn’t just one individual with one disability who represents the whole disability community. We clearly need to take into account a whole range of disabilities. Train companies at the moment do that with passenger panels. Some of them have specific passenger panels just composed of disabled passengers. At a national level, we retain links with a wide variety of disability organisations and parliamentary groups and so on as well. It is important to take that broad picture into account when designing our facilities, services and support for disabled travellers.
Q138 Sarah Champion: My idea was that it did not necessarily have to be a disabled person taking on that role but someone who could take on the responsibility for accessibility. I wonder why there could not be one in 2,500 stations.
David Mapp: Many of the stations are unstaffed halts in rural areas. I think it would be somewhat impractical in that context. We are certainly happy to have a look at it in terms of our larger stations.
Q139 Mr Sanders: Mr Mapp, I want to ask you about Passenger Assist and monitoring the numbers of people that use that service. How much of an increase have you seen, if there is an increase, in the number of people using that service?
David Mapp: It is perhaps worth putting Passenger Assist, to start with, in the context of the overall number of disabled passengers that we have on the rail network. Using the National Passenger Survey and published data about passenger volumes, we estimate that there are roughly 72 million journeys by disabled passengers every year. We estimate that that has increased by about 58% over the last five years, so there has been a significant increase in the number of journeys by disabled passengers. Only a very small proportion of those passengers use Passenger Assist. There were roughly 1 million Passenger Assist bookings last year, but many single journeys entail more than one journey. A booking may entail assistance at the start of the journey, at your interchange point and at your destination station as well. It is a rather lower number than 1 million in terms of the number of passenger journeys.
We don’t specifically have data on the growth in the use of Passenger Assist. My sense is that passenger assistance has grown more generally, but Passenger Assist more recently, over the past five years. I do not have data to support that supposition, but, by analogy, one would expect there to have been growth, given that we have seen significant growth in the general number of disabled passengers using the rail network.
Q140 Mr Sanders: We took oral evidence that suggested that some passengers with disabilities don’t trust Passenger Assist. Are you aware of those complaints and those concerns from people with disabilities?
David Mapp: Yes. Passenger Assist, I should explain, is the name of the assistance booking service that we introduced last year. Booked passenger assistance has been a challenge for us in the past and we would freely admit that. There has been a particular focus over the last three years on improving both the quality and the consistency of delivery. A big step forward was the introduction of the new Passenger Assist system last year. That provided the basis for a more consistent delivery of assistance to disabled passengers. Our sense now is that there has been a significant step change improvement. We are confident that we do deliver good quality assistance on a consistent basis.
That is not to say that we get it right the whole time. There are clearly challenges that remain. Assistance during periods of disruption is a challenge that we are well aware of and we need to address. It goes wrong in other circumstances from time to time. We very much regard our passenger assistance as something where we need to employ an approach of continuous improvement. We have to continue to focus on incremental improvements.
We have just implemented a wave of enhancements to the Passenger Assist system itself. This year we plan to focus on staff training, staff behaviour and also passenger education. It is something that we very much see as improving still further in the future.
Q141 Mr Sanders: Will any of those improvements enable people to make or change their plans at short notice, which is one of the complaints?
David Mapp: Yes. We are aware of the fact that some disabled people and groups feel that 24-hour booking is too long. It is something that we keep an open mind about. If we can find ways of reducing that pre-booking requirement or perhaps at larger stations allow "turn up and go", we are happy to do that.
There are two things. First of all, it is important to put our passenger assistance and booked assistance into context. It is less than 1% of disabled passengers that make use of that. We are to a large extent now a turn-up-and-go railway as far as disabled people are concerned. Secondly, there are some real practical issues in terms of reducing that 24-hour booking requirement. For instance, we have to make sure in some cases that staff are rostered at non-staff stations to provide assistance. If we are providing an accessible taxi to take a passenger from the station from which they would like to start their journey to the next accessible station or to a station where we can provide staff assistance, in many parts of the country there are not many accessible taxis. We have to make sure that we book ahead to get the taxi that is required. We keep an open mind, but there are some real practical issues there that we need to resolve.
Q142 Chair: I am not clear how hard you are trying to resolve the practical issues on providing a turn-up-and-go service. Are you trying to provide a turn-up-and-go service where it can be done? In your answers, you have spoken about situations where there are clearly problems, but it is not very clear if you are trying to provide that service where it can be achieved.
David Mapp: In essence, the improvements that have been made to the accessibility of the rail network in recent years, both with regard to stations and rolling stock, mean that very large numbers of disabled people now feel sufficiently confident not to book specific assistance. The numbers would suggest that the vast majority do just that. For those disabled passengers who are perhaps more severely disabled or who lack confidence in using the rail network, or perhaps are trying it for the first time, we provide the booked assistance service for those passenger groups. It is very much our position that, if you feel confident enough to turn up and go, then please do that and we will provide whatever assistance on an ad hoc basis that you might require. If you feel that you need more structured assistance, then we are happy to provide that as well, but there is a 24-hour booking period at the moment to provide that assistance.
Q143 Chair: Is that ad hoc assistance something that is seriously provided? You said you can provide an ad hoc service. I have had an example very recently of a disabled person who requires assistance at the station, who booked a seat on a train the previous day late in the evening. When she arrived, there was no one to help her. That is according to the rules. Would there be no way that could be changed?
David Mapp: In that case it sounds as though assistance was booked, if I understand it correctly, and we failed to provide that assistance. That is an example of us failing to provide the service that we offered. That is something we would always investigate in every instance. In terms of ad hoc assistance, there are clearly some practical constraints. If a disabled passenger turns up at an unstaffed rural halt, then clearly we cannot provide very much in the way of assistance, but, if they go to a staffed station, for instance, and approach a member of staff and ask for help, then, yes, we will provide that help.
Q144 Iain Stewart: My question follows on from the Chair’s questioning. The Committee conducted an inquiry into the future of the rail industry quite recently. One of the trends we identified, because people are increasingly buying their tickets online or at machines, would be a move of staff from behind the ticket office desk to a front-facing role in the station. To what extent are you trying to use that development as an opportunity to provide disability training for everyone so that you do not have to roster specific people to be there so much for a particular customer but all staff have the capability of providing assistance when required?
David Mapp: In general, all our customer-facing staff-and that includes retail staff in ticket offices-would receive disability training.
Q145 Iain Stewart: So there is no additional programme needed when ticket staff move from behind the desk to a front-facing role.
David Mapp: Those ticket staff, in general, will have received the training that is standard for all customer-facing staff. They will already have a good knowledge of disability issues and the needs of disabled passengers. If, through ticket office restructuring, they are redeployed on to stations, if there is a need for them to have further specialist training-for instance, in the practical aspects of wheelchair loading on to trains-then, of course, we will provide that training, yes.
Q146 Iain Stewart: Do you think the numbers involved-the redeployed staff-will deliver a step change in assistance for disabled passengers so that they can have the turn-up-and-go assistance?
David Mapp: It is certainly true that where staff are redeployed-and it is clear that they won’t always be redeployed-disabled passengers will receive a better level of support than they currently do. At the moment, retail staff sit behind a plate glass window selling tickets. There is very little in the way of support that they can provide, apart from providing information if requested. If they are redeployed on to platforms, they can take a much more active support role.
Q147 Iain Stewart: I would like to ask a different question on the rolling stock that is available. There has been a significant improvement in the design of trains that have been introduced in the last five to 10 years. There is wheelchair space, audio-visual facilities and the like. Quite a bit of the British rolling stock is getting towards the end of its lifespan, so there is an opportunity in the future to add in additional facilities. What sort of discussions are going on with the disability groups as to what additional improvements could be put in place when new trains are ordered?
Margaret Hickish: Network Rail does not cover trains. That is for my colleagues here.
Iain Stewart: I am sorry; I was looking at you collectively.
Gareth Williams: We are in the fortunate position of buying some new trains.
Iain Stewart: I have just been to see them being built.
Gareth Williams: They are great. We have been involved in those kinds of discussions with groups about improving the design and, importantly, about refurbishing all our existing trains, which suffer from many of the defects of the old rolling stock, to exactly the same standard. One of the opportunities for us coming out of that is that the new trains will have better passenger information on board, which is available to all passengers down from the roof of the train. It will also enable you to plug in your own devices on board the train, and either get supplemental information from ourselves provided to you or to use whatever devices and apps you have yourself. When you get a new train in, it is an opportunity not just in terms of the physical infrastructure of the train itself but how it is used, how staff are retrained and all the customer care elements of it. There is a really big opportunity there for us and we are looking to take it.
David Mapp: There are several things to say in the context of the domestic railway. The first thing is that train companies themselves are now little involved in the procurement of rolling stock. It is essentially a Department for Transport responsibility in conjunction with the rolling stock companies-the ROSCOs.
The second point to make perhaps is that this is a highly specified and highly regulated area. The RVAR specified in some considerable detail the facilities that should be provided for disabled passengers. The RVAR requirements have now been overtaken by the PRM TSI requirements, which is the technical specification for interoperability for persons with reduced mobility. That particular TSI, as indeed all TSIs, originates from the European Commission in Brussels, and, more specifically, from the European Rail Agency. Effectively, they are a series of technical standards that have been developed and agreed at a European level that now apply to all domestic rolling stock. They set out in some very considerable detail the precise facilities and services that should be offered to disabled passengers on board trains, including things like wheelchair spaces, grab rails and so on. There is an industry deadline of 2020 for compliance with RVAR, now superseded by PRM TSI. It is by that date that all rolling stock must be compliant.
The impact of that on rolling stock procurement is that all new builds of rolling stock are fully compliant with PRM TSI and RVAR. Existing rolling stock is being progressively refurbished to meet those requirements. The key determinant there is the heavy refurbishment cycle. It is a six-year cycle for major refurbishment of rolling stock. That is a long-winded way of saying that the industry is working towards a 2020 deadline for full compliance with the very detailed specifications for disability design and services within rolling stock for the domestic rail industry.
Q148 Iain Stewart: Thank you. I appreciate that there are these restrictions, but there is still some flexibility for train operators to specify additional facilities within this. I visited a large railway manufacturer just last week. The managing director was saying that they are constantly in discussions with TOCs to say, "Can we have this additional feature?" You are the ones who will get feedback from your passengers. Is there a facility through ATOC whereby those can be combined and fed into the manufacturers and the DFT to improve facilities further?
David Mapp: It happens at two levels. As you have experienced, it happens at ATOC level where TOCs, based on feedback from disabled passengers, relay those comments and that feedback to rolling stock manufacturers.
At ATOC, we have a very active disability group that involves all train companies, where best practice is shared. We plan to take that to a further stage during the course of this year, with the formation of the new National Rail Accessibility Group modelled on the Cycle Rail Working Group, which has been effective in delivering improvements in the cycle rail area. The intention is to develop that group on the basis that it will be multi-stakeholder and will include representatives from disability organisations and train companies, as well as stakeholders such as Passenger Focus and so on. The intention would be that we focus improvements to the services that we provide, including rolling stock, around that group. That will be a further way of ensuring that the views of disabled passengers are taken into account.
Q149 Chair: Mr Williams, how do you ensure that there is a consistent standard of support for disabled people going through the variety of stations that Eurostar deals with-or can you do that?
Gareth Williams: It is through constant training of staff and trying to work on the feedback that we are given. That is much the same for all our passengers. We want to offer the same, consistently good service to all our passengers. We try surveying passengers and following them through every stage of their journey. It shows us where we need to focus.
For instance, we did a survey recently of disabled passengers, and that showed a big fall-off in satisfaction between your treatment on arrival at the station-the assistance you get on arrival-and on departing the train. Again, that is a consistent issue that we see across a lot of passenger groups. They say we have to join up better when we are enabling people to connect or get off the train on to the Paris Metro, or, if you are connecting through Brussels, on to an onward journey with Thalys or Deutsche Bahn. The feedback you get, whether it is through the formal survey or a text feedback or Fizzback-an awful lot of feedback now comes instantaneously on Twitter, which we follow very closely-enables you to better identify where you are having issues and try to find solutions to that, whether that is through training or trying to work with our partner railways.
Q150 Chair: When you identify the problems, what are you able to do to deal with them? Do you have the authority to change things as needed in different stations in different countries?
Gareth Williams: Some. One of the issues is that we have different providers at different stations. At St Pancras International, for instance, it is all our own staff. We have different providers for mobility service at Gare du Nord and at Lille. At Brussels, it is SNCB staff. More than a quarter of our passengers in any case connect, so they are moving on to different partners. Sometimes the services that are provided are very good. For instance, the Accès Plus website and service that SNCF provides is very good, but it is very difficult to join that up, for instance, with something like Passenger Access in the UK. The systems are designed around operating in one country. Trying to get them to work across an end-to-end journey so that the passenger has a consistent experience throughout their journey requires an awful lot of engagement and effort.
Q151 Chair: Can you achieve it?
Gareth Williams: Yes.
Q152 Chair: You have mentioned an example of good practice. Can you tell us where it isn’t very good?
Gareth Williams: I can certainly point to an example. One of my non-executive directors has mobility issues. We were arranging a board meeting that went on a visit to see where our new trains were being built. The trip on SNCB into Brussels was very good. The assistance on the trip out did not arrive. At Cologne station, assistance was provided but for the wrong train. The taxi on arrival at Cologne was excellent. It can be a very mixed bag, even when you have put quite a lot of effort into trying to do all the pre-booking and talk to people at each stage of the journey. It was echoing the comments of one of the previous people giving evidence. Too often, a lot of it depends on who you happen to get on a given day. Trying to improve the consistency of that is really important.
Q153 Chair: But can you do it? You are talking about what needs to be done and what the problem is. From where Eurostar is, do you have powers or do you have influence?
Gareth Williams: No, we don’t.
Q154 Chair: You have no powers, have you?
Gareth Williams: No, we don’t have powers. The reason for part of the hesitation is that you can give, if you like, a technical or contractual answer. No, we don’t have powers. We could enter into, and we do, assistance service level agreements. We could agree information sharing and so on and so forth, but often it comes down to the training, quality and attitude of the staff who are actually giving effect to those agreements that you have entered into. I am very hesitant to say, yes, we could stitch together a series of service level agreements and then it is solved end to end. I think it is a much more cultural issue than that.
I would echo what Margaret said earlier. One of the things that was really good for us about the Paralympics was that it was a fantastically positive experience for people throughout the company. It is something that we want to do with all our passengers. We have disabled passengers, schoolchildren and people from overseas, who have language issues and so on and so forth. We want our staff to deal with every section of passengers in an intuitive and positive way. We need to get that kind of culturally positive approach in trying to respond to the individual needs of our customers, which is the necessary foundation for the more specialist training that needs to take place on top. It is trying to get that consistently across our company and the companies within which we work to ensure that more technical provisions happen in practice.
Q155 Chair: So it is a culturally positive approach that we need.
Gareth Williams: It does not stop there, but it certainly has to start there.
Q156 Chair: Ms Hickish, how does Network Rail prioritise making stations fully accessible? How do you decide the programme?
Margaret Hickish: The first thing to say is that we definitely know in which direction we are going. We are going only in one direction. We are going to make things more accessible. We are planning to use inclusive design rather than the universal design. Inclusive design was what was used throughout the Games. It is about people thinking about everyone when they design.
The principal way we decide on what improvements will be made is through the Access for All programme. We sit with the DFT and prioritise using that. That also allows us to prioritise those things that will not be included in the Access for All programme because we have had to work through all of those processes. That is based on the number of passengers and the cost, as well as the practicality of making something more accessible. Some places are much easier and involve less major works to make them more accessible than others, but it is principally based on the number of passengers that we are going to have through a station.
Q157 Chair: Can you tell me why only one of the Crossrail stations that Network Rail is responsible for has step-free access from street to train?
Margaret Hickish: I have a list of the stations that will be made accessible, which is quite a long list.
Q158 Chair: But what about this? I have asked you about a problem.
Margaret Hickish: Which station is it that you are saying has been made-
Q159 Chair: I am asking you why there is only one.
Margaret Hickish: My understanding is that there is not only one. That is where I am at just now. My understanding is that Slough and Chadwell Heath are already accessible. Maidenhead, West Drayton, Hayes & Harlington, Southall, West Ealing, Ealing Broadway, Acton Mainline, Forest Gate, Ilford, Goodmayes, Romford, Gidea Park and Harold Wood will be made more accessible. Brentwood will be in the Access for All programme as well.
Q160 Chair: This is from street to train. Are we talking about the same thing?
Margaret Hickish: Yes, yes. Well, from street to train, no. Most of those will be step-free stations and will require assistance.
Q161 Chair: Why is that the case? Why isn’t work being done on more stations?
Margaret Hickish: Difficulties in raising platforms to meet the differing needs of different trains is the main challenge. The reason it was possible on the tube was because all the trains are the same height on the tube lines. Network Rail trains vary in height. As a result, it is more challenging on platforms to be used by other trains.
Q162 Chair: We may pursue that further through correspondence.
Margaret Hickish: I will give you a fuller answer.
Chair: Thank you very much for coming and answering our questions.