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Transport Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 116
Taken before the Transport Committee
on Monday 13 May 2013
Mrs Louise Ellman (Chair)
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Bruce Thompson, Head of Transport Co-ordination Service, Devon County Council, Liz Chandler, Director of Corporate Development, Merseytravel, and Stephen Golden, Head of Equality and Corporate Sustainability, Transport for London, gave evidence.
Q163 Chair: Good afternoon and welcome to the Transport Committee. Would you please give your name and organisation?
Bruce Thompson: I am Bruce Thompson from Devon county council.
Liz Chandler: I am Liz Chandler from Merseytravel.
Stephen Golden: I am Stephen Golden from Transport for London.
Q164 Chair: What would you say are the major challenges that you are facing at the moment in achieving equal access to transport for disabled people in your areas?
Bruce Thompson: One of the challenges is that, plainly, there is more to be done. With very difficult revenue budget pressures, the cost of further improvements is inevitably being weighed against the cost of maintaining service support. That balance is quite a tricky one to manage. There are improvements that could cost significant amounts of money, but, if that is at the expense of ongoing support for services, clearly that is a difficult one to achieve.
Q165 Chair: Ms Chandler, what are the major challenges you are facing at the moment?
Liz Chandler: I would agree. Budgets are a key challenge at the moment. Obviously, they are revenue-funded, taking it forward. It is also sometimes the fragmented nature of public transport and trying to ensure that we move forward in an holistic and integrated manner for the benefit of the individual. In relation to customers with disabilities, it has to start with the individual and a personalisation approach. That can sometimes be quite challenging when you are looking at the plethora of bodies and the legislation, and then trying to do what is best for all your customers as well.
Stephen Golden: Absolutely; there is always pressure on resources, especially where there are major infrastructure improvements that need to be undertaken to deliver accessibility. An issue that we also need to deal with is the fact that, the more accessible we make the public transport system, the more expectations are raised about what more we can and should do. There is an awful lot of work that still needs to be done to make sure that we continue to involve disabled people in the design of the solutions around accessibility rather than just see that a step-free solution is what needs to be put in. There are all sorts of nuances around accessibility that we can deploy that will make a huge difference, and I think it is important that we keep our eye on the ball around those things.
Access to information around accessibility is a key in driving improvements. If people know how accessible the transport system is, they are more likely to use it. One of the things we have certainly learned over the last year is that the most appropriate and accessible information that we give can drive people’s perception of how accessible the network is already. One of the challenges we face is that people continue to believe that transport is inaccessible when, actually, it is much more accessible than it has ever been. Encouraging disabled people and their organisations to recognise the level of accessibility that already exists there is a challenge we face.
Q166 Chair: Has the Equality Act made any difference to what you have done?
Stephen Golden: The Equality Act, its predecessor Acts and predecessor duties have been incredibly useful in focusing the minds of service providers, bus operators, train operators and the like to say, "This is the minimum that you need to do in order to comply with the legislation." However, from a disability perspective, the one thing that really transformed the way in which we approached accessibility in Transport for London was the duty to involve disabled people in the design and delivery of transport solutions. That has transformed the way we have been able to provide accessibility to transport in London.
Q167 Chair: Has the Equality Act made a difference to what you are doing on Merseyside, Ms Chandler?
Liz Chandler: Not specifically. We have a long history in Merseytravel of ensuring that we engage with members of the community who have a disability in relation to transport. From the 1990s we have been doing a range of initiatives. That has provided a focus and we have obviously worked with our operators and other bodies to help to take it forward. It has supplemented the journey that we were already on in Merseytravel.
Q168 Chair: Has it made a difference in Devon?
Bruce Thompson: Yes. We are at a stage whereby the Act has been enormously important. We are now at the stage where it is the soft behavioural changes that need to align with that, making sure that everyone in public transport delivery is fully on board with it. It is quite a challenge to make sure that all the drivers are aware of not only what their responsibilities are but how to deal with things positively and correctly.
Q169 Sarah Champion: Mr Golden, I was very interested in your comments about perception. I went to a conference a few weeks ago where disabled people were saying that they did not trust the systems that were put in place. They would have one example where the system broke down for them and then they would never use it again. I am aware that there are lots of initiatives being put in place to make the services more accessible, but that perception is still a big boundary to people. Could you give some examples of how you are trying to challenge that? If your colleagues have other examples, that would be most welcome.
Stephen Golden: First, I am not sure I would challenge the perception that reliability is an important accessibility factor. The predictability of the journey outcome is incredibly important for all of us, and it is even more important if you are a disabled person who relies perhaps on additional assistance to complete your journey. The engagement and involvement that we have had with disabled people has made that incredibly clear to us. They say, "The reliability and predictability of the journey are what will make the difference about whether I choose to use mainstream public transport, to rely on my car, and therefore perhaps the good offices of my friends or family, or whether I use door-to-door transport so that at least I know I am not going to be stranded in a place I am not familiar with."
A lot of the work that we have done around improving reliability is perhaps not something, certainly within Transport for London, that is perceived by the general population as accessibility work. Improvements in the signalling on the London underground are all about improving reliability of the service. The improvements that we have been making in the street environment are about making bus journeys much more predictable. In addition to that, there is real-time journey information that can give smart information about what happens if something goes wrong. Those are the things that we are putting together not only to improve reliability but to deal with the anxiety that potential disruption can cause.
Liz Chandler: From a Merseytravel perspective, it is the wider physical accessibility. Older people sometimes have perceptions, and it is about working with groups representing those who have disabilities and with our customers. One of the things we have found quite useful is travel training and buddying. It is sometimes difficult because of stop-start funding, which can cause challenges. We put support in place through travel trainers or by providing buddies to build confidence, even if it is just for one short journey that somebody does. That then enables them to have independence. Once people have overcome that first fear, they are more confident in going forward.
We know from listening to our customers that they have a fear of embarrassment, or a fear of not knowing how to work their way around the system. We have worked with our operators to try to encourage people to use the bus or train when it is not in use to see how it works. I feel it is also very much about ensuring that we listen to the complaints that we get. We work with our operators to take access. As my colleagues have said, we know that driver attitude is absolutely critical. Any transport worker can make a difference, and it only takes one bad experience for all that good work we have done in getting somebody to use public transport to be undone in a matter of minutes by somebody who does not provide help or who is indifferent to somebody’s specific need.
Q170 Sarah Champion: Mr Golden, I am going to come back and be mean to you. You said it was not so much about perception but about reliability, giving the impression that it has not been too reliable to date. Is that true and is it getting better in Transport for London?
Stephen Golden: Are you talking about the reliability of the system? There is so much data around transport provision in London and its service reliability. I do not have that data to hand, but I am pretty confident that we can see an upward trend across the transport network in London. I am sure we can provide the latest reliability figures to the Select Committee via its secretariat.
Q171 Iain Stewart: I would like to ask about the lessons learned from planning for the Paralympic and Olympic Games last year. The general consensus is that they were a success in terms of planning disabled access. Now that we have had a few months to reflect on the experience, are there any lessons learned that you would do differently? Maybe there was something that you did not provide and should have, or did provide but it did not quite work.
Stephen Golden: It is difficult to say that we would do anything specifically differently. One of the things that we did in preparation for the Games is think about the whole of the transport provision from the door-to-door nature of the journey and how people plan their journeys to delivery of their journey on the day. Would we do anything differently or something more that we had not done? I do not think we have identified anything that we should have done that we didn’t do.
Getting information out of people proved to be one of the key successes of provision for transport during the Games anyway, whether for disabled or non-disabled people. One of the things we have learned from that is the importance of reliable and proper information, in real-time if at all possible, in building confidence in making journeys. I would not say that there is anything we would do differently. I would not say there is anything we failed to do that we should have done, but there are always things we could have done better.
We had thousands of people out there volunteering and supporting people, but there were still times when the transport system was absolutely packed and people’s experience was not perhaps as comfortable as it might have been. Maybe we could have done a little bit more with that, but generally I feel that we did London proud in what we did with transport during the Games rather than looking for anything we might have done differently.
Q172 Iain Stewart: Are there any initiatives to share what you learned with other local authority transport areas? I appreciate it was a specific demand on London’s transport system and it is not replicated elsewhere, but there must be other lessons you could have shared.
Stephen Golden: There are a couple of things that I am sure my colleagues from Merseytravel and Devon already do. One of the things that we did when we knew we were going to have thousands of people out there volunteering on the network, whose day job was very importantly sitting behind a desk planning the transport system for the future and not usually having a lot of interaction with customers on the front line, was to make sure they had appropriate levels of training, support and access to the right information in order to provide services of an accessible nature to disabled people.
We got disabled people’s organisations involved in the design of the content of that training. We also used those organisations as advocates to their own client group saying, "Don’t be worried about travelling during the Olympics because the volunteers out there have had appropriate training and we have been involved in designing what that training looks like." We used our contacts with disabled people’s organisations to get an awful lot of the information out there and perhaps to people who would not necessarily have received it through normal means. That is certainly something that was great.
The other thing is that we were able to challenge some of the sacred cows, such as, "Oh, you can’t do that on the network." Manual boarding ramps on London underground stations where we have a gap between the train and the platform were always perceived, or perceived by the majority, as something that we could not introduce operationally because of the impact it would have on the flow of trains through stations, being too long to deploy. We tried it for the Games; it worked fantastically for them, by and large. We are now rolling them out across the network. You need to use any opportunities you can to challenge some of the sacred cows that might exist within your own organisation or your own transport network.
Q173 Iain Stewart: Can I ask the other two witnesses what lessons your authorities are trying to take from London’s experience last year?
Bruce Thompson: The legacy, as you indicate, is that some of these lessons could come out. I was particularly interested in a previous session on the issue of buggies sometimes taking up wheelchair spaces. Assertiveness training for drivers to be able to deal with the situation in the right way seems enormously helpful. Those kinds of lessons are the ones that we need to look at. It would be very helpful for all authorities if there was a wash-up of the operational issues that came out of the Olympic legacy in terms of the Paralympics and disabled access that could be disseminated.
Liz Chandler: From Merseytravel’s perspective, we were very interested in what can be achieved when sustainable transport is considered as the means to get to an event. There are lots of lessons that can be learned from a planning perspective about ensuring that due consideration is given. The element we really looked at is the role that Games Makers, volunteers and colleagues in TFL played, and that personal interaction. While it is not feasible to have volunteers working on the transport network day in, day out, there is certainly something that can be learned for big events. We did something similar for the Capital of Culture where we trained transport workers, but disability awareness and providing that support is the key element.
One of the other things we are really interested in, and what we are working on now in the Merseyside area, is the people who work in the transport sector. If you think of the Games Makers, they were recruited because they wanted to help and provide that good level of customer service. What we are trying to roll out, working with our operators through LSTF funding, is "Recruit for Attitude, Train for Skill"-recruiting people who see themselves in a customer service role who want to help, ensuring that training is embedded in, including disability awareness, mental health awareness and Stop Hate Awareness, to provide our customers with a really good experience. That is for all our customers, but obviously it has benefits for people with disabilities. It is learning the lessons from the Games Makers, the training they got and the type of people who were recruited, and then rolling that out.
Q174 Iain Stewart: I have one final question on the role of Games Makers. I can certainly see the advantage of them for specific events, but do you think there is a potential to extend that concept further and have volunteers at major interchanges or railway junctions to assist people on a more regular basis?
Liz Chandler: My personal view is that it would not be feasible day in, day out. There are issues of accountability and the blurring of lines. For major events or where there would be high levels of attendance at a city or the like, then there is potentially a role. It provides an opportunity for people to get that training, which can enhance their career and employment opportunities moving forward, but I do not think day in, day out that would be feasible. It is mainstreaming that into all our transport workers.
Q175 Chair: Ms Chandler, you just spoke about a blurring of lines and accountability in relation to volunteers. Do you think there is an issue that volunteers could be seen to be replacing paid train staff?
Liz Chandler: Within Merseytravel, we have worked heavily with our trade unions through our Merseylearn project on recruitment and training. There will be concerns from a trade union perspective, but the management of volunteers is very different from the management of staff. I think personally that it could cause issues in the day-to-day operations.
Q176 Chair: Mr Golden, do you have any views on that, given your great experience of using volunteers during the Olympics?
Stephen Golden: We made it absolutely clear at the Games time and since then that the role of the Travel Ambassador is to support and not to replace operational staff. We already have what are known as incident customer service assistants for the underground. If we have major disruption on the underground or an event such as industrial action, we have people who are properly trained and accredited to operate on the network, on the railway side of the ticket barrier, which is where most safety concerns are. We have properly trained staff whose day job might be something else but who have the proper licences to work trackside, as it were. They will help to support the operation, but they are not Travel Ambassadors-they are contingency staff.
The use of Travel Ambassadors in the future for Transport for London will be around key events like the London Marathon or, as recently, Baroness Thatcher’s funeral, where we had 175 Travel Ambassadors deployed for that. If there are particularly busy days around Christmas, summer or whatever, they might be able to support staff on the front line, but they will be information and assistance-providing. They will not be taking the roles of the permanent members of staff.
Q177 Chair: Mr Thompson, do you have any views on this topic?
Bruce Thompson: In a rural area, travel patterns tend to be much more diverse. It comes back to the point that was made at the start. It is about those bad experiences, wherever they happen. They could happen in quite a small town or in a city centre. To cover all those eventualities with volunteers is quite difficult. I agree with what has been said about the management and the blurring of lines. There is also the management of aspirations as well. It is really important that any volunteers are on message in terms of what should and should not happen. Quite often, there seems to be the potential for that to be blurred.
Q178 Mr Sanders: One of the messages that have come across from some of the evidence that we have been given, and from people we have talked to who have a disability, is just how important it is to be able to plan their journey with confidence. How do you ensure that people of all disabilities, whether visible or invisible, are able to plan a journey with confidence?
Stephen Golden: Going back to what I said to Ms Champion, one of the things about confidence is how reliable the journey will be. Making the service more reliable encourages people to plan their journey in the first instance. We have all sorts of information available through the Journey Planner on the Transport for London website. We have more and more real-time information and information supplied to people through third parties on smartphone apps. We are not going digital by default because we also recognise that printed information is still a key way in which not just disabled people but all sorts of customers rely on getting their information about the transport network. We also have a 24-hour customer helpline. We have recently launched something within our customer contact centre called Accessibility Champions. These are not the people who will take over any accessibility inquiry, but we provide them with extra training and support in the hope that they will then disseminate that knowledge among their teams, making it flow out through the whole of the customer contact centre. We invest quite heavily in a smaller group of people who can act as champions at the moment.
Q179 Mr Sanders: How would a blind passenger get to know the 24-hour passenger helpline?
Stephen Golden: We work very closely with the Royal National Institute of Blind People, the London Visual Impairment Forum and Transport for All. We work very closely and have constant engagement with all those organisations. We try and make sure that any new systems or new ways of getting information we disseminate out through those organisations, too.
Q180 Mr Sanders: Is there something in Braille for the blind passenger on the bus stop?
Stephen Golden: We don’t have anything in Braille on our bus stops in London at the moment. We are looking at ways in which we can improve bus stop accessibility.
Q181 Mr Sanders: What about a person who perhaps has a learning disability that makes reading very difficult, so even real-time information is not accessible to them? How would they be able to find out that the bus is very late or there has been a change?
Stephen Golden: Every quarter I host a meeting for people with learning difficulties from across London boroughs. It is a very well-attended meeting. We usually end up with 20 out of the 30-odd London boroughs sending representatives of learning disabled people there. We have been working with them for seven years. The one thing we are very proud of in our involvement with people with learning difficulties are the bus spider maps, which were designed by learning disabled people for use in Transport for London, and they are deployed at every bus stop.
We work very closely with groups of people with learning difficulties and other disabled people to understand what their information needs are. One of the things that we learned from the Games was the vast variety of information needs that people might have. To that end, we commissioned a research project that will be delivering its information back to us this autumn. We are doing some extensive research across all disabled groups in London about what information they need, how they need it portrayed and how they get access to real-time information and so on. Again, I am quite happy to furnish that research brief to the Committee.
Q182 Mr Sanders: London strikes me as being somewhat ahead of many other parts of the country. I would be interested to know briefly your answer to that question, Ms Chandler.
Liz Chandler: It is very similar to what Mr Golden has said. We use new technology. We have a Journey Planner. We are rolling out and starting the process of real-time information. We are looking at how we can develop mobile web technology and the use potentially of apps, but we must not forget the people element. All of our customers, including those with disabilities, tell us that personal contact is important. We have six staffed bus stations. We have travel centres and a travel line that operates 364 days a year. Our customers tell us that that is what they find particularly useful. Like TFL, we look to engage with all members of the community.
As part of our district customer forums, issues arose with one of our bus stations. We did an audit involving people with all disabilities. With their agreement, we videoed that so they could give us direct feedback. Having done that audit, through capital revenue funding, we are now in the process of putting in the required amendments. Some of that was quite simple. We are working with Guide Dogs for the Blind to give an audio interpretation of what the bus station is and what it looks like. We are trialling that to see how we can take it forward.
One of the other elements-and it is interesting to listen to Mr Golden-is that we are currently reviewing all our at-stop information because we recognise that that could be far clearer and more concise. We are looking at how we can put up simplified maps so that people can navigate their way round the bus network as well.
Bruce Thompson: In Devon, there has been a lot of focus on a wide span of information. There is good-quality bus information at what we call the key stops. We have 5,000-plus stops across a very rural area. We have high-quality information at all the key stops in the main towns, which includes a map of where the other stops in that town are. There are stick maps of the routes and a simplified timetable so that where you are is always the top line rather than just putting the whole timetable up. We have a website called JourneyDevon, which tries to be a one-stop shop for transport and everything is only two or three clicks away. We have plates in the bus stops where you can text for bus times. There is real-time information and we have a project in partnership with Torbay council to roll out information.
We also have something called an access wallet to supplement that. I actually have one here and a sample for you, if it is helpful. Basically anyone with communications difficulties can show it to the driver, who straight away sees that that person has communication difficulties. Anything can be inside. It could say, "Please tell me when I get to the stop" or whatever. It cuts down the need for what might be a very difficult communication for people with communications difficulties and reduces that stress factor, but it also indicates to the driver straight away, "I need to help this person."
This came out of a discussion that we had with deaf representatives. They felt that was worth trying and we have found it to be very popular across a wide range of people in that category. I would have to say that it is courtesy of Warrington, which started the original design, and we borrowed it from them. I know that a number of other authorities are using it. So we find that a useful supplement to good information.
Q183 Mr Sanders: What about cross-border journeys? You say you have some co-operation with Torbay, but even in Merseyside somebody might live in Southport and work in Liverpool or live in Liverpool and work in west Lancashire. How would they be able to plan a journey across the border?
Liz Chandler: It would very much depend on that individual and what worked for them. We have the Journey Planner, which covers the whole of the UK and links into the north-west. We have our Traveline centre, which, again, can provide personalised advice and support across boundaries. Obviously the staff at travel centres, bus and rail stations will also provide that support. We recognise that, for some people with disabilities, it is important to ensure there is consistency and we feel that is one of the things that needs to be enhanced. For example, if a wheelchair user is starting off at a local station and going to London, they have told us at our customer forums that at some stage there is often a breakdown in communication and they are left stranded. What should be explored on a national basis is how we can use new technology to ensure that transport staff are aware of somebody requiring specific support so that there is not that breakdown in communication.
Q184 Mr Sanders: What about somebody who wanted to travel from Torbay to Ivybridge by bus and had to change from being in the Torbay unitary area to the Devon county area? Would that be possible to do, or would they need somebody to come and hold their hand for the journey?
Chair: Can you answer that one, Mr Thompson?
Bruce Thompson: There is actually a direct bus between Torbay and Ivybridge. One of my perceptions, again, is the access wallet and it has been taken up by many councils. If only it was a national initiative and had the Government seal of approval as good practice, I would think that all local authorities would want to take it up. There again, someone with that wallet could then enjoy a recognition of their communications difficulties across borders. That is one issue that could be quite beneficial. We work very closely with our neighbouring councils anyway on issues generally, so our approaches are quite similar.
Q185 Kwasi Kwarteng: I want to ask a broad question about the ways in which you are communicating with people with disabilities, how organised you find their voice and whether you have instituted any formal structures in trying to communicate and find out what the requirement is.
Liz Chandler: Within Merseyside we have a variety of different methods. We have a very active community engagement team that reaches out to all elements of the community and works with various voluntary groups, charities and representative bodies. We have found that incredibly helpful in helping to shape our approach to supporting customers with disabilities. We have four customer forums held in each of our five districts throughout the year. As part of that, we have a transport operators’ surgery prior to it. That is for all our customers and brings everybody together. Access issues tend to be a common theme. The feedback we get through those forums, which helps to be linked back into our ITA, in the fullness of time will help us to shape policy and how we take it forward.
We have also started to ensure that we link with our local district councils. For example, Liverpool city council has a corporate access forum ensuring there is regular attendance and representation. We are not reinventing the wheel, but we are linking to the bodies that already exist to ensure that that is mainstreamed and taken forward. In that way we feel that it ensures we listen to all representatives of the community and those customers who have disabilities in helping to take it forward.
Q186 Kwasi Kwarteng: From your answer, it seems there is no specific provision for disabled members of the community. You talked about the other groups within the community, but in your answer you were suggesting that there was no specific provision for the disabled.
Liz Chandler: No. We used to have a transport access panel. Linked to the Equality Act coming out, we felt that we wanted to mainstream because access is a wider issue. Interestingly, the feedback from representatives who attended the previous access panel and now come to our customer forums has been positive because they feel it is more useful and a wider range of issues is discussed. It is not a segregation. One of the concerns was that if you have a disability you are over there and all our other customers are over here. This is about mainstreaming because one of our key local transport goals is access of travel opportunity.
Stephen Golden: In London, we have developed some quite robust structures for engaging and involving disabled people. We have TFL’s Independent Disability Advisory Group, which is a group of seven disabled people who have expertise around transport and live and work in London and can give us strategic advice. We engage with colleagues from across the business at local mobility forums in each of the London boroughs when we are invited to go. We have recently set up our own sub-regional mobility forums under the Mayor’s transport strategy, dividing London into five sub-regions. TFL has just set up a pilot programme in the south and central sub-region to see if we can engage with disabled people on the key issues of transport planning in the future at a more strategic level in each of the sub-regions.
As a key way of helping disabled people scrutinise what we do as an organisation, when we publish our disability equality scheme or our accessibility improvement plan we convene what is known as a Citizens’ Jury. They are independent disabled people nominated by, in the last case, Inclusion London. They call for evidence from directors and the like at TFL and scrutinise their plans and give a verdict about what TFL is doing.
Q187 Iain Stewart: I would like to ask Mr Thompson a couple of supplementary questions about your access wallets. You mentioned the possibility of having a national scheme for those. Do you think that would work? Would it not be better to leave it to each authority to develop their own version of it, but maybe for central Government to issue some guidelines about how it could work?
Bruce Thompson: That is what I meant when I said "national scheme". I did not mean for it to be issued nationally; I meant it would be good practice for each authority to have such a scheme and use the same design. That is really important so that drivers can understand what the card is about. I did not mean that they should be centralised. It is useful and quite appropriate for authorities to be able to issue the cards and have the scheme as we do in Devon.
Q188 Iain Stewart: Has it been in place long enough for you to monitor whether it has had a beneficial effect in increasing disabled people’s access to the use of public transport?
Bruce Thompson: It is very difficult to identify the real reasons for increased use of public transport because it has come at a time when there are more low-floor buses for the disabled. The other reason why I feel a national scheme could have some traction is because it is very difficult to reach the hard-to-reach groups. We are continually finding people who have suddenly found out about the pass. They think it is fantastic and yet it has been in place for about five or six years. Therefore, there is always that challenge to get everyone who could benefit from the pass to be aware of it.
Q189 Sarah Champion: You have spoken about the initiatives you have to get people to engage with the system. I want to look more specifically at the transport systems in your regions, particularly buses. We had Steven Salmon of the Confederation of Passenger Transport in front of us. He said that local authorities have to specify fully accessible buses on their funded routes. However, he claimed that there is a lack of clarity under the Equalities Act as to the exact definition of "fully accessible". Would each of you give the definition that you work to and also how many of your buses meet your definition?
Bruce Thompson: There are two definitions. There are the DDA requirements for buses. I believe some of the earlier buses are low floor but are not fully DDA. They do not have high-visibility nosing on the steps on stepping into the bus or high-visibility grab rails-that kind of thing-but we know there are clear definitions for new vehicles from 2015-16 or 2017, depending on the size of vehicle. All vehicles over 22 seats will be required to be compliant, and that definition is very clear.
The issue at the moment is that we are in an interregnum whereby fleets are being equipped or are having new vehicles in to meet the DDA deadlines. At the moment we have a mixture, with some older step-entrance vehicles still in operation. In my particular county most of the services are now virtually DDA-compliant. That does lead to problems. When an operator’s normal run-out is all low-floor vehicles, people come to expect it. When the odd step-entrance vehicle comes along because there are too many vehicles off the road for repair or whatever, that is an issue.
I would like to be able to have a conversation at an appropriate time with our operators to be able to guarantee that, if someone turns up-this is before DDA, because after DDA it will be swept up anyway-relying on a low-floor vehicle but the low-floor vehicle does not turn up, then, if necessary, a taxi will be provided for them unless it is a very regular frequency route or something like that. Because we are in this interregnum of a mix of vehicle type at the moment, that is a problem.
Q190 Sarah Champion: I understand that for the buses. How many of your 5,000 bus stops have lowered pavement edges? How many of them have clearly marked pavement edges? How many of them have enough space for the bus actually to get in and lower its ramps? The bus might be accessible, but is the location accessible?
Bruce Thompson: In the urban areas we are rolling out bus boarders as a matter of standard design. The problem with many bus stops in rural areas is that sometimes you are lucky if there is even a bus stop flag. It is often on to a verge where there is no immediate walkway from there to where the houses are nearby, other than along a grass verge. The cost of converting all those stops to having raised bus boarders and DDA-compliant walkways would be significant, and that is a real challenge, particularly in a rural area.
Q191 Sarah Champion: I would like to come back to the costs, but could other people tell me their definition and the percentage of their transport?
Liz Chandler: In relation to our tendered services, we require two things: that it is accessible and low floor that meets the latest requirements; and that all drivers working on that route within six months have to do courses that we have identified, including disability awareness. We tend to work in partnership with the operators and local authorities. We think there needs to be an integrated and holistic approach. Our focus has been on our main corridors and centres where we have the greatest usage of the transport system to ensure maximum impact for the travelling public.
I do not have exact figures. With the bus fleet on Merseyside, we are virtually there in relation to accessible buses. However, as Mr Thompson said, sometimes the issue will be some of the smaller operators. Occasionally they will bring out a bus that is not fully accessible. We know from the complaints we get that that does cause a lot of distress to customers.
Q192 Sarah Champion: What about the routes? Roughly what percentage of those would be accessible?
Liz Chandler: I would need to come back to the Committee-I am happy to provide that information-but there has been considerable investment over the last 20 years and we work in partnership with our local authorities on that.
Stephen Golden: In London, since May 2005, 100% of the bus fleet has been low-floor wheelchair accessible. From 2008, all buses had audio-visual information on board and other accessibility features. With the introduction of the New Bus for London, we have also introduced something that visually impaired people have been clamouring for particularly, which is space for assistance dogs under seats. A definition of a "fully accessible" bus evolves. All of us who are working in the accessibility area recognise that. There are still some impairments that face barriers that we have not yet found a way of addressing on the transport system. We don’t know how to deal with people with certain autistic impairments. There are the effects of travelling in crowded spaces in London, for example. It is something we are still working on. We are not a "fully accessible" fleet in that sense yet, but we are moving forward.
Q193 Sarah Champion: Mr Thompson, I fully understand the cost of converting 5,000 bus stops in remote parts. Is it just the money that is preventing it, or are there other barriers that you are facing, and how would you seek to address them?
Bruce Thompson: With enough money, any problem like that can be engineered out, but some of the barriers in getting from where people want to go to the bus stop or where people live to the bus stop, and then the same at the other end, are extremely challenging. The concept of end-to-end journey planning and awareness of the end-to-end barriers is really important. We have to look more and more not just at the bus journey, but how people get to and from the bus. We have to look at people’s perceptions as well. Those kinds of problems can mainly be engineered out, but the cost would be very considerable.
Q194 Chair: Will the devolved funding of the bus service operators grant to local authorities make any difference to you in supporting disabled people? Does anyone have any views?
Liz Chandler: In relation to Merseytravel, it is like with all the funding streams that are available. Accessibility is mainstreamed; we are not looking specifically at disability access. It is about looking at the corridors, the bus fleet and the training. It is the whole holistic approach. It obviously gives you an element of greater control about what you can specify, so, yes.
Q195 Chair: Yes, it will be better.
Liz Chandler: Yes.
Q196 Chair: Are there any other views on that?
Bruce Thompson: The guidance is not out on the devolved BSOG in terms of supported services, so we are not aware of whether we will get more, less or equal to the amount of BSOG currently paid for operations in Devon. Of course, that funding is primarily revenue funding. Some of the issues we are talking about really do require capital funding. The BSOG devolved is just moving money to operators or the local authority area in a different way. It is not creating new money apart from the better bus area funding, which is more likely to be a successful concept in the larger urban areas. There are real challenges in what benefits BSOG devolution might bring. Those challenges are of course at a time when the rising costs to the industry-transport inflation-have been much higher than normal inflation. The increased costs have not necessarily been met by contract rates over the recent years because of the spending review. That leads to further challenges if we are going to try to pull more BSOG off operators and to use it for other purposes, which is the whole idea around devolution. There are some real challenges around that.
Q197 Chair: Are you making a bid to the better bus areas fund?
Bruce Thompson: We have not been able to secure sufficient support from our major bus operator, which is a requirement of a bid. I think the jury is out for Stagecoach as to whether better bus areas would be a good thing for the company and, as a result of that, we have not been able to secure support for a bid.
Q198 Chair: Mr Golden, do you have any views on how these changes in funding would affect you?
Stephen Golden: The arrangements in London are different.
Q199 Chair: It is a different arrangement, so it won’t affect you.
Stephen Golden: No.
Q200 Chair: Do you get any complaints about taxis or private hire vehicles? If you do, what are they? Ms Chandler, do you get any?
Liz Chandler: Within Merseyside, it is each of the district councils that are the licensing authorities. We have worked closely with each of the district licensing authorities, starting back in 2005. One of the things we recognised was that the lack of consistent training for taxi drivers was causing an issue, particularly for customers who have a disability. We have implemented a two-part training programme. There is one prior to entering the trade, and then an NVQ for when people enter the trade. That has been adopted by the district councils in Merseyside either wholly or in part. We work with the trade bodies and the licensing authorities to look at the complaints that they are getting, particularly around disability, to help them shape the training provision that people get. The feedback we have had from the licensing authorities is that training has had an impact on the complaints received and also the ability to send people to be retrained if a specific issue has come to light.
Q201 Chair: What are the major complaints made and major issues?
Liz Chandler: When we started it was about wheelchair accessibility, ramps not being used, people not being secured correctly and the way people were spoken to. When we spoke to the drivers-and we worked with the trade unions on this as well-there was a small percentage of drivers who just didn’t care, but we discovered that there was an embarrassment factor with some of the drivers. They didn’t know what to do, so that is why they would sometimes drive by a passenger. They felt they didn’t have the ability or the skills to do what they needed to do. That is where the training has been particularly important. There are obviously business benefits to them. We are now working with one of the local authorities to look at a community card pilot, where taxis can help to support people going to day centres. That gives greater personalisation and at a reduced cost, which is obviously beneficial.
Q202 Chair: Mr Thompson, do you have any complaints about taxis and private hire?
Bruce Thompson: Yes. We work closely with the taxi licensing offices, which are of course in the district councils. One of the issues in a rural area is that the number of wheelchair accessible taxis can be quite small. The concept that somebody can go from wherever to wherever, perhaps by train, and then pick up a disabled taxi at the other end is not always possible. There is no requirement that there will be wheelchair accessible taxis within a taxi or private hire fleet. That is one of the main sources of complaint we get. The other is that wheelchairs are not always secured correctly in a taxi but sometimes sideways, which could be highly dangerous.
Q203 Chair: Mr Golden, what about London?
Stephen Golden: TFL is the licensing authority for taxi and private hire in London. We have a very robust complaints procedure. We also carry out spot checks on driver behaviour, the deployment of ramps and their ability to use ramps. If they fail those spot checks, they are not allowed to operate until they either provide ramps that work or learn how to use them.
In terms of the complaints, we monitor them around a number of categories. In 2007-08 to 2010-11, we had a specific disability discrimination monitor. The most number of complaints we received was 12 in one year-in 2010-11. However, we understood, through anecdotal evidence given to us by disabled people, that complaints were being put into other categories. Failing to take a fare is something that we hear more often certainly than 12 times in a year. We have worked very closely with the taxi trade in London. We are in discussions with them now about providing further accessibility training. We are seeing a year-on-year reduction in the key issues of refusal to take. In 2011-12, we had 327 complaints, and in this last year, 2012-13, it had gone down to 189. We are working closely with the trade to reduce those.
Q204 Chair: What about wheelchairs on buses? Who should be responsible for making sure that wheelchair users can use the designated spaces and that are there enough of those spaces? Ms Chandler, do you have any views on that?
Liz Chandler: It is interesting and it is an issue that has come up at our customer forums-we are debating it in July. As far as we are concerned, the primary purpose of the spaces on the bus is for people who are wheelchair users although, if there is not a wheelchair user, people with prams and buggies are more than welcome to use them. We see that as the responsibility of the bus operators to take it forward.
There is an education job to be undertaken with customers though, because customers do not always clearly understand. What TFL has done to make it clear is something that we can all learn from. When we speak to the main operators in Merseyside, what they say is that their drivers are advised to speak to customers, but if there is a conflict situation at a certain stage, they will back down. We do feel that there is an education element that needs to be done with all customers.
Q205 Chair: Mr Golden, there are fewer wheelchair spaces now that bendy buses have gone. Is that an issue?
Stephen Golden: I would not say there were fewer wheelchair spaces. The articulated bendy buses enabled wheelchair users to travel in spaces on that bus that were not designated wheelchair spaces.
Q206 Chair: Let us say more wheelchair users were able to travel on the buses before than they are now.
Stephen Golden: We recognise that this is a particular issue. We carried out lots of research last year. We launched a new campaign in November that, working with colleagues at the Department for Transport and with disabled people’s groups, we have deployed around the network. There is new signage on buses and at bus stops that we are piloting this year to see its effectiveness. We have done some additional briefings with our bus operators. Most importantly-what Ms Chandler said is absolutely right-one of the things that we learned from the Olympics is that if other bus users understand the needs of disabled users, that has a huge impact on how accessible their journey is.
Mumsnet has been looking at this campaign and working with us in the research that we did for it. It and the people who comment on Mumsnet are very supportive of the wheelchair users’ priority for the space. Although there is perhaps sometimes still conflict between people with child buggies and wheelchair users, I think there is a growing recognition that the space is the priority for wheelchair users among other users.
Q207 Chair: Mr Thompson, do you have any other comment on that?
Bruce Thompson: Not at length. The issue about buggies is a problem everywhere. There is buggy rage. Signage is part of the answer and, as was said, trying to ensure that the public generally are much more aware of that. On the plus side, our buses are now carrying a lot of wheelchair users compared with a few years ago because people know that they are virtually all low floor. That is really enabling a lot more wheelchair use, so there is a positive there as well.
Q208 Chair: Is there any one thing you would like the Government to do to assist you or the operators to help disabled people access public transport more easily?
Stephen Golden: One of the things we can congratulate the Department for Transport on is that last December it published its Accessibility Action Plan. I would make a huge plea to the Government to deliver on those actions in the action plan, because if you do that, you will move accessibility forward on the transport network quite considerably. So provide the appropriate funding for the delivery of that action plan.
Apart from funding, what would we like Government to do? If you do not have funding at the moment, please consider funding in the future, as it is still something that needs to be discussed and debated because you can’t make some parts of the network accessible without significant investment.
Q209 Chair: Are there any further views or comments on that? Do you agree?
Liz Chandler: I would endorse what Mr Golden has said. Obviously there is planning legislation but, although there is a view about getting rid of some of the bureaucracy with planning, we must ensure that transport accessibility is considered. We learned from the Paralympic Games that there was sustainable transport. We know that that will benefit customers who have disabilities. We must ensure that the profile of transport and the importance of accessibility are mainstreamed into other Government Departments. We must not just focus on the Department for Transport, but consider other Government Departments as well and get the message out.
Q210 Chair: Thank you. Mr Thompson, you have the final word.
Bruce Thompson: At a time when bus support might again be under threat with difficult budgets next year, there is a growing realisation of the value of bus services generally. Bus services are an equality issue. The importance of maintaining supported bus services and having the funding to do so is absolutely vital.
Chair: Thank you very much. Thank you for coming and answering our questions.
<?oasys [np[pg6,cwe1] ?>Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Ewan Jones, Director, Community Transport Association, and Lord Sterling of Plaistow, Chairman, Motability, gave evidence.
Q211 Chair: Good afternoon and welcome to the Transport Committee. Would you give your name and organisation?
Lord Sterling: Lord Sterling, chairman of Motability.
Ewan Jones: I am Ewan Jones, acting chief executive of the Community Transport Association.
Q212 Chair: Could you tell us what you see as being the main challenges to giving access for people with disabilities to the transport network?
Lord Sterling: In the area in which we have been involved for 35 years, which I had the pleasure of co-founding with the late Lord Goodman, it is mobility. It has to be realised that for most people, listening to the conversation just now, when you have a disabled person, the whole family life revolves around it and for many of their friends as well. It is never one person you are dealing with. If you have one, you probably have five or six people involved in their lifestyle. That is often not remembered when it comes to it. I cannot comment on the wider front but, in the area we are in, mobility is, frankly, absolutely key to the general lifestyle. Also, there is the recognition of the public at large that people have to be very conscious to give them natural help and not being pushed to help. I heard just before various comments being made that, hopefully, there is this increasing trend following last year with the Paralympics of people being more conscious of disability. We support 50% of all the Paralympians, who have cars from us, and all the veterans as well. One sees it on a wider front, Madam Chairman.
Q213 Chair: Mr Jones, what do you see as the main challenges and main issues for community transport?
Ewan Jones: Community transport is very much about giving people access, mobility and choice. The challenges fall into a number of categories. Information on services is a problem, which is why we are trying to work with Transport Direct to provide information on community transport that will be accessible through the national and public transport planning website to try and help there. Accessibility of services physically in relation to vehicles is still an issue. There was an interesting question earlier on the definition of "fully accessible". There is no such thing in my view.
Access to services in terms of the geography and the location is still a big issue in rural areas. People may well be quite close to services, but if those services are not flexibly routed, very often they cannot access them. Cost is still an issue as well, again particularly in rural areas. We have problems with people who may well be entitled to and eligible for concessionary travel, but if there is not a vehicle they can get on or a service they can use, that entitlement is of little use to them. That is potentially discriminating against their needs.
Service planning and governance of service are less of an issue now, but certainly have been in the past. There are a lot of people who are professional transport planners or engineers, but we need to maintain the input of disabled people themselves in the design and delivery of services.
Q214 Chair: What about funding for community transport? Is it feasible for community transport to operate as a not-for-profit service, or should there be some other way of running it?
Ewan Jones: Community transport takes its funding from a number of areas. It will get grant funding. It will raise funding through fares. In some cases, it raises it through contracts. That varies from one area to another. In particular, there is a split between rural and urban. In rural areas, service providers rely much more on generating income through fares than is the case in urban areas.
The Community Transport Association and a number of other areas of the sector have been promoting the social enterprise model for a number of years so that operators can try to generate income through contract relationships with local authorities or other service providers. In that way, they are perhaps slightly more masters of their own destiny because they are not beholden to the precise grant conditions that apply. There is no doubt that grant funding is being squeezed more and more tightly and is more difficult to achieve. At the same time, local authority funding for supported bus services is being pressed very hard. That means that there are fewer supported bus services and also fewer commercial services, because they are not profit making in rural areas, which means there is more demand for community transport. The funding is being pressed, the demand is increasing and that is creating problems.
Community transport can develop new business models and can be funded, providing it can engage with service providers. Local authorities are sometimes keen to do that, but we still have problems outside the transport network. There are still issues engaging with the Department of Health, the NHS or the Department for Work and Pensions. We could do with a lot more cross-sector talking and benefits.
Q215 Chair: What are you doing to find different business models? You have spoken about the problems of local authority funding. If they continue, as they may well continue, what other ways are you looking for?
Ewan Jones: From our point of view, it is trying to educate, inform and train operators in new business practices. For instance, we ran the rural social enterprise programme. That involved bringing together almost £1 million of funding from a range of different funders to put business development managers in place in different rural community transport organisations. That was not just, "Here’s a grant." The majority of the funding that each got was loan funding, so they had to pay that back. We are trying to bring them into a situation where they are not just grant-reliant all the time, but developing longer-term, sustainable financial relationships with service commissioners.
Q216 Chair: There are some very significant changes in benefits for disabled people under way at the moment. Lord Sterling, how do you think the introduction of personal independence payments is going to affect the provision of the Motability scheme?
Lord Sterling: It has become very obvious, and the Department has issued figures-they are not private any more-on what the effect is going to be. Over 3 million people are going to be interviewed in the next five years, as you well know. It is an absolutely enormous number. How one is going to handle that is going to be absolutely crucial. There are obviously going to be quite a number of people-to say the least-who use Motability cars affected. They are going to be affected, frankly, because the 20 metres against 50 metres rule-I still call it yards-does have an effect on the basis of, "Can you walk more than 20 metres?", because that is the question that is being asked.
We always think of people in wheelchairs and so forth, but it is worth remembering, as I am sure you know, that probably almost the largest number of recipients in percentage terms have rheumatoid arthritis or forms of arthritis. Although you might be able to walk 20 metres or more if you want with arthritis, blimey it is painful beyond belief for many. Of course if it is rough or windy, you have these various areas to be considered.
As the rules are being changed, the view of our disabled governors-ever since the very beginning they have been trustees of Motability-is that, once it has settled down, PIP will be better for disabled people. It will be a fairer outcome than what it is at the moment, but we have to get to that stage, if you see my point. There will be a large number of people who are going to be affected. There will probably be quite a sizeable number who will be expecting to appeal against whether they should or should not lose it on that front.
Sadly, you have to go back to the 1990s to remember that, in practice, a huge surge of recipients of DLA to a degree was due to almost a form of self-assessment, to use the expression. The numbers went up dramatically from that period of time for those who received that disability allowance as it is at the moment. There will be large numbers. Later on, if you wish, I can give you a little bit of background as to what we are going to do as an organisation. We have been examining this for over two years now because of the effects. It is worth remembering that we have 620,000 cars on the road and we are over 12% of the whole of the British market. It is the biggest fleet of its type in the world, so we are obviously going to have a lot of people who will be affected. That affects the families, and that is why I keep coming back to it. What affects somebody when they do not have their mobility comes back to: who is going to take dad up the pub; who is going to get his newspapers; how is he going to get to work and back again? These are the sorts of questions to which we have to try and help to find answers.
As I have said, later on, if you would like, I will try to give you an idea of the sorts of things we have been discussing as to where we might be able to help on the transition side, but you can’t get away from the fact that a sizeable percentage of people will lose their DLA and they will not be able to continue to be on the Motability scheme. There is no getting away from that. The numbers will pick up in a different form in the years to come, but that is what is going to happen over the next five years.
Q217 Chair: If people have their current benefits withdrawn because of the new assessments and they are on the Motability scheme, will they be able to maintain keeping their vehicle while they ask for a reconsideration or an appeal? Is the vehicle withdrawn at that stage?
Lord Sterling: The Government have agreed that, once it has been decided that somebody has not reached the requisite number of points to be allowed to go on to PIP, they will have one month to try to rearrange their affairs. We have already told Iain Duncan Smith in meetings we have had of late-well, over many months now-that we at Motability would extend that for another month. One has to remember that, when you are looking at the sheer size of the fleet, if one is extending and you are getting no income in at all on a major leasing scheme, that runs into tens of millions of pounds very rapidly indeed. We will be able to do that, but they will lose the car. The car will then have to be returned to the dealer. Some people will just have to acquire the car from us if it is possible. They may well be able to club together with families to buy another car. The problem-it is a challenge; I prefer that word-is that most disabled people, other than those who have reasonable jobs, are right at the bottom end of the economic scale and therefore do not even have a borrowing position of £50 to walk into a bank, whereas what the Motability scheme does is in effect create triple A credit.
Q218 Chair: I would like to pursue this issue a little more, Lord Sterling. You said there were some short-term steps that you could take. Can you give us any more information? What steps can you take, if any, to mitigate the problem for individuals?
Lord Sterling: What we cannot do is provide them with a car once they have lost their allowance, because the whole basis of the Motability scheme is on the basis of committing the higher rate DLA, if you want, irrevocably over a three-year period, and they get provided with a car. In many cases, we now have nearly 3,000 different models to choose from. There are over 200 plus models. In practice, if we were to hand over a car, you give somebody a key and the only thing they have to do in that three years is buy their own petrol. We are even examining whether there is a way in which we might be able to help with that.
Once that flow of money, in cash flow terms, does not exist, there is no way they can continue to be on the scheme. That is what I call the general fleet. As you know, we deal with these special converted cars called WAVs. We reckon we are going to be able to find a way to help on that. These are the cars that are very heavily adapted. In practice, it is better to try to help them to retain that vehicle in some format. We have already had discussions with the Government. Quite a number of them are on the Mobility scheme as against the Motability scheme, which is where the Government play a major part.
Q219 Iain Stewart: I want to ask Mr Jones a couple of questions about community transport. You deal with a large number of local authorities. Are there any good examples of a local authority that has the model right in terms of engaging locally with disabled people about shaping the service and informing them of any changes-issues like that? Are there any authorities you can hold up to light the way?
Ewan Jones: Yes, there are a number. The Community Transport Association is a national body. It has members up and down the country who deliver services. What we are seeing now is the development of a number of regional or local authority area consortia, networks or forums-call them what you will. In some areas the local authorities are engaging quite significantly with some of these organisations, which in effect means that the groups that develop and run services, and who will liaise on a local basis and be influenced or driven by disabled people and community transport passengers, are heavily involved in that. A number of these groups are even developing to the extent that they are legal entities in themselves. In both Norfolk and Suffolk, the local authorities are engaging very heavily with the regional forums. Devon is another one where Transport for Your Community has developed and the local authority is engaging in a very meaningful way.
A number have made good use of the £10 million that was made available for rural community transport, both last year and the previous year. Rather than just disappearing into deficit reduction or something else, that money is being used to develop community transport. The Community Transport Association would argue that, by its very nature, it is about being inclusive. It is not necessarily specialising in transport for disabled people. In terms of developing services, as I did for many years up in Edinburgh, it is about making sure that all the services that are developed are as accessible and inclusive as they can be. Yes, there are a number of authorities. I have mentioned Devon, Norfolk and Suffolk. Gloucestershire is another one that has been quite innovative in the way it engages in terms of contracting with community transport. We can certainly provide more information on any of these and others, if you want.
Q220 Iain Stewart: That would be helpful. As you mentioned in an earlier answer, funding constraints are a reality of life at the minute. To what extent do you explore funding opportunities with Government agencies and private companies to help to support these schemes? I went on a journey in Milton Keynes on a PlusBus with a lady in a wheelchair. She often requires a bus to get into the shopping centre in the centre of Milton Keynes or to go to Jobcentre Plus. Is there scope for commercial retailers in the centre, Jobcentre Plus or similar organisations to help to fund the PlusBus system that we have?
Ewan Jones: Yes, there is in my view. There are sometimes challenges on the legislative front. For instance, section 19 permits at the moment are the most common form of operator licence that community transport operates under, but you must not operate on a profit-making basis, or incidentally to another activity that is carried on with a view for profit. You need to be careful there. That is why we are seeing growth in community buses run under section 22 permits, which is a slightly different form of operator licence. For instance, there was a commercial service that was not generating much passenger growth or revenue and it effectively ceased. Something new was then developed in its place by Third Sector Services in Gloucestershire called the V Service, which is run as a community bus. It is primarily taking people to the hospital and shopping centre. It has seen significant growth because they have developed the service around what passengers need and it can then access funding.
Earlier on we heard mention of the bus service operators grant. We were delighted that the work the community transport sector and the Community Transport Association has done means that the bulk of the bus service operators grant, which is nearly £5 million in England that goes to community transport groups, will still be available direct from the Department for Transport, rather than it being devolved to local authorities. We understand the logic behind localism, but that does mean in our sector, to an extent, a bit of a postcode lottery. If you have a good example of a local authority, as you mentioned earlier on, that is engaging well with the sector, that is all well and good, but ultimately there are examples of authorities there that take a different view in terms of how they want to develop. That makes life a lot more difficult for the CT sector to provide services for disabled people.
Q221 Chair: The future of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee is being reviewed. Do you have any comments on that? Do you think it does a good job? Would you like to see it changed? Would it matter if it was not there?
Ewan Jones: I had better declare an interest. For five years I was a member of MACS-the Mobility and Access Committee Scotland-which was the equivalent north of the border. I have worked with DPTAC, and indeed representatives from the CTA have been members of DPTAC for a number of years.
We have found it a very useful way of engaging the disabled community with Government and making sure that views are discussed, distilled and brought forward to the Department for Transport in particular. While the model itself is not exactly sacrosanct, there is a need to make sure that there is an independent body that can advise Ministers on the needs, views and wishes of the disabled community. While DPTAC will not be carried forward in its previous form, I would certainly hope that a mechanism will exist to allow the disabled community to articulate its views and needs.
Q222 Chair: Lord Sterling, do you feel you have access to an appropriate body to give you views of people who need Motability or consider your issues? Is this the way it is done or is there any other way?
Lord Sterling: From day one we have always had very senior members of the disabled community as trustees-literally from the very start. In fact, they have usually been the chairman of the whole organisation, and they still are, one after the other. They are people like Bert Massie, whom many of you will know, and others. I should have mentioned before that, behind me, we have Sir Gerald Acher, who heads up the whole of the major committee that runs most of Motability on our side, and our director Declan O’Mahony. They are in total touch. Only recently we had meetings with all the major disabled groupings to discuss the various ways in which we thought we might be able to help in this transition period. I am rather pleased to say that their reaction was that it was unexpected that we would be able to supply the sort of support we are doing, which is probably going to be at least over £100 million spread over the period of time.
One of the most important things they feel that they want-and which we are going to be setting up-is a special unit to advise people. We have people who turn up and say, "I have never had an insurance policy in my life. How do I set about it? How do I have a discussion about how to buy a car? What can I do?" It is as simple as that. Therefore, there are various ways in which we can help.
We have also had discussions with our disabled people and all the manufacturers and SMMT on the basis of different ways of helping. I know how often people talk about car dealers, but it is worth remembering that our dealerships right throughout the country are the salt of the earth. They are the ones who have direct contact with most of the disabled people who are using cars day to day, if there are breakdowns and they have to help and so forth. A lot of discussions have been going on with all the dealerships right across the land as to how one might be able to deal with some of these problems in due course and to help them relocate, or how they and their families get the form of mobility that they want. That is a constant operation and we have a very close working relationship on that.
It is worth remembering that Motability was started-it was something I insisted on-with all-party support. It has never ever been one party in any form. The senior members such as David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have all handed over cars. They know it backwards. We have had meetings with them on various fronts and with all the senior members of the Cabinet on the basis of people understanding what is going to happen in their own constituencies when these changes take place.
Can we do more? Of course, as much as we possibly can; but we are in very close contact with all the major groupings on that front. At the moment I think it is fair to say that the reaction has been very favourable.
Q223 Chair: If the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Group was disbanded and subsumed under a group looking at general needs, what would be lost? Would that be of concern to either of you?
Ewan Jones: My concern from the community transport sector’s point of view would be that an avenue of discussion and information and a link with the politicians who have an interest in transport and disability could be lost. I would want to know how that was going to work. We have submitted evidence; we have attended meetings; we have made presentations and provided information to DPTAC as part of the work that they have been doing over the years. We know that that has contributed to information that has gone forward to the Department.
We have also worked with the different officials in the Department who have worked with DPTAC over the years. We feel that it has always been a very good relationship. There has been something there, and we know that, if things come forward through things like the recent series of road shows that CT has run round the country with 400 or 500 people attending, with issues coming up about funding and accessibility of services, we can feed those into the Department.
In particular, what DPTAC has done is to take a step back and say, "Right, that is what the operators want, but what do the disabled people who are travelling need?" They have been challenging to us over the years as well and made us think about where the boundaries lie in terms of the services we want to provide.
One of the key issues is the ability to communicate with Government at a range of different levels. It has been very good on the transport and disability side. It has been very poor with regard to the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department of Health and others, where we have struggled to have that degree of communication. My concern is that, if something like DPTAC does not exist or there is no successor, we may lose some of that very good communication that we have.
Q224 Chair: Lord Sterling, do you have any views on this?
Lord Sterling: On all these operations, the Department we deal with, of which Iain Duncan Smith is Secretary of State, has consulted very deeply over the last year or so. One could not fault the amount of consultation that has gone on, not just with the advisory group but with different areas such as care homes or the blind, or whatever the area is. I can’t comment on this particular grouping because we are not involved in that, but on the other hand we are making sure that everybody is in the picture as much as possible. We have been in contact with every single MP in this House and in the House of Lords. There have been workshops. Many of them, of course, are out in their various constituencies. In fact, only yesterday or last Friday, Gerry and Declan were with George Young doing a handover in his constituency. Of course we have invited everybody, if they wish to do that, because we think it is particularly important for Members of both Houses to have an understanding of what this transition is going to mean in their own constituencies. As much as possible we are trying to get that message through. Are we perfect? Of course not, but we are having a go.
Chair: Thank you very much, both of you, for coming and answering our questions.
<?oasys [pg6,cwe1] ?>Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Iain Osborne, Group Director of Regulatory Policy Group, Civil Aviation Authority, Peter Duffy, Marketing Director, EasyJet, and Mark Hicks, Head of Passenger Services, Heathrow Airport, gave evidence.
Q225 Chair: Good afternoon and welcome to the Transport Committee. Could we have your names and organisations, please?
Iain Osborne: My name is Iain Osborne and I am group director of regulatory policy for the Civil Aviation Authority.
Peter Duffy: I am Peter Duffy. I am the marketing director for EasyJet.
Mark Hicks: I am Mark Hicks, head of passenger support services at Heathrow Airport.
Q226 Mr Sanders: What are the principal challenges of achieving equal access for disabled people in air travel?
Iain Osborne: We think that the legislation-regulation 1107-is a good piece of law. It has improved the situation. The principal challenges that we encounter through our role as a designated complaint handler and enforcement body are many and various. They arise to a large extent from individual people at an operational level taking unfortunate decisions. On one level we are talking about social change and it takes a while for people’s attitudes to change.
The biggest barrier that we have heard about from our discussions with disability groups is confidence. People with disabilities do not always know about the support that is available to them and are concerned about travelling. Only about 1% of flights are by people with disabilities, when about 10% of the population have those disabilities. People with disabilities do not travel so much.
Q227 Mr Sanders: Isn’t that a missed opportunity for revenue for the airlines or the airports if people with disabilities lack confidence to buy their tickets and travel?
Peter Duffy: EasyJet flies 300,000 customers with disabilities across Europe. To answer your first question, I would say there are three things that are important in terms of accessibility. The first thing is making sure we get clarity of information for the customer so they don’t feel stressed, as Iain describes, and they really understand what service is going to be offered. The second thing is getting to the point where there is proper pre-notification of the services they require to enable them to travel so that the airlines and airports can work together to make sure that that is delivered effectively for the passengers and to make their journey as easy as possible. The third thing is a wholesale improvement and awareness through training so that people can increasingly understand the issues that customers with reduced mobility face when it comes to travelling, to ensure that they can make those journeys as smooth as possible. They would be the three areas I would point to.
Q228 Mr Sanders: Presumably that involves a good deal of co-operation with competitor operators to ensure that that can happen.
Peter Duffy: The core services are provided by the airports. The fundamental role of the airline is to get the information about the passenger’s level of disability to the airport so that they can provide the appropriate services to take them to the plane and to take them from the plane. That would be the area that we would focus on and would make the biggest impact.
Mark Hicks: From us as the airport operator, I would absolutely agree with Iain regarding confidence. We are also looking at three things. We are looking at our people. Last year, some 900,000 passengers came to our airport, making us one of the largest providers of special assistance in Europe and also globally. It is about making sure that when people get to our airport, they are received by people who are well trained and educated in assisting our passengers to the best of their ability, and asking our passengers what they need of us rather than us making an assumption of what we think they need.
The second thing is making sure the process is as transparent and as open as possible. When people are researching their journey, which they often do via their airline’s website or through that of Heathrow airport, the standard of service they will receive should be as exceptionally transparent as possible.
Lastly, we must make sure that our infrastructure supports them through our airport. For example, in terminal 2, which is just about to open, we have the arrivals all on one floor. I am convinced that, when passengers travel back through terminal 2, they may have requested assistance on the way out because they have been used to using one of our older terminals; but, when they see that the arrivals are all on the same floor, I think they will need less assistance than those who maybe have to travel a distance.
Going to Peter’s point, pre-notification is absolutely essential for us as the airport operator to facilitate our airlines’ needs. At Heathrow, of course, we have 80-plus airlines now, assisting up to 20,000 passengers a week. We can do that only if we get really good information. We must also make sure that we are open to those travellers who want to be spontaneous. It is not all about the pre-notification. We want to make sure that people who have genuine needs through an accident while travelling are able to receive a good level of support once they get to the airport.
Q229 Mr Sanders: Mr Osborne, you mentioned EU regulation 1107. How much do you think that is driving change, or is it people with disabilities themselves wishing to travel who are driving the change?
Iain Osborne: The customer is always king. Legislation supports social changes; it is not change itself. We think that regulation has been very valuable, particularly in simplifying things. As has been said, it makes it really clear that, on the ground in the airport, it is the responsibility of the airport operator right up to the gate. That has reduced the number of handovers and it also makes it reasonably clear that people, subject to safety, have a right to fly and makes clear the kind of assistance that operators are obliged to provide. That does provide a baseline. It still leaves us with the confidence problem, because travellers may not know that they have those rights.
Q230 Mr Sanders: Is it not the fact that if you are flying from Heathrow, you can be fairly confident that there is assistance there, but it is the airport you are then flying to? My question to Mr Duffy, simply as an operator, would be: how do you ensure that each airport that you go to has the appropriate facilities to give the customer the confidence that they need to buy your ticket?
Peter Duffy: Before I answer that, on your last question, this is where regulation has helped because it has clearly laid out the requirements that airlines and airports need to begin to follow. Organisations such as ours can begin to audit ourselves against a set of criteria to understand if we are providing the right level of service. To that very question, the services will vary by airport. We have to be absolutely on top of what is available at individual airports. We need to understand the facilities they have, but we also need to be highly conscious of the quality of the service that they are providing and be feeding back where improvements can happen. It isn’t always about infrastructure. It is about the way some of these services are provided on a day-to-day basis.
We need to understand what is happening across all the 130-odd airports we fly to in Europe, and we need to make sure that we are then able to tell the customers with some level of confidence about the service they can expect to have. We have set up a special group of people to look at these customers specifically, to identify their individual needs, to work with them in terms of requirements for their journey and to make sure that on a route-by-route basis we are able to provide the service that they require.
Q231 Chair: Mr Osborne, what has the Civil Aviation Authority done to raise awareness of disabled people’s rights and to enforce compliance with operators?
Iain Osborne: We have two roles now. Since last October we have become the designated complaint-handling body, and for some years we have been the enforcement body. I would like to mention that the powers we have to enforce the legislation are criminal powers, which means that they are about sanctioning past failures rather than about changing behaviour, forward looking; and they set a very high bar. So we are working with DFT to get the same kind of forward-looking enforcement powers that we have for other consumer legislation, which we think would be a very good thing.
We have been working with airlines and airports on a whole number of issues. On pre-notification, we have encouraged travel agents to audit their processes and improve the robustness of pre-notification. We have worked with providers in airports to hand out credit card-sized cards to passengers to remind them about the importance of pre-notification. In the run-up to the Paralympics, we did a lot of audit work with the industry to make sure that arrangements were in place as they should be.
That is what we have done so far. Since we took on the complaint-handling role, it has given us a much richer source of information about what the issues are. I think it is fair to say that it has caused us to step up and invest more effort into this area. Since then we have set up an advisory group. The access to air travel group is a number of the disability organisations, and we are currently carrying on a market study of the levels of compliance across the industry. While the work we have done in the last year has been useful-for example, on Guide Dogs, we have made sure that all the airports have facilities-in the future we will be looking to take a more systematic stance.
Q232 Iain Stewart: During the course of our inquiry we have received quite a bit of evidence about damage done to wheelchairs that have been transported. They have to go into the hold as they can’t be stored in the cabin. I understand that the geography of an aircraft cabin prohibits the use of wheelchairs, but is there not a way that wheelchairs could be stored in the cabin during the flight rather than having to go into the hold?
Peter Duffy: I would suggest not. We simply do not have the space within a cabin to store such a specialist and-in a number of cases-such a large piece of kit. It can happen from time to time. Thankfully it is an infrequent thing, but it is very inconvenient for the customer when that does happen. We refund any costs incurred, but if you have got to a destination and your wheelchair is not working in the way you need it to, that doesn’t cover some of the inconvenience. It is the inconvenience factor that we need to bear in mind to try and make sure that the passenger has the trip that they need to have. It is a complex issue and it can happen from time to time, but I don’t think the answer is to put the wheelchair in the cabin.
Q233 Iain Stewart: One survey that we saw showed that 60%-three out of five-of wheelchairs carried were damaged. That suggests there is a fundamental problem with the way that they are handled. I am not saying it is an EasyJet problem but-
Peter Duffy: I can’t comment. They are obviously not EasyJet passengers, so I can’t comment on that.
Q234 Iain Stewart: It is across the industry. Are there any discussions going on in the industry about how you might be able to transport wheelchairs without damaging them?
Iain Osborne: There have been some discussions with regard to electric mobility aids-wheelchairs-which is coming from the converging point of view both of keeping the chair undamaged and also keeping the aeroplane safe. In our role as safety regulator, we have recently put out guidance about not piling baggage on and around these chairs. That has made some contribution. It creates knock-on discussions about how you fit everything into the hold, but we will manage those. That does not really provide a solution for the smaller wheelchairs, which are effectively handled like other baggage. It isn’t immediately obvious to me why such a large proportion of wheelchairs will be damaged, but we all know that stuff does get damaged sometimes in transit in aircraft holds.
Peter Duffy: Just to give you a sense of the scale, as I understand it, it is about one a month for EasyJet. We fly 300,000 PRMs a year, so the percentage is out of kilter with our experience.
Iain Stewart: I was not alleging that you-
Peter Duffy: That is just to give you some context. We are the biggest airline in the UK, so it is just interesting that we don’t see that.
Iain Stewart: The survey came from members of Trailblazers. They said that three out of five reported a problem, which suggests to me that there is an issue there.
Q235 Chair: Mr Duffy, I would like to clarify what you said about reimbursement for damage to wheelchairs. I think you said there was full reimbursement, but isn’t there a limit of £1,080 through the Montreal convention?
Peter Duffy: We look at it on a case-by-case basis. If we have caused damage to a customer’s wheelchair, we are not going to quibble. We are going to try to put it right. We want to do the right thing for the passenger. We will look at it on a case-by-case basis.
Q236 Chair: You are saying that you don’t necessarily keep to that limit if you think it is more.
Peter Duffy: No. We look at it on a case-by-case basis. If we have caused some damage and it is really clear that it is our fault, we will do our utmost for the customer to put it right. It has to be our fault of course; we have to have created the damage.
Q237 Sarah Champion: We have received evidence that there is lack of clarity between who is ultimately responsible for ensuring that a traveller with a disability has a smooth journey through the airport. I am interested to see if you differ on this. Who is ultimately responsible for ensuring that a traveller with a disability has that smooth transition from the airport to the plane?
Iain Osborne: Perhaps I can start as the regulator. It is the airport’s responsibility from a designated point outside the airport where the passenger can call for help-hopefully, they have pre-notified, but even if they haven’t there should be a help point identified-through to the gate, where they hand over to the airline, which is responsible for the passenger through to the gate at the other end, where it is the airport again.
Peter Duffy: While Iain is 100% right, from the customer’s perspective you have to understand the confusion. Essentially, you book a seat with an airline and you provide all your information about your individual requirements to that airline. You would think that perhaps it was the airline that would be responsible for seeing you through that process. I said at the start about getting clarity in terms of the services offered and who provides that. It is crucial because I can absolutely see how that confusion arises, but the accountabilities are as Iain describes.
Q238 Sarah Champion: Mr Hicks, I am sure that with the Paralympics you had an awful lot of liaison with various airlines to make that transition as smooth as possible. What are the lessons that you have learned and are you continuing with that negotiation?
Mark Hicks: Absolutely. A huge lesson that we learned in the run-up to the Paralympics around wheelchair repatriation was to ensure that the passenger is able to have essentially what are their legs all the way up to the aircraft door, and then certainly on their return back into the UK or to any destination airport they should have the wheelchair made available to them. Through working with our ground handlers and all the airlines at Heathrow, and indeed in conjunction with the CAA, we did a lot of work and a lot of training to educate people around why it was so important and why the chair going to the baggage reclaim hall was a problem for the passenger. It wasn’t, "We will just take you in an airport chair; it is fine; you are going to get there." We wanted to protect the dignity and respect for the passenger.
It is fair to say that the Paralympics was an absolute impetus for us to dive into some of these areas and realise that it was happening on more occasions than we would have liked. There was either a breakdown in communication, where the passenger may not have said they wanted the chair repatriated to them, or when offloading an aircraft it may have gone speedily with the baggage to the reclaim hall. We worked as a community at Heathrow for the Games and were able to reduce the occurrences from, I would say, around 15 occasions per month to two or three through collaborative work. When we are talking about 80,000 PRMs travelling a month it does not sound an awful lot, but what we were trying to do was make every journey better for everybody, and those 15 or 20 occasions were too many.
We write to each airline. We make them aware of what has been brought to our attention, and we work with that airline and ground handler on an integrated plan to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I would say that for the passengers at Heathrow that has been a noticeable improvement as part of the legacy of the Games.
Q239 Sarah Champion: Mr Duffy, what Mr Hicks says sounds wonderful. Is that your experience as an airline?
Peter Duffy: By and large it works reasonably well. There can always be issues with travelling and transporting that number of customers. It is a question of how we act on those issues and learn from those issues. It is how we do something about it.
Q240 Sarah Champion: Do you have a particular regular forum in which you do that or is it on an ad-hoc basis?
Mark Hicks: At Heathrow we have various forums. The main one is the AOCA to the airport-airport operators and control authorities-where I will present to all my airlines across all four terminals what has been happening in the previous month, how many passengers we have assisted and if there are any generic things that are not going as well as we would like between ourselves or anything the airport has done that may have had an impact with lifts being refurbished and so on. We also have a quarterly forum where we invite all of our airlines and ground handlers to a review of what is happening. That is separate from other forums, such as work with the RNIB to understand it exactly.
It is very easy for me and my team to work with our service provider to think about what we should be doing, but we want to speak to the disability groups to ask, first, if we are doing the right thing, and, secondly, if we are not, what we should do to adjust. Someone mentioned autism earlier. At Heathrow, we are very much aware that that is a group of passengers we want to look at in more detail to see what adjustments we can make to their journey through the airport to make their journey better. As I say, there are various things, but certainly monthly and quarterly we review with all our airlines and also disability groups.
Q241 Sarah Champion: Going forward, are there specific issues that you are going to address?
Mark Hicks: Yes. We were doing okay, for example, with blind and visually impaired passengers. Through some feedback we received just from passengers travelling, it became clear that we were not doing a good enough job. We wanted to understand where our shortcomings were and to work hard to fix those. We now have an action plan in place, which we are reviewing frequently, by inviting visually impaired and blind passengers for whom we had got it wrong to come and tell us and also to tell our service provider. We also speak to our blind and visually impaired passengers for whom we got it right to understand where there was inconsistency. It is fair to say that what was happening was that we were being inconsistent with our blind and visually impaired passengers. That is an absolute focus for us at Heathrow in the coming months.
Peter Duffy: At the airline, we have set up our own advisory group, which is chaired by the Rt Hon David Blunkett. It also has a series of experts from the sector. There are people like Ann Frye, who used to be a senior civil servant at the Department for Transport, and Ann Bates, who was on DPTAC. Not only do they advise us on the areas we should be focusing on but they also act as our conscience, essentially, where we can begin to review real customer experiences. We look at our customer satisfaction from those groups. We look at the complaints in those groups. They begin to help us in terms of our areas of focus and where we need to begin to improve.
Q242 Chair: Mr Duffy, EasyJet wants to phase out manual check-ins-assistance with luggage-and have automatic drop-ins, doesn’t it? Have you thought about the impact for some disabled people if they are in wheelchairs?
Peter Duffy: Of course we have. We have moved to online check-in-93% of our customers are now checking in online-but if you can’t check in online for whatever reason, you can continue to check in at the airport just as you did before. But when you start to do it you find it is much easier. That obviously applies for our PRM customers in the same way. If they don’t want to wait in the airport, particularly if they are not taking hold bags and they want to go straight to security and on to the gate, they will check in in the same way. If they want to check in at the airport, they can do that.
Q243 Chair: So you are not going to phase out manual check-ins.
Peter Duffy: No. You can still check in at the airport, but the process is to do it online first. If you can’t do it online, of course we will help you at the airport.
Q244 Chair: And you don’t plan to change that.
Peter Duffy: There are no plans at the moment to change that.
Q245 Chair: Mr Osborne, would the CAA be involved in looking at the practices of airlines in that respect?
Iain Osborne: If it emerged as an issue, it could be. Having seen press coverage, I am always aware that what passengers believe about transport is mostly from the media. If there are stories about it, we take it seriously, whether or not there is anything behind the stories. We have been monitoring our complaints. So far this has not really featured as an issue in the complaints that have been coming in to us but, if it emerges, potentially it is something that we could pick up.
Peter Duffy: It is a helpful thing. Normally nine out of 10 people can check in before they get to the airport. Going to an airport is a stressful event for many people, and having one less thing to do when you get there is good. If you still want to check in there you can, but most people don’t want to do that. That is what we are trying to do.
Q246 Chair: How many more disabled people are using aviation over the last decade? Do you have information?
Iain Osborne: I do not have that but we can write to you with the numbers.
Q247 Chair: Do you keep the information?
Iain Osborne: I can try and find out.
Q248 Chair: Can you find out, because we would be interested to know that?
Iain Osborne: Yes, I am happy to do that.
Chair: Thank you very much for coming and answering our questions.