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Transport Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 116
Taken before the Transport Committee
on Monday 3 June 2013
Mrs Louise Ellman (Chair)
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Bob Crow, General Secretary, RMT Union, Manuel Cortes, General Secretary, TSSA Union, and Siobhan Endean, National Officer for Equalities, Unite the Union, gave evidence.
Q249 Chair: Good afternoon and welcome to the Transport Select Committee. I wish to declare that I am a member of Unite. Can I have your names and the organisations you are representing, please?
Bob Crow: I am Bob Crow, General Secretary of the RMT.
Manuel Cortes: I am Manuel Cortes, General Secretary, TSSA.
Siobhan Endean: I am Siobhan Endean, National Officer for disabled people at Unite.
Q250 Chair: Thank you very much. How do you feel the Paralympics changed the experiences and perceptions of disabled people to travel, Mr Crow?
Bob Crow: It was a fantastic opener for people to see those with a disability, who were probably looked at before as secondary, applying themselves in the field of sport. In some areas it became the most exciting part of the Olympic games to see these people with disabilities who could compete and show that having a disability does not mean you have to pack up shop-that you can compete with the rest. It was a fantastic advertisement for what you can do if you are disabled. The only shame was that, as they were doing that, they were shutting down the Remploy offices. These fantastic people who produced fantastic goods for us were having their factories shut down and the work sent to other parts of the world for cheap labour.
Q251 Chair: Mr Cortes, what are your views?
Manuel Cortes: Just to add to what Bob said, I think it has provided excellent role models for disabled people going forward. The danger in this is that, having had a very good Paralympics that everybody thought went really well, we just forget about issues of disabilities afterwards. The cuts agenda that the Government are introducing, in our view, is having disastrous effects on disabled people, in particular when you look at public transport. At the moment many stations only have one member of staff, whether it is somebody who works on the platform or in the booking office. One of the outcomes if the McNulty review is implemented in full, if that member of staff is taken out of the station, is that there will be no one left behind to lend a hand when somebody has mobility problems.
Q252 Chair: Ms Endean, what do you think was the achievement of the Paralympics in relation to disabled people?
Siobhan Endean: Our disabled members have reported to us that, for a limited period, they were often greeted as almost national heroes. As people had seen those with disabilities participating and competing, there was a perception of capability rather than disability. The difference in perception was important in how they were treated while they were in their communities and travelling on public transport. But I think they believe that that national celebration of disability has been short-lived and it is now back to business as usual.
Our disabled members are saying to us that, during the Olympics, the ability to travel was greatly enhanced because there were temporary adjustments made; there were more staff available to help with them; and they felt they were able to rely on the transport system and so were more confident about using it. Their expectations have been raised and they feel it is possible to have more of an accessible transport system, but very few of the temporary improvements that were put in place remain, such as the extra staff available.
The work that the DFT Transport Direct team did with the spectator journey planner really helped them so that they were able to plan journeys and know where they could get on and off. They would like to see us build on that legacy from the Paralympics to make sure that we make the structural changes necessary to transport stations but also to retain greater improvements in staff.
Q253 Chair: How much training was given to staff then, and how important were the volunteers as well as the permanent staff?
Bob Crow: There was loads of training given to staff, not so much on how to help the disabled but more about where to point people with foreign languages who could not understand how to get to the sites around London and the rest of the country. But the contradiction that has taken place, Chair, if you don’t mind me saying, is that on the one hand we are being told we want disability champions-we are all for that-but on the other hand they want to do away with staff on stations. It seems a nonsense. The best way is to make every member of staff a disability champion, and then every member of staff would have to help every single disabled person in their time of need.
Q254 Chair: Was any specific training given to staff in relation to dealing with disabled people?
Manuel Cortes: Not that I can recall. To emphasise the point that Bob has made, I will give you a good example of some of the challenges that disabled people face when trying to get on a public transport network. If you go to Birmingham New Street at the moment and want to use a suburban line, what will happen if you are in a wheelchair, for example, is that they will put you on a train to the nearest staffed station and from there onwards they will put you in a cab to take you to the station that you want to go to. In future, if we have no staff in the suburban networks, what will be the point of people trying to use our train services? All you will have to do is cab them from Birmingham New Street to whatever station they want to go to. To me, that exemplifies that there are some real issues regarding access.
The other thing I have heard from my members is that, whenever, for example, you put lifts in stations, there is a notable increase in the amount of people with mobility problems-not just disabled but also elderly and infirm people-who use stations. If you are going to be taking out of stations the staff element that provides support for some of those people to use the lifts, for example, that is just going to deter people.
Bob Crow: The point as well, Chair, is that the McNulty report, as Manuel referred to, makes it so hard for a disabled person or worker. Now you are going to take out ticket office staff, so there will be no one on the stations to sell tickets, and no guards, so no guards on the train as they have taken them out completely. The best way for MPs to get a real taste of what it is like to be disabled is to get into a wheelchair today, go round the tube network and see how hard it is for you. All these committees are fine-and we want to play a full part in it-but you could do your own thing: get in a wheelchair for the day and go round the system.
Q255 Chair: Ms Endean, do you want to comment on this? We will pursue the issue of staff availability in the ticket offices and the points that you have all made in your evidence, but, in relation to the success of the Paralympics, as far as you know, were staff trained in disability-in being able to help disabled people-or was it just that there were a lot of staff around?
Siobhan Endean: Unite did quite a lot of work around organising staff who were at the Olympics and Paralympics. We were aware that many of them had been recruited at the last minute and we were not completely convinced that all of the training was in place. I am not aware of any training that was specifically given around disability awareness and would be surprised at how much training was given in terms of disability awareness. I would like to see more training across the board for transport staff around this issue. We organise bus and taxi drivers within Unite, and I am not aware that there was specific training given even for volunteers around access. But that is probably a broader issue in terms of the coordination of what was a huge event, as we know, and it is amazing that we were able to pull it off in the way that this country did.
However, the quality of training around disability issues is quite often no more than the fire regulations, and that is never good enough. We need to be able to see disability training, wherever it is provided, which is user-led, as Bob has said, such as getting in a wheelchair and experiencing what it is like to use transport as a disabled person. We try to build networks between our transport workers and our disabled members so that by learning from each other they can find ways to build their awareness. I do not think it is something you can cover in a onehour training event. It has to be an ongoing partnership between the two groups to build understanding rather than just training.
Manuel Cortes: I want to give you a positive example of where training was undertaken. Unfortunately, it was not on this side of the Irish sea but in Northern Ireland, with the advent of Londonderry being the European city of culture. We had a joint approach with Translink, which is the publiclyowned train and bus operator in Northern Ireland, where we used money from the Union Learning Fund to train people in sign language. To me, that was a good example and one that should be followed in other areas.
Chair: Thank you for that information.
Q256 Sarah Champion: All three of you have spoken very powerfully about the need for people to help with accessibility. Do you think it is possible to have accessibility without staff?
Bob Crow: Not really. A new station being built, for example, for Crossrail at the moment will be built to disability requirements of the law. The problem you have as well is that, in northern England, Northern Rail are the biggest training operating company and all of its stock is going to be illegal after 2017 because it does not meet the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act. But you can put a lift or an escalator in, for any one means, for a disabled person to get from service level to platform or platform to service level, but when it breaks down who is going to be there to help them?
Manuel Cortes: I suppose it is a oneword answer: no. I do not think it is possible.
Siobhan Endean: I would add that all of our disabled members want to be able to travel independently on an accessible transport system. We are all sharing the aim to get to a stage where our trains and stations are accessible. Our members say to us that they are confident about travelling, but they do not use the transport system because they might be able to get in to one underground station but they have no idea whether or not they are going to be able to get out at the other end. They do not have the confidence in the system and they need the access to staff members to support them, to be there for them when things have gone wrong.
Of course staff need to be trained, and it would be really helpful if they were trained in British Sign Language, though I do not think we are anywhere near there, but also it acts as a deterrent particularly around hate crime. We did a survey through the Action for Rail campaign and found that one in three disabled passengers that we surveyed had experienced hate crime, but 70% of them were concerned about hate crime.
The physical presence of staff means that they know that at least they have someone to report it to, somebody who is aware that disability hate crime is a crime, but also somebody whom they can turn to for support if that occurs. It would be great if they were able to travel independently across the transport system, but I do not think we are anywhere near that yet. On that basis we do need staff.
Manuel Cortes: Can I come back because I did give a very short response? It might be useful if I was to lodge with you some specific examples of the challenges that our frontline members work with day in, day out in stations up and down the country-some of the challenges that they see from the perspective of disabled passengers trying to get on to our transport network. I would be quite happy to lodge that with the Committee if you think it would be helpful.
Chair: If you would like to send us some information, it would be helpful.
Q257 Sarah Champion: Building on from the points you have made, as part of this investigation we have had various people come in with evidence. Some people are saying they have had fantastic help from staff; others are saying it has been appalling, and that very much colours how they view transport systems and whether or not they are going to use them in the future. We have been speaking about training. What support do you give your staff so that they feel trained and confident if they have a disabled passenger that they need to deal with?
Bob Crow: They are not our staff; they work for the employer.
Sarah Champion: I meant your members, sorry.
Bob Crow: We don’t give them training in disability; it is up to the employer. It is their company they are running. They are quick enough to reap the benefits in share dividends; they should be able to put something back in. But we aren’t just talking about trains here, are we? We are talking about buses as well.
Q258 Sarah Champion: Mr Crow, is that something, therefore, you are lobbying for on behalf of your members so that they do get the support and training they need?
Bob Crow: At this moment in time, if a person is on a station and needs help or there is a disabled person on a train who has given prior notice, the station staff put ramps on the train and get the disabled person off the train or put them back on the train. If you do away with station staff, there is going to be no one there to put the ramps on the train.
Secondly, for buses, it is even worse, because in some of the rural parts of the country they cannot even get on the buses. They have cut them back so much that when the buses turn up, particularly when it is school runs, they cannot even get on the bus. We think it is absolutely scandalous that persons, because of their disability, cannot have access to the transport system the same as anyone else would.
Q259 Sarah Champion: I completely agree, but that goes back to my first question. What I was asking was: are you doing anything to support your members so that they do get the training they need?
Bob Crow: We want all staff to have training. We are not opposed to it; we haven’t put up any barriers. Staff have to have proper training. Some of the companies have a concern about giving training that, if their members of staff have an accident, then they will be liable for that person who is going to be off work. Sometimes, moving someone about in a wheelchair can be a particularly arduous job. Our staff do not mind doing it and, so long as they are given sufficient training, are only too happy to help disabled people.
Manuel Cortes: I have two points on that. We as a union support the demands of the A2B campaign, which is arguing for the industry to fund a regulator so that we have a good grasp of what training needs to happen, ensure that training does happen, that there are regular refreshers across the industry, and, in addition to that, that we have a central point where all complaints by disabled passengers are lodged so that everybody has a clearer picture of what is happening within public transport and people having access into the network.
The other thing we have done is some work around disability training. This is not to detract from the very important point that Bob made. At the end of the day, it is the responsibility of the employers, but we have had a couple of projects funded via the Union Learning Fund looking at neurodiversity, looking at dyspraxia, and at issues like sign language-the example I gave in Northern Ireland and so on. At the end of the day, this will not change unless the industry takes it seriously. Unfortunately, it is going to cost money.
Bob Crow: We carried out a survey and it was carried out by all the rail unions, the National Pensioners Convention and also by Transport for All. The three key outcomes of that survey were that 39% of disabled passengers said they rely on staff assistance, a further 32% found it helpful, and the report has said that over 75% say the loss of staff will make train travel difficult, with over a third saying that it would deter them from making some journeys or may make travel impossible.
Q260 Chair: I think, Mr Crow, we do have some of that information. Ms Champion was really pursuing what the unions were doing and we have had a response on that.
Bob Crow: But, looking at the end, Chair, 27% of disabled people have experienced abuse due to being disabled.
Q261 Karl McCartney: I have a question, and I am sorry to interrupt you, Mr Crow. Mr Cortes, taking you back to something you said in your opening remarks, you mentioned that a problem might be staffing at stations. Surely any organisation would realise that staffing is the biggest cost. Even in a union, some of your staff wage bills will be quite high and you might look at redeploying your staff. Therefore, would you welcome perhaps the technology that makes driverless trains a reality, taking those people who are the drivers and putting them on station platforms instead?
Manuel Cortes: I do not see what driverless trains have to do with people getting access to the transport network.
Q262 Karl McCartney: It frees up staff.
Manuel Cortes: With respect, Mr McCartney, it is neither here nor there.
Q263 Karl McCartney: You would not welcome that, then.
Manuel Cortes: Driverless trains, no.
Q264 Karl McCartney: Yes, and freeing up staff to be on station platforms.
Bob Crow: Would you like your wife or daughter to be on a driverless train that breaks down?
Q265 Karl McCartney: I was addressing my question to Mr Cortes, Mr Crow-
Manuel Cortes: I have answered the question and have told you it is neither here nor there. It is just completely irrelevant.
Chair: Wait a moment. Mr Cortes, one speaker at a time. Mr Cortes, you have given your answer.
Q266 Karl McCartney: I have a second question regarding something Mr Crow said, I think. You mentioned that MPs should have experience. I think I am speaking for all of us-although I am not sure what everybody has done-when I say we all have spent some time as a disabled person would have.
Bob Crow: I’m glad to hear it.
Karl McCartney: I wonder if you have had any personal experience you might pass on from a time you might have spent in a wheelchair using public transport.
Bob Crow: Yes, because my brother has been in a wheelchair since 16 years of age.
Q267 Karl McCartney: But, you yourself, have you done what we have done or not?
Bob Crow: Have I actually been in a wheelchair round the tube network?
Q268 Karl McCartney: I just wondered if you had or not.
Bob Crow: No, I have not been in a wheelchair round the tube because I have dealt with people who have to deal with this-
Karl McCartney: I’m sure you have, but I just thought I would make that point.
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Q269 Iain Stewart: To pick up on the staff training points that we have been discussing, I accept that it is the employers’ responsibility to provide training. Some of the bus and train operators that we have heard give evidence say that they do have disability awareness training for their staff. Are you saying that that is not the case or the training is inadequate, or could you point to a particular company that has a good programme in place?
Bob Crow: There is disability awareness training that goes on for most of the staff for the services that the companies require to have them on. For example, if you look at the East Coast Main Line, travelling the east coast, or Virgin on the west coast, if a disabled person gives notice that they are travelling, ramps will be put up and people will be there. But there is a contradiction taking place that they want to do away with the staff.
Q270 Iain Stewart: Forgive me. We have had an airing about the staff issue. With regard to the staff who are in place today, the companies say they get disability awareness training. I am asking, from your perspective, whether there is a particular training scheme that a bus or train operator has in place that is good and that other companies may be able to emulate.
Bob Crow: Most of them are adequate that have to deal-
Q271 Iain Stewart: But is there a good one? Is there one that is up in lights about which you could say, "Company x has got this absolutely right. We wish all other companies could follow suit"?
Bob Crow: Not absolutely right, no.
Q272 Iain Stewart: Who is top of the line? There must be one.
Bob Crow: The problem for disabled people is that there are restrictions put in their way because of the barriers. They find it particularly hard to get through barriers. It isn’t the same person who is walking through like me and you, who can get the ticket and walk through the barrier.
Q273 Iain Stewart: Forgive me, Mr Crow, but you are missing the point of my question.
Bob Crow: Have I got someone-
Q274 Iain Stewart: Is there one training scheme that-
Bob Crow: London Underground.
Q275 Iain Stewart: Is that the best one?
Bob Crow: In my opinion, yes.
Q276 Iain Stewart: What about the other panellists?
Siobhan Endean: We are doing partnership training with bus companies in London and developing an accredited system of training on leadership and equality issues. We can certainly forward you the details of that training. That is organised jointly by the employers and the unions. Particularly with regard to disability awareness, we are working with a bus company in Plymouth where there is a campaign around disability hate crime. That is really about awareness among drivers and also passengers of the issues of hate crime and what to do; it is about provision of information and awareness training. We can certainly forward you the information about that if that would be helpful.
Manuel Cortes: One of the biggest barriers for people getting on the public transport network is that at the moment, particularly on the rail side, nobody wants to be responsible for putting the investment in, for example, for lifts and so on. Disability campaigners-and there are plenty of them behind me today-are very frustrated that sometimes they are being told, "It is the local authority," then, "It is Network Rail," and then, "It is the train operator." What happens in the end is that nobody puts in the investment. If you want to make a tangible change, you need to look at how you resolve that conflict because nobody wants to put the money in. That is the problem.
Bob Crow: They just want to take money out.
Q277 Iain Stewart: You mentioned Plymouth, I think. We had a representative from Devon county council at one of our previous sessions and they had introduced a card scheme that people, particularly with hidden disabilities, can present to the bus driver or whoever to say, "I have a condition." Do you think that is a worthwhile scheme? Would you prefer to see a national scheme, or is it best left to each local authority to implement their own one?
Siobhan Endean: We would like to see a national scheme and we would particularly like to see something around the focus on hidden disabilities. One of the issues that our members have particularly is with the concessionary travel cards. People say to them, "Why have you got that card? You are not disabled because you do not have a wheelchair or a stick." The hidden disabilities issue is absolutely crucial. It would be helpful if there was a national framework, particularly around reporting and monitoring hate crime and the issues around access.
Obviously, delivery would need to be at a local level anyway, and one of the issues is about ensuring that people are engaged with it and feel participative. Particularly around taxi driving, we would like to see local taxi boards where you include the taxi drivers themselves, but then also people who experience disability, such as userled disabled groups. It also would be important for the local authority so that there can be a joint responsibility around these issues. That would be really helpful.
Manuel Cortes: Under hidden disabilities-because I think it is a very important issue that you have raised there, Mr Stewart-one of the big issues when you have ticket machines is that people with dyslexia, for example, find them very difficult to use, never mind someone who is blind, for whom they are absolutely useless. By taking out that staff interface, you are making it very hard for certain groups of disabled people to use our public transport network.
Q278 Karl McCartney: On the point you have brought up there, Mr Cortes, I would like all three of you maybe to give your feelings about what I noticed when I caught a bus while wearing a blindfold and with a guide dog. Most buses do not have automated announcements or even drivers who announce what the stop is or where they might be on the route, and you certainly do not know when you cannot see. Most trains either have automated announcements or the conductor comes over and tells you where you are or <?oasys [pc10p0] ?>what station you are just about to pull into. What made that change? Was that regulation? That is really quite national, isn’t it, on trains, but it certainly is not on buses. How do we make that improvement?
Bob Crow: I don’t think it is regulation. Certainly if you go to Wales, it is announced in both Welsh and English. So it certainly wasn’t regulation; it was more information. That is the real issue. At the end of the day, what the disabled-
Q279 Karl McCartney: But can we force bus operators to do it? I know it is your representatives who are driving the buses, but obviously it is the companies themselves-
Bob Crow: Yes, if they are prepared to spend on it or the Government are prepared to give more subsidies. You can be at some bus stations in London and be told the next bus that is coming, and you can be at other bus stations where they cannot afford it. If you are in rural parts of Britain, there is no information at all. Disabled people have to stay there and wait for something to turn up. But one thing is for sure: putting all the differences to one side, disabled people feel safer when there are plenty of visible staff around them.
Q280 Chair: Do you think the point that Mr McCartney has made is something that is the responsibility of the operators-for buses, bus operators, or for trains, the train operators?
Bob Crow: Yes, because Mr McCartney made a point about train drivers. My union represents train drivers, and I cannot see how the hell it would help the disabled, if a train with no one on it is going to break down in the middle of a tube, that a robot is going to jump out and all of a sudden help the disabled person.
Manuel Cortes: Announcements help people who cannot see. That is blatantly obvious. It works on the railway, so I think bus operators should be adopting that as well. But it is interesting to look at the Passenger Focus survey of passenger attitudes. To back up what Bob said, disabled people feel much more vulnerable when they travel. That came out in the Passenger Focus survey. If you take staff out of stations, in my view, you are going to deter even greater numbers of people from travelling.
Q281 Chair: Who should be responsible for making sure that disabled people with wheelchairs are able to use the allotted spaces on buses? We have had a lot of representations from people who say that they cannot get the wheelchairs in the designated spaces because sometimes buggies are there and the staff on the bus-the bus drivers-are not enforcing the regulations. Who do you think is responsible for that?
Bob Crow: It is the responsibility of the bus company that runs the bus because the drivers are on their own, driving a bus and responsible for taking fares, driving a bus safely and being aware of those around them. What happens is that people pile on the buses. If you cut back on bus subsidy there will be fewer buses, more people are going to pile on those buses with more buggies, more carrier bags, and someone turns <?oasys [pc10p0] ?>up with a wheelchair and can’t get on. The only member of staff on that bus is the bus driver. If he or she cannot cope, all they can do is stall the bus and ask for assistance, and then people are waiting 15, 20 or 30 minutes for someone to turn up. So it is the bus companies: they should put more buses on and make more buses disabled-friendly.
Siobhan Endean: This is the one issue that causes our members who are bus drivers the greatest concern and frustration, and they do raise this issue, as you say, quite a lot. We would like to see a return to more bus conductors so that the driver was not the only person on the bus. But, also, there needs to be a clearer understanding, and I am aware of the campaigns that are going on in London to make sure that everybody is aware that it is regulation that requires the bus drivers to ensure that the wheelchairs have priority and sole use of the disabled spaces.
There simply is not an awareness out there among the public yet and we have a long way to go. We are developing strategies with our disabled members and bus drivers to look at how we can increase awareness of that issue. But, at the end of the day, if there were bus conductors-or more bus conductors-as well as the driver, it would inevitably help with that situation.
Q282 Chair: What about people using different modes of travel? Let us say a disabled person who may have been on the train gets off and wants to catch a bus. Should it be the responsibility of the transport worker at the station to take them to the bus or make sure that they catch it?
Bob Crow: If that was part of their job, our members would not oppose it. They can only have that if there is a joinedup transport system, but the reality is that once the person-
Q283 Chair: As it is at the moment, whose responsibility should that be?
Bob Crow: At the moment, it is the responsibility for the landlord-e.g. the person who owns that particular train operating company-to get them to the access point of that train operating company, and after that it is either left to good will or they make their own way. We would like to see one joinedup transport system so that, whether you went from John O’Groats down to Devon or from Brixton to Clapham, it would be the responsibility of the transport network to get you there.
Q284 Chair: I want to focus at the moment on the current situation. Are you saying that it is a matter of good will-that it will not be anybody’s responsibility?
Bob Crow: Yes. It is a matter of good will. On the London underground, if you walk down to Westminster station across the road here, you will see station staff taking someone who has visual difficulties to the train and putting them on. But once they get to the barrier of the door, yes, no doubt, there will be good will from people who say, "I will wait <?oasys [pc10p0] ?>till a bus stops for you," but, if that person is responsible for the ticket office as well, then if he got into disciplinary action, the first thing the train operating company would say would be, "Why did you leave your post?"
Manuel Cortes: I have nothing to add.
Q285 Chair: Ms Endean, do you have any views on that?
Siobhan Endean: We have looked into this a little bit and, particularly from the bus driver’s point of view, it is an issue about whether there is awareness about different rail connections if you are driving a bus, because, of course, we do not have a joinedup transport system. Bob is absolutely right that it would be great if you could have that doortodoor transport and you were aware that there were connections; that would be really good. But we think that the complexities of timetables would make it pretty difficult for bus drivers to be aware of all those connections.
As a minimum, training could be built into the route training so that when a driver learns the route they are going to be taking there is information about where accessible stations are so that they are aware of that information. But, of course, they have other responsibilities, and it would be important that that was then built into their job description and also their training. A structural shift would be needed to ensure that that happened.
Q286 Karen Lumley: I want to go back to the buses. I spent some time on a bus last week with a friend. The bus driver did not actually seem to have the confidence to ask people to move their buggies. What more do you think could be done to help the training for them?
Siobhan Endean: There could be training but also awareness campaigns. At the moment there is a lack of awareness among the public. All they are concerned about is the fact that their bus is going to be late, and all the people with buggies are concerned about is the fact they have waited till 10.30 to avoid the rush hour and cannot then get on a bus. It is that kind of conflict, at which point the wheelchair user and the bus driver become the focus of a debate, which people do not understand, when legislation or regulation is required to be put in place. There is a campaign on in London at the moment that makes sure people are aware of that; and I think it is just an awareness among the general public.
Perhaps a campaign on Mumsnet and involving parents in that campaign would be helpful. It is something that we are looking at at the moment. From our perspective, it is about us connecting up bus driver members with our disabled members to ensure that they are working together to spread that awareness; but it is communitybased campaigning that we need to do.
Q287 Karen Lumley: In most of our towns we have local disabled access groups and things like that. Do you think it would be useful for bus drivers to take part in that kind of activity? It does not happen in my town-I know that-but it may be that sort of thing-
Bob Crow: When is the bus driver supposed to do that when they have been at work all day?
Q288 Karen Lumley: In their spare time.
Bob Crow: In their spare time-I wonder-
Q289 Chair: Mr Crow, we want you to give your views; you mustn’t ask the members. That is okay, but-
Bob Crow: I have given you my views. A bus driver has done 45 or 50 hours’ work and then you want them to go and do this in their free time, in the rest of their time. Why don’t we see the managing directors of these companies doing a bit of access as well?
Q290 Karen Lumley: Quite right. I am not saying that they should not do that as well.
Siobhan Endean: Bob has raised an important point. In a project that we did between a local community in Blackpool and the bus company, it was the chief executives who took the lead on that. It was a joint awareness between the disabled community and the bus company, from chief executive down, about the needs of disabled people in ensuring that they had access to the transport. It is only an agreement, but whether or not it leads to action by that company is yet to be seen.
Q291 Sarah Champion: Mr Crow, through experience and also evidence we have had here, we have had a number of examples of taxi drivers who just keep on driving when disabled people are trying to hail them. They just keep on driving. What is your position on the Law Commission’s interim proposals for a duty for taxi drivers to stop to pick up disabled passengers?
Bob Crow: We would support it as long as it is fair and equitable and that minicabs do the same thing as well, because it is the registered taxi drivers in the main-
Mr Sanders: No.
Bob Crow: -who have spent a hell of a lot of money. We are talking about hailing down.
Q292 Mr Sanders: You cannot hail a minicab.
Bob Crow: No, you cannot hail a minicab down, so what happens is, at the end of the day, it is left for the taxi drivers purely to carry disabled workers, which they do not mind doing. They spend and invest a hell of a lot of money, have a lot of security checks into themselves, and, by the same token, they are the ones who are expected all the time to pick up disabled workers, where the minicabs do not do it because their cars are not appropriate to pick up disabled workers. What we should be looking at is more disabled-access cars or taxis to pick disabled people up and more schemes such as those Computer Cab and DialaCab have so that disabled workers can be picked up and taken from door to door.
Q293 Sarah Champion: Do you think that a national accessibility code of practice for taxi drivers and minicab drivers would help clarify the expectations?
Bob Crow: Yes. I would like to see that come in and also the same checks on criminality that apply to registered taxi drivers being applied to minicab drivers. Also, how would you get on with rickshaws? That would be another one, wouldn’t it?
Q294 Chair: The question is-
Bob Crow: One of our friends got strangled by one in Edinburgh; a scarf got caught round their neck and a scaffold pole and hanged them, so that is why we don’t like rickshaws.
Chair: If there are no further questions, thank you very much.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Dai Powell OBE, Chair, Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), and Chris Holmes MBE, Disability Commissioner, Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
Q295 Chair: Welcome to the Transport Select Committee. Could I have your names and organisation, please?
Chris Holmes: Good afternoon. I am Chris Holmes, Disability Commissioner at the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. Before that I was director of the Paralympic games at London 2012.
Dai Powell: Good afternoon. I am Dai Powell, chair of DPTAC, the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee.
Q296 Chair: Thank you very much. What would you say have been the main achievements in improving transport facilities for people who have disabilities over the last five years?
Chris Holmes: If I may-and feel free to say no if you want-
Chris Holmes: I want to cover a couple of the issues raised in the previous session in terms of the Paralympic games, the impact and all the questions around training. Though not specifically linked to some of the transport staff, we did a huge amount of work in terms of training with all of our volunteers, the London Ambassadors, and also with a number of the staff particularly across Heathrow and all the transport there. The point could not come across more strongly that training is absolutely at the core of so much of this stuff, enabling the staff to have the comfort to have an understanding of the issues, which then gives them the confidence to be able to act and perform their role absolutely superbly for disabled as well as nondisabled passengers and customers. That is an important point from the previous session.
In terms of the last five years, there have certainly been a number of significant improvements. Our DHI inquiry showed particularly things like the 995 stations that now have safe station status, so disabled people can feel much more comfortable and confident to access those stations because they are covered by CCTV and the like. Again, the crucial point there is that, whenever a change is made that benefits disabled passengers, it will absolutely benefit all passengers, as again was discussed in the earlier session in terms of the iBus system and the "talkie" announcements on the buses. That is fantastic for me if I am on a bus, but it is just as useful and effective for so many passengers, particularly if you take the London example, where pretty much nobody knows where they are; to have that information coming to people benefits everybody. When a change is made that benefits disabled people, it benefits everybody who is using that transport mode.
Q297 Chair: Thank you, Mr Holmes. Mr Powell, what do you see as the main achievements?
Dai Powell: The main achievement in the last five, 10 or even 15 years has been in the infrastructure itself. The hard infrastructure for public transport has improved beyond recognition from where it was 15 years ago. What is left now is how we join that all up-what happens next? The big issues lie in what comes once the infrastructure is accessible or on the way to being accessible. What do we do to make more disabled people feel comfortable and able to travel?
Q298 Mr Sanders: In terms of priority areas requiring action to improve access to transport, how do these differ in different parts of the country?
Dai Powell: There is a huge difference in different parts of the country. There is a huge difference between urban and rural, and there is a difference across the geographical areas. While localism can be very good to get things done on the ground, for disabled people there needs to be a level of consistency within the system. If you have a certain disability and need access to information, that information needs to be consistent wherever you are in the country if you want to be able to plan your journey. One of the most important things is to try to get consistency of information, delivery and design wherever you are in the country so that people feel confident. At the end of the day, it is all about more disabled people being comfortable and able to travel. We need that level of consistency across the country.
Chris Holmes: To build on that-it comes out of the localism agenda, really-there are great pieces of practice out there, but it is then about mainstreaming that, making localism go global so that you learn from those good practices and enable them to go countrywide. Certainly there are massive differences geographically and across different transport modes, but there is great learning that can be shared across the piece-stuff that is already happening at the moment-which would make a massive difference if it was shared across the country.
Q299 Mr Sanders: Given that there are probably some very good examples out there, who has the responsibility to get that across to the areas that are <?oasys [pc10p0] ?>not so good? Who should take on the job, first, of passing on best practice and, secondly, putting that best practice into practice in the areas that are not practising it?
Chris Holmes: The crucial point is that there are a number of organisations who have this, from the DFT down to individual private companies and other bus services that are run by public authorities. So it is a shared responsibility, but everybody has to take that. One of our recommendations that came out of the Disability Harassment Inquiry was the sense that probably the key point is that everybody does take ownership for this. There has to be leadership from the top, but everybody has to take ownership for this, otherwise it will just become a constant inspector kind of regime, which will never deliver best practice on the ground and never enable more disabled people to use public transport because it will not have been taken on board.
Q300 Mr Sanders: Chris, when you say "the top", who do you see as being the top?
Chris Holmes: If you took the top, you would have to look to the Department.
Q301 Mr Sanders: You would see it as a task for the Department for Transport.
Chris Holmes: I think they have an important role, yes, and the Minister to lead that.
Q302 Chair: Mr Powell, what is your view on that? Is enough done to promote best practice?
Dai Powell: It should be driven from the Department. The Department has a responsibility to both collate and disseminate best practice. It is an area where we have not been that successful over a number of years. If we want to look at what the criteria is, what we are aiming for and what the outcome is, the outcome has to be more disabled people travelling, more disabled people in work and college, and fewer doctors having to treat people at home because they can go out and about.
We need to be able to monitor how you get to that. While we have done a lot with the infrastructure, we have not shouted that loudly about what the improvements in the infrastructure have been. The DFT has a very strong role in disseminating that. I agree that it has to be leadership at a local level to understand what can be done. It is not always about extra financial resources; it is about how you rearrange something, how you take that responsibility and get on top of it.
Q303 Karl McCartney: I want to go back, if that is possible, Mr Holmes, to something you brought up as referring to the previous session, where I perhaps did not get as constructive answers as I was hoping to after some of the political sparring and point scoring that had gone on earlier on in that session. I asked a specific question about trains and the fact they have announcements, which help those who are blind and visually impaired and, as you have said, help all <?oasys [pc10p0] ?>passengers. I want to find out how it came about that virtually right across the nation all trains have that but we do not have that on buses. I want to find out if you think, from some of the things you have said now, it is a localism agenda or whether it is something for the Minister to do, or that it really does need some regulation.
Secondary to that, my experience with a lovely young guide dog was that the design of the bus was not particularly helpful. I know that all buses are not designed the same in that first 12 or 15 feet, and, maybe, if there was regulation to make sure that buses were mostly the same, it would help those who are disabled or unfortunately cannot access transport as much as others. I am sorry that was quite a long question; there are loads of things in there.
Chris Holmes: It is only fair for you to be able to have some words in this session, having not been able to get them all out in the previous one.
What you see on the rail and across the vast majority-if not the totality-of the bus network in London is that excellent system of announcements, which, as you say, benefits everyone. One would hope that this could come about through everybody watching that, seeing that it works, not just for disabled people, but it benefits everybody and people feel more comfortable and more confident to use public transport. When you get those announcements, people feel a greater sense of safety in that there is a sense of more control on that public transport, which is a really important point as well. One would hope that all transport operators would see the benefit and want to have that on their system. If they do not, then it does very much go to the question of regulation to enforce that.
Q304 Karl McCartney: I am going to interrupt you to say that not only would there be benefits but also the management will see a cost implication. It will not happen by osmosis, I think, that they will willingly spend that money to improve the service that they provide for all their potential passengers. Do you think there needs to be regulation to force them to spend that money?
Chris Holmes: If they are not able to see the benefits on the other side of the costs-you are right that there is a cost implication-such as the increased passengers, thus more in the fare box, and if that does not come about, it is a legitimate area to look at regulation.
Dai Powell: The PSVAR-the regulations-for buses missed a trick when they were passed. The cost of retrofitting audiovisual in a bus is around £2,000. A new double-decker bus in London would cost £190,000. There is a cost to industry-and I am in the bus industry, so I understand that one-but the benefits far outweigh it. As to what has happened with the accessibility regulation, it is very good that the Department is putting an end date on when something should happen. There is a leadin time by which the industry knows that it has to get up to speed and get this in place. There is no reason why we cannot have a leadin time on AV-audiovisual-on buses and set that agenda, that, by a certain date, all buses should have to have AV. It will concentrate the mind and improve the passenger journey.
Q305 Karl McCartney: You will see certain standards set. I do not think it is just an announcement of when a bus is stopping. Talking to people who work with and those who are guided by dogs, they say that part of the problem is when the bus does not stop somewhere; it just shoots past. The driver does have lots of things to worry about, but obviously then a blind person gets off the bus not knowing where they are and has to get back to the point where they wanted to be.
Dai Powell: One of the hardest things is when a bus-it comes over on audiovisual-is on diversion. If you have a learning difficulty or you are blind, that does not tell you anything. So, yes, we are agreed. We have the technology and that can be done. If we set an end date for it to be done, the industry will work towards that and will, in general, as it has in the past, work with us to achieve that.
Chris Holmes: With more training, I believe that that can better assist as well to enable drivers to feel they are providing a quality service to all their passengers, which will make them feel better about their working day. They may feel they have done a great day’s work-they have assisted somebody. But there has to be that spark, training and ability to enable them to see somebody else’s perspective and to understand that they can have a positive impact on that.
Q306 Karl McCartney: I fully agree-though with the previous three witnesses who were in front of us I had not been able to say it to them-that it is actually the bus driver’s bus, that they should take ownership, and, if there are buggies that need to be moved or things that need to be done, in my mind it is the bus driver’s bus, though I know perhaps other passengers feel it is their bus.
Just going back on the technology aspect, quite a lot of people now have various types of phones-I am trying not to do product placement-with maybe the possibility for an app for individual bus journeys. I am sure, as you have mentioned, that the technology must be there to bring that forward to help people, but that is something bus companies have to pay for, isn’t it?
Dai Powell: Yes.
Chris Holmes: Yes.
Q307 Sarah Champion: Just building on your point, Mr Powell, you have mentioned AV, but are there other technologies that you think would be readily and reasonably cheaply available that could help?
Dai Powell: There are technologies. We have to look at things like journey planner, which we have in London, or other sorts of electronic ways in which disabled people can plan the whole journey. One of the huge difficulties we have is that every journey has gaps. Who is responsible for the gaps? Who fills in? If a person has come into a train station and is then going off on the bus, who is responsible for the bit in between, particularly when that breaks down? With good technology, we can have a journey planner that works. There is still work to do on Transport Direct and it is not anywhere near where it could be, but if it was that sort of thing in real time a disabled person would know exactly what is happening and what options are available.
Q308 Sarah Champion: To answer your own question, who do you think is responsible for filling in those gaps?
Dai Powell: It depends where the gap is. It has to be the provider of services, so where does it stop and where does it start? But what about a disabled person who is lost or when the system goes wrong? There was one case recently in a mainline station not very far from here where there was a diversion for passengers and they all had to go down quite a steep ramp. For elderly people or those with a mobility impairment it was almost impossible. Whose responsibility was that? It was the station’s responsibility, but no one took it on. That is, again, a leadership issue from the station provider. It is things like that that make disabled people less confident about travel. If they have a really bad journey, they are much less confident about trying to undertake that journey again.
Q309 Chair: How often does this happen, where people’s responsibilities are not pointed out clearly?
Dai Powell: An awful lot. There are an awful lot of gaps in the service where it breaks down. It is one of the largest issues. Very few journeys are single modal for anyone. You usually have to do one, two or three modes. The amount of time it has taken before we have got anywhere near any accessible taxi regulation is just huge. In a lot of modes people use taxis at either end. So it is the whole journey side of it.
Chris Holmes: You are driving at such a significant point here because it goes to whether something is viewed as just an individual provider’s operation or you get people together to view this experientially rather than operationally. This was a massive piece of work that was obviously tied into the Paralympic games, but it bears witness to this area as well that, if you are a passenger, a customer, irrespective of whether or not you are disabled, you do not care who the service provider is; you just want an endtoend service.
If the tickets are provided by one company, the cab by another, the train by another, the bus by another and then the final buggy by another, you should not have to care about that as a passenger or a customer at all. But it requires the joining together of that endtoend experience. That requires all the operators and the individuals to get together to enable that, to see that as a seamless service, so that passengers can smoothly move through that rather than having jolts. Things will always go wrong in any operation where you have those joins and handoffs.
Q310 Chair: Mr Holmes, who do you think should be responsible for ensuring there is that seamless service?
Chris Holmes: You have to get together the companies at the top level. Take as an example what we did at Heathrow. Heathrow was always going to be such an important element of the Olympic games time; it was people’s first and last impression of the games. It has always been tricky in the past for disabled passengers going through Heathrow because there are so many different providers there. We developed alongside them the concept of "Team Heathrow", where we got together the heads of all of the organisations who were in the airport-94 airlines in there-as well as the ground staff, the passengers with restricted mobility service, all of them, to understand how we could lay out a strategy for people going through that airport in a seamless way. Getting the people at the top and then having that filtered down through the operation is the only way that you can smooth over those gaps.
Q311 Chair: Is that being continued now?
Chris Holmes: At Heathrow, yes, there have been a lot of legacy benefits from that. Crucially, it is so much about what we are talking about now. When I was putting together the vision for the Paralympic games, it was not just to have an extraordinary celebration of sport in the summer of 2012. What I believed we could do if we got that right was make a fundamental difference-have a fundamental shift-in attitudes towards and opportunities for disabled people. Sport was at the heart of it, but that had to flow through into transport, employment and education. At Heathrow, you are seeing those legacy benefits from the work that we did with "Team Heathrow".
Q312 Iain Stewart: To follow on from that example at Heathrow, I also undertook a bus journey blindfolded from the centre of Milton Keynes to an outlying part. My colleagues have rightly highlighted the issue of audio announcements on the buses. One of the initial problems I encountered at Central Milton Keynes bus station, where there are many stands, was finding the appropriate stopping point in the first place. I appreciate that Heathrow is one big example, but there will be many bus stations or interchange stations where the physical layout of the stops will not be immediately apparent to someone with a visual impairment. Are there any particularly good schemes in the country where that sort of geography is mapped out in some way for visually impaired people?
Chris Holmes: There are a number of good bits of work. The RNIB are heavily involved in this area and there are a number of technologies coming on stream now. Again, I think technology has to be seen as an important element but always only an element of the process, alongside staff, physical structure, attitude and approach-all of that stuff. So there are good examples, but it is about taking what is done well-such as some of the bus system in London and what we did at Heathrow-and allowing other organisations or providers across the country to get a glimpse into this to enable them to understand that often this is not as difficult as they think it is.
It is not about trying to be glib and pretending there is not any cost or training attached to doing this, but it is enabling people to see that it is possible, to show them what good looks like. It does take them some way down the track to seeing that they can get towards it.
Dai Powell: Information and training are key to making the whole system work and also involving disabled people in that training. Particularly if you have somewhere like Milton Keynes, there will be a group or association of disabled people there. So involve whoever is running the bus station in how the signage should work. People are very happy to give their time to do that. It is not a resource issue. People are happy to get involved. The sort of thing that we need to make sure of is that staff at stations, at any interchange, as well as staff on the modes of transport themselves, have a level of training, understanding and empathy.
Going back to what your colleague said earlier about the buses, the bus is a service industry and we should look at it as a retail industry. That is what we should look at it as. Everyone in any retail industry is very polite, good and helpful to their customers, otherwise the customers will not use the service again. We need to get the base strongly. What is the industry we are talking about? It is not a heavy engineering thing; it is actually customer service.
Q313 Chair: Mr Powell, if DPTAC-the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee-was abolished, what would be lost?
Dai Powell: I thought that might come. A lot of expertise would be lost, obviously. DPTAC is pan-disability. It is not a lobbying group; it is there to advise Government and Ministers and work with industry to bring all parties together to improve transport for disabled people. By having the remit it has, it can work with a lot of other disabled organisations, but it is not controlled by anyone. That impartiality would be lost because, with any changes you are going to make, there is conflict within a disability as well-among certain impairments, as there is bound to be-and there is conflict with resource and with industry and what can be afforded.
What DPTAC does is very unique in that it has been able to hold that middle ground and advise the Government, the Department and industry as well on what the needs are, both now and in the future, and what can be done. It is under threat and it has been under threat for quite a few years. We have had two reviews of DPTAC, both of which have said that it should remain, but we still wait and see.
Q314 Chair: Can you give us any examples of what DPTAC has achieved?
Dai Powell: Good Lord, yes: accessibility on the rail network, the bus network and hopefully soon on the taxi network. The taxi network is the crucial one. If there is one question I would like to be answered it is that currently we are working with the Law Commission on a review of all taxi legislation, and obviously the recommendations will come out of that. What we would like to see then and will recommend is that the Minister, whoever it is at the time or however long the process takes, actually enacts that and enacts the recommendations of the Law Commission.
Q315 Chair: Are the interim recommendations the ones that you support?
Dai Powell: No. We have been working on the interim ones. When the full recommendations of the Law Commission come out, we want them implemented in full to make the taxi service accessible. DPTAC works with the trade, so we have done a lot of work with the taxi trade on this, to make sure the taxi trade are on board, as well as working with other organisations and the Government and now the Law Commission. DPTAC has that ability to work in that space at-dare I say it?-a ridiculously low cost to the state to enable that to happen.
Q316 Chair: In relation to taxis, do you think that local licensing and local supervision is important to keep standards adequate?
Dai Powell: Yes. We are looking for a mixed fleet for any local authority area. We do not want to put any sort of extra costs on the trade itself, but there are ways that you can increase the number of accessible taxis. If a person wants to start running a taxi and there is only a certain percentage of accessible taxis, then you can say, "Yes, you may have a licence so long as it is accessible," or, where taxis pay a charge to use railway stations, you could have a differential charge between an accessible taxi and a nonaccessible taxi. The local authorities can use those fiscal measures without putting any burden on them or even asking the state to increase the number of accessible vehicles.
Q317 Chair: In relation to airlines, do you think the regulations are adequate to enable disabled people to travel when they wish to? There have been a number of highly publicised cases, have there not, where airlines have refused access?
Dai Powell: Yes, there have. Personally, the answer to the question is no. There has been a lot of improvement made. It is a very difficult mode to work with, partly because it is international, so you have to get international agreement for anything to do with airlines. We still need a lot more training done with airline staff. We need a lot more training done with certain chief executives of airlines to understand that disabled people are passengers like anyone else and should have a right to be on them.
Q318 Chair: Are there any specific aspects of aviation policy that are problematic for disabled people?
Dai Powell: Usually everything, from booking to getting on the plane. There are some good airlines out there-don’t get me wrong-who are very helpful and very helpful on assistance, but there are not enough. There still seems to be a discrepancy among different airlines. There does not seem to be a standardisation.
We could do with some research as to exactly how many disabled people travel on which airlines. That would tell us an awful lot. We need to do some sort of number-crunching on how many disabled people travel per se and whether it is increasing. Are we measuring the right thing? We measure the number of accessible vehicles, but that is just the input. What is the outcome? It is the outcome that we need to measure. "How many more disabled people are travelling, going to work, college or whatever?" rather than, "How many more accessible taxis do we have?"
Q319 Chair: Has any work been done by either of your organisations on collating the benefits and importance of transport for disabled people in, for example, getting to employment or to educational or social facilities? Has any body of work been done that brings together the benefits of travel?
Chris Holmes: We have not undertaken any specific work on that, but the point is quite clear. If you want to get more disabled people into employment, inevitably you cannot just look at the barriers in the employment, in the workplace. In getting disabled people workready, you have to look at transport as a key measure. I have two statistics, to keep my statistical references to a minimum.
A third of disabled people say they have difficulty in accessing good facilities, services and employment as a result of transport. So you have the economic benefit of the spend you will get from that. In the employment context, if employment rates for disabled people were truly equal to nondisabled people of working age, there would be 2 million more disabled people in work. Transport has to be a key part of that equation.
Dai Powell: We have not specifically done any work. That is not DPTAC’s role because we have never been funded to carry out research. We know the research is out there. We know that Passenger Focus is now surveying disabled people alongside its passenger surveys. The problem is who is surveying the people who cannot use the transport? Where are we getting the information from about people who cannot use it? If a disabled person uses the system once and it falls over, their confidence in their ability to use it again quite often goes completely, whereas other people might try two or three times to get it right. But how are we capturing that information? There might be some much smaller things that we need to do to plug the gaps to enable these people to use it, but we need to find out that information. That is the same with quite a few things. We do not know how many mobility scooters there are. Until you know that information, even informed advice, let alone informed regulation, becomes much harder.
Q320 Mr Sanders: On mobility scooters, that is a growing area and our planning system insists that certain developments should have so many parking spaces. Shouldn’t our planning regulations look at mobility scooters, particularly in sheltered accommodation, and have storage facilities and charging points for people with mobility scooters? My casework bag is increasing with complaints about people who are either having them stolen or damaged and are not able to store them securely.
Chair: Is that an issue that DPTAC have taken up?
Dai Powell: We have taken up quite a lot of the issues, not on the planning side, but we are very happy on that, because that is something we would agree with and it seems to make logical sense. There is quite a lot of work being done currently by the Department on mobility scooters and how you can carry them on public transport to enable people to get out and about a lot more. That is an issue that we would be very happy to take forward because that is excellent and logical.
Chair: Thank you very much. Thank you to both of you for coming and answering our questions.
Examination of Witness
Witness: Norman Baker MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, gave evidence.
Q321 Chair: Good afternoon, Minister, and welcome to the Transport Select Committee. Is there any statement that you would like to make to us before we ask you some questions?
Norman Baker: I have not planned one and I do not want to take up your time unduly. I would just say that this is an important matter for the Department. It is obviously a long, slow process to make the whole of the transport system as accessible for everybody as it should be. There has been good progress made over successive Governments, I think, and we are continuing that progress. You will have seen the accessibility action plan that I published on behalf of the Department last year, which I hope further reinforces our wish to make progress in this area.
Q322 Chair: Thank you. Have the Government taken any decision yet on the future of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee-DPTAC?
Norman Baker: That is a matter that has been subject, as you know, to considerable representations. I have looked at those representations exceedingly carefully. We have to be very careful what we do in this area and I will be making an announcement very shortly on that matter. I would like to have been able to do so today but internal Government processes have meant that I am not able to do so. I will be making an announcement very shortly.
Q323 Chair: Are you sure you are not able to do it today?
Norman Baker: I am afraid so.
Q324 Chair: We would be very willing listeners to hear what you have to say. Have the Government collated information about the importance of transport to disabled people in terms of getting to employment, educational and social facilities? Is there any information that has been put together that shows in detail how important this is?
Norman Baker: I will have to reflect on what we could let you have. We certainly monitor these matters. I am not 100% certain whether we have done it in a coherent way that makes a single document. There was a great deal of work done on that area for the publication of the accessibility action plan. We also took evidence from groups presenting to us with access issues and challenges as part of that process. We have also talked to bus and rail companies about their policies. I am not sure whether or not I can give you a definitive, composite picture, to be honest with you, but we are happy to try and put something together that would be helpful to your Committee.
Q325 Chair: It would be helpful. It is something that we all know is important and it is important to know that information has been put together. Minister, you have referred to the Government’s accessibility action plan. How will you know if that has been successful?
Norman Baker: We are monitoring it. We have a number of key points where we want to see some progress, which were the recommendations-the action points-from that plan, and we are monitoring those on a regular basis. We will publish an interim statement later on this year, and we will publish a fuller statement next year so that people are able to see what progress we have made on the areas of interest to us.
You will appreciate that these are, in some cases, actions for the Department and in other cases actions for individual transport operators or local authorities and so on, so we have to collate that as we go on. But I am very determined that this should be an action plan, not a document that sits on a shelf somewhere. As far as I am concerned, it is a blueprint for the future and a way of going forward. That is why it was very important to me, as part of the preparation of the action plan, to make sure that first of all we got engagement from all relevant parties, including those who are users of public transport services, but also the operators. They have all signed up to it and we expect each to deliver its own part as we will try to deliver ours.
Q326 Chair: It is thought that approximately 180,000 people may no longer be eligible for Motability cars because of changes in disability. Is that something that concerns you and are you going to monitor the situation?
Norman Baker: As you will appreciate, that is largely a matter that has been originated by changes from the Department for Work and Pensions rather than from the Department for Transport, but it would concern me if someone who has been able to get around is no longer able to get around. Clearly, we cannot deal with the Motability issues at the Department for Transport. What we can do-and we are doing-is to try to make sure that there are alternatives available through public transport and to make sure that they are as accessible as possible. That is part of our way forward.
Q327 Chair: What sorts of things are you looking at?
Norman Baker: Some of it is the action plan I have referred to, but we would like to get to the stage where people are able to use a bus, train or a taxi with confidence; that when they come to a station they have stepfree access; when they get on a train it is one that meets their needs; and when they hail a taxi it is one they can get into. That is where we want to get to.
As I mentioned at the beginning in my opening statement, trying to change, for example, Victorian infrastructure on the railway network is a huge challenge, but we are determined to make progress and we are making progress. Around 75% of all rail journeys, for example, by the end of 2015 will start or end at a fully stepfree station. That compares with 50% in 2005, which is very good progress.
Q328 Karl McCartney: Minister, congratulations on what has been done to the public network so far and on the improvements to the public network. Do you know what costs to the taxpayer Motability currently runs at per annum off the top of your head?
Norman Baker: The Motability?
Karl McCartney: Yes. What are the savings, if we talk about savings, with the decrease, if there were 180,000 people who are no longer eligible?
Norman Baker: As I mentioned, Motability is largely a DWP issue. Therefore, we have not been engaged, as a Department, in working out the savings or costs of that particular aspect. Our job is to try to make sure that the public transport network is as accessible as possible. In terms of the detailed savings for DWP, that is a matter you will have to ask them about, I am afraid.
Q329 Karl McCartney: You have no idea of any figures whatsoever.
Norman Baker: No, because it is not in any way a DFT matter.
Q330 Karl McCartney: Is it a DFT matter as to what sorts of cars are provided to use in Motability or not?
Norman Baker: No; nothing to do with Motability is a DFT responsibility. Our responsibility relates to the accessibility of public transport and also making sure that the general emphasis from public transport operators is one that is encouraging to those with disabilities to access.
Q331 Mr Sanders: The Government have decided that they will only offer one month’s Motability funding following a PIP assessment concluding that a disabled person is no longer eligible for a higher level living allowance. Is this something that has been through your Department? Were you consulted over this and do you have any input into this?
Norman Baker: We have not particularly been involved, as I mentioned a moment ago, in any Motability discussions, which are ones which have been handled by the Department for Work and Pensions. You will appreciate that the Department for Work and Pensions is engaged upon changes to benefit regulations, the introduction of PIP as opposed to DLA and so on.
Our only engagement with the Department for Work and Pensions has been where there is a direct relationship with the Department. For example, there is a small knockon consequence for Blue Badge holders from the changes that DWP is bringing forward. We have sought to make sure that the consequences for Blue Badge holders are as minimal as possible. We may have to look at the guidance on concessionary fares to local authorities because DLA has been replaced by PIP. That should not change the number of people who have access to a disabled person’s bus pass, but we have to change the guidance slightly. Where there is a direct interface among the Departments, we become involved. But where there is a matter that is solely for another Department then we have not been involved in that way.
Q332 Mr Sanders: In relation to transport for people with disabilities, you clearly have some responsibilities in that area. If another Department of Government has decided that the disabled person will have to rearrange their living and transport arrangements in just a month, irrespective of how many appeals, is that not something that your Department ought to have an interest in and be lobbying on behalf of disabled people for?
Norman Baker: We have an interest in making sure that people have access to the public transport system. That is our responsibility, I think. We do not have a responsibility for making sure that access to the private car in the same way is dealt with in terms of what the DWP would do.
I will happily make sure that my officials pass on the comments that have been raised here-because it is a matter of concern to the Committee-to the Department for Work and Pensions and they can respond accordingly. We generally try to encourage crossdepartmental working, and we encourage Departments to think about the consequences for other Departments of any steps that they take. I accept your point that it would have been perhaps more helpful if there had been a bit more engagement than there has been on this issue.
Q333 Sarah Champion: Minister, you briefly touched on infrastructure when you outlined your vision of a system where you could be guaranteed stepfree access and so on. Do the Government specify that all new transport infrastructure has to meet the universal design criteria?
Norman Baker: We specify vehicles that should meet standards, and those are set down in the Public Service Vehicles Accessibility Regulations 2000. That is a position we have inherited; we have not changed that. We are still keeping to the dates that were set by a previous Government for the time when all buses and trains will be fully accessible. We have made it very plain to the industry that those dates are not negotiable and we expect them to meet them. So we specify that for vehicles.
We try to make sure that when new infrastructure is provided, such as Crossrail, for example, we have as fully accessible an arrangement as possible. The difficulty sometimes comes about when you have a situation like Crossrail where some of the stations are not brand new but in fact share usage with existing train operations, where the rolling stock has been around for a while, but the new rolling stock will be of a particular nature and will be specified to be fully accessible.
The platforms may not be entirely on a line with the platforms that would be on fully accessible platforms elsewhere in the network. That is quite a long way of saying that we try to make sure that we make everything that is new as fully accessible as possible, but sometimes there are historical inheritances that make that slightly more difficult and challenging.
Q334 Sarah Champion: We have had evidence that people do not feel that Crossrail is as accessible as it could be, so you would agree with that.
Norman Baker: I would not agree it will not be as accessible as it could be, because we have tried very hard to make sure it is as accessible as it could be. There are a very small number of stations on Crossrail-I think it is about five, from memory-that will not be fully accessible in terms of stepfree access; but the vast majority of stations on Crossrail will be and we have tried to ensure that is the case. Stepfree access will be available at all new stations in central London and for the Crossrail platforms at Abbey Wood, and 30 of the 37 stations served by Crossrail will have stepfree access from street to platform covering a further two stations with partial step-free access. So 32 out of 37 will be there or almost there, which is quite a high proportion. The new Crossrail train fleet will, of course, be fully accessible.
Q335 Sarah Champion: Hearing that and the limitations, what assurances can you give that the HS2 network will be fully accessible?
Norman Baker: Again, first of all the trains will be fully accessible. It is easier with HS2 and I would anticipate that it will be fully accessible because we are talking about new stations all the way down the line and about new rolling stock. It becomes much easier to fit in accessibility criteria, to make sure that things are fully accessible, than it is to retrofit into an existing network, which is part of the problem with some of the Crossrail stations.
I should say that the House of Lords Select Committee, as you may be aware, Chair, looked at the nonprovision of stepfree access at two East London stations on Crossrail as part of the Crossrail Bill process. The position whereby we have tried to maximise the stepfree access was accepted and they accepted that there were limitations that could not be sensibly overcome on a minority of stations.
Q336 Sarah Champion: Going back to your original vision-that you would like stepfree access across the whole transport system-would this still be a driving vision for you?
Norman Baker: Absolutely. You will have seen that in the rail forward plans for Control Period 5, which is 2014 to 2019, we have allocated a further £100 million for the Access for All arrangements to build on the £370 million that is already being, has been or will be spent by 2015. A further tranche of stations will be improved as a consequence of that; we will seek to do so based on the footfall of the stations and the particular aspects of disability that may apply in a particular area-if, for example, there is a high concentration, that will be a factor-and also to get a geographical spread. Of course there is also the National Stations Improvement Programme, which Network Rail control, and that will also have some marginal benefits for rail users. We also have an arrangement whereby there is an expectation as part of the franchise that there will be steps taken to improve accessibility as well.
That is an onwardgoing challenge. I look forward to the day-I am not sure I will be here, or certainly not in the Department of Transport-when we do not have somebody with an accessibility issue finding it difficult to get on to a train or a bus.
Q337 Chair: When do you think that day will come?
Norman Baker: I hope that day will come.
Chair: When do you think it will?
Norman Baker: I do not know when it will come because retrofitting Victorian infrastructure is a huge challenge. If you have some stations where there is very little footfall, you have to ask whether that is the best way of dealing with an access issue for such a station. But I am confident that we will get to a stage in the not too distant future where the vast majority of train journeys will be undertaken in a way that is fully accessible to people.
Q338 Chair: Is there a target or objective that says when you hope to achieve that?
Norman Baker: There is not a target date by which a certain number or proportion of journeys will be made, no. But there is a driving forward, to use Ms Champion’s term, to make sure we make as much progress as possible. We will continue to do that by the allocation of sums of money.
Q339 Sarah Champion: I have one final question. You mentioned rail franchises. What is the Government’s position on specifying access for disabled people in the tendering process?
Norman Baker: Typically, franchises mandate something called a Minor Works Fund, which is up to £500,000 per annum mandated by the Department to support accessibility improvements and to ensure that franchisees have funds to match-fund local authorities. That is because, often, local authorities come forward with a scheme that says, "We want to do this at our station," and then we expect the train companies or Network Rail to help towards that, either through the mandated sum in the franchise or the National Stations Improvement Programme. They tend to be for more minor improvements across the network, and the major improvements tend to come from the Access for All arrangements that I mentioned a moment ago.
Q340 Iain Stewart: Following on from Ms Champion’s questions about using the review of rail franchising as an opportunity to improve accessibility, I appreciate your comments on the infrastructure part, but that is only one part of the equation. A lot of the issues relate to staff training and their ability to deal with different disability needs. Do you see an opportunity in the review of franchising to evaluate different bidders on disability-awareness criteria?
Norman Baker: Yes, and that is very important. I should say that we do use a franchise contract to support good practice and increase access. It is not <?oasys [pc10p0] ?>simply a physical point; it is also about training, which you quite rightly refer to. Bidders for the franchises receive credit for their approach to improving access when bids are being assessed. In future franchises, a points score for plans will be a contributory factor in selecting the winning bid.
We will be looking at what rail franchise bidders are doing in terms of improving access as part of the arrangements and evaluating whether any franchise should be awarded to a particular company. The bid assessment process we are now engaging on is encouraging those train companies to come forward with innovative ideas to improve franchises, to improve access for those with disabilities and generally to improve the passenger experience. We want them to come up with the good ideas. That will also be a driver, in fact, for better access in years to come.
Q341 Iain Stewart: Are you planning to give a greater weight to that element of the franchise bid, or is it the same as it has been?
Norman Baker: No. The franchise arrangement hitherto has been one where the Department for Transport has tended to specify things very minutely in some cases and there has not been much flexibility for the train companies to innovate. They just have to bid against a specification. In one way that has produced a result whereby at least you can measure everything equally. But we are rather keener, I think, now on having an arrangement whereby we encourage the train companies to come up and in fact bid upwards against each other, as it were, in the interests of the passenger and, in this case, in the interests of the disabled passenger.
Q342 Iain Stewart: I have one slightly different question but also relating to rail operators. A number of operators currently use rolling stock that is 20 or 30 years old. Particularly Northern Rail, I believe, have diesel units that are not DDA-compliant. Do you have a view on how that stock should be replaced in the future?
Norman Baker: We are, of course, engaged in a massive electrification programme and therefore the amount of diesel stock that we have will not be required in the future. I would anticipate that some of the diesel stock will be removed because it is no longer required. Others will be cascaded to other lines where diesel operation is still necessary.
Generally speaking, of course, all new train units being ordered are electric at the moment and I would anticipate that that would remove diesel stock. Of course, all new units being ordered will be fully compliant-by definition, they have to be under the rules-but in any case it is a requirement for all train vehicles to be fully accessible by 2020. That is what was set in the regulations in 2000. Those regulations still apply and the train companies will either have to withdraw their stock or modify it to the degree that it is fully compliant by that date.
Q343 Chair: You have just said, Minister, that you will encourage people bidding for franchises-I think the phrase you used was-"to bid up" in relation to improving facilities for passengers. How will that bidding up in improving services be assessed in relation to financial matters when it is decided who to award franchises to?
Norman Baker: When it will be assessed against what-I am sorry?
Chair: How will it be assessed against financial issues when you are deciding who to give franchises to?
Norman Baker: The financial aspect of a franchise is important, but so is the passenger experience. What we are trying to do is to make sure that the passenger experience is factored in. After all, if passengers are happier on their trains, they are more likely to use them and that will drive up passenger numbers, which in turn potentially reduces subsidy from the taxpayer.
The equation is that happy passengers equal more income for the train companies and for the Government in terms of reduced subsidy. The equation is not quite as straightforward as either/or. There are benefits from driving up passenger experience on the railway, but, of course, it is an art rather than a science. We will look at each bid as it comes in, see what it offers and make a judgment as to which is in the best public interest, the interests of the taxpayer and the passenger when the franchises are evaluated.
Q344 Chair: The Government have postponed the implementation of some EU requirements for training in disability for staff who deal directly with passengers. It has been delayed for five years.
Norman Baker: On buses.
Chair: Training for staff. Why has that been done? Why did the Government take that decision?
Norman Baker: There is a difficult balance to be struck with the bus industry in particular. First of all, we want to make sure we advance the accessibility of all public transport vehicles as fast as we sensibly can, because nobody will want to see someone who has a particular disability barred, effectively, from getting on a train or the bus they want to get on. That is on the one side. On the other side, we have to recognise that any imposition that you put on a bus or train company has a cost and that may affect the viability or profitability of that particular operator or service.
It may well be argued that bus and train companies can, overall, absorb the costs of such training, but there are a number of things you could add on and impositions you could make, all of which add up, including, for example, the requirement to replace vehicles by a particular date, which is a very expensive business.
I am conscious that, if you put a requirement on, it would not necessarily affect the profitability of the company in the sense that it drives the company under, but what it may do is make a marginal route that is important to people no longer viable. If the consequence of putting extra burdens on industry is to withdraw routes and leave people stranded, that is not a good outcome. They are the kind of calculations you have to make as to what the industry can sustain at any particular time and what the consequence will be of extra financial impositions on the industry. They were the thought processes that led me to conclude that that was the right way forward.
I have indicated to the bus industry in particular, however, that I expect them to make good progress voluntarily. There are now about 75% of drivers who are already receiving training. I want the bus industry to go further, and I have said I will review it again in a year to see how they are getting on.
Q345 Chair: The Confederation of Passenger Transport told us that they had lobbied the Government on this issue. Was it their influence that led to you deciding to do this?
Norman Baker: Of course they lobbied because we listen always, when we want to take steps on transport, to all sides. We will receive and indeed we invite representations from the industry, passenger groups and local authorities. We do that on any issue on public transport. So, yes, it did lobby, but so did others. We have to take a rounded view as to what is finally in the interests of the passenger.
I have said to the industry, as I mentioned a moment ago, that I expect them to make progress, I am looking at what they are doing and will look at it again in a year to see how much progress has been made. We do not rule out taking further action on a monetary basis if I perceive they are not taking it seriously. I think they are taking it seriously, but we are keeping a close eye on it.
Q346 Sarah Champion: This Committee has heard from a number of people about how a journey from A to B tends to involve a number of different forms of transport. It might be a taxi to the bus station, then a train and then a taxi at the other end. If one part of that chain breaks, then the disabled person is stranded and is often put off travelling again. We have heard that during the Olympics and Paralympics there was a lot of work done to join all those different forms of transport together to create a cohesive system. What role do you think Government have to echo that and join up all the transport across the whole country?
Norman Baker: I very much agree with that analysis. A journey for an able-bodied passenger or a disabled passenger-it is the same thing, in a sense-is only as good as its weakest link. I have seen instances where people have not carried out a journey by public transport because they are worried about the last two miles from the station they arrive at to their final destination and therefore they drive the whole way. I am concerned about that, both in accessibility terms but also in carbon terms, as a matter of fact, and I would like people to be encouraged to use public transport.
That is why I recently published a document on doortodoor journeys, which again, like this accessibility document, was embraced and endorsed by a whole range of people-Network Rail, the train companies and the Confederation of Passenger Transport. You name it, they have endorsed it, which means they and we have to get on and deliver it. We will hold others to account for the actions that they have got to do, and again, a bit like the accessibility action plan, there are action points there for individual companies, operators or authorities to take forward. You might want to have a look at that because that is designed to address precisely the point you have raised about the weakest link.
We have, however, of course been keen to learn from the Olympics, and, if I may say so, I thought the Olympics and Paralympics went quite well in terms of access. We have sought to improve Transport Direct, our journey planner, to make sure that is more accessible. We have been taking feedback on that and have asked stakeholder organisations to review and comment on what we are doing to upgrade that. We will be making further statements on that in the near future, I hope.
Q347 Chair: What work has been done on looking at the impact on disabled people of removing personnel from the transport network? A lot of concerns have been expressed to us particularly about moving and perhaps closing down ticket offices or reducing staff generally on transport networks and the impact on disabled people’s ability to travel easily. What work has been done on that?
Norman Baker: I do understand that concern. I should say that this is, to a large extent, a theoretical issue at the moment because there have been very few ticket offices that have been subject to any closure or reduced hours compared with the last Government, where a great many were closed. But I do not want to minimise the issue because I understand that people regard it as something that concerns them.
There remains a duty-this is talking about trains-on train operators to make sure they have proper regard to the needs of all their passengers, including those with disability or accessibility issues. That remains the case. We are not in any way going to preside over an arrangement whereby there is a scorchedearth policy for train stations and people are just left to get on with it. That is not how the Government is approaching these matters. As you may know, Chair, I am heading up a review on fares and ticketing for the Department, whose results I will be publishing later this year, and I can assure you that that particular issue has been factored into our consideration.
Q348 Chair: Should audiovisual facilities on buses be compulsory?
Norman Baker: That is a bit like the question on training for drivers as a matter of fact. The same considerations apply to that as apply to whether or not to make something mandatory. The evidence is that that would be a significant cost to the industry, and they have provided evidence, which I take at face value, that there is not a commercial case for it. After all, if there had been a commercial case for it, they would have introduced it themselves. I happen to think it is very helpful to have audiovisual information on buses, and not just, by the way, for people with disabilities but for people who get on a bus and do not quite know which stop to get off at or where they are on the journey. It is quite a useful aspect to have that information around. London buses, of course, have that, but other buses, by and large, tend to have it less across the country.
<?oasys [pc10p0] ?>I am not, at the moment, inclined to make this a mandatory requirement because of the costs and the impact on services it could have. But I have again encouraged the bus industry to take forward the provision of audiovisual information and I have indicated that I will monitor how they are getting on.
Q349 Chair: Are the Government taking any measures to provide stepfree wheelchair access to trains at all stations, or to require those facilities to be there?
Norman Baker: Did you say to stations?
Chair: Yes, to railway stations.
Norman Baker: I mentioned to you a moment ago that the intention is to continually improve the accessibility of rail stations, and the Access for All programme helps to achieve that. Whereas 50% of rail journeys were undertaken at stepfree access stations in 2005, the figure for 2015, we think, will be 75%, so we are continually improving that across the rail network and are eating into the residual stations that need to be dealt with. We are doing so largely by footfall, so we are dealing with the stations that have the most footfall first.
Q350 Chair: Where bus services are provided under a contract with a local authority, should there be requirements written in there on accessibility?
Norman Baker: That is a matter for the local authority, as you will appreciate; it is not a matter for us to specify that. It is perfectly possible that we will see improvements, and indeed we do encourage that so far as we can do so. For example, Sheffield is the first city to benefit from the Better Bus Areas concept, of which you will be aware. As part of the BBA plans for Sheffield, there are accessibility improvements that have been built into the bus network there as part of that overall package. I would expect, as we roll out Better Bus Areas, that that will have beneficial consequences for access arrangements across the network.
Q351 Chair: Local authorities, as you say, decide, but will you be issuing guidance to them in this area?
Norman Baker: The guidance in a sense is the Better Bus Areas guidance. As I say, I fully anticipate that what will occur from the rollout of Better Bus Areas is access improvement as part of the conditions that are set for those Better Bus Areas, but I would certainly encourage local authorities to have full regard to accessibility issues in contracts that they let. Indeed, there are of course backstop residual responsibilities from local authorities under, for example, the Equality Act.
Q352 Chair: Who should be responsible for ensuring that wheelchair users are able to use designated spaces on buses?
Norman Baker: You may know there has been a recent court case on that matter, involving Arriva, and the judgment in that, if I reflect it correctly, was that the Department for Transport’s guidance was appropriate. It was right to designate wheelchair <?oasys [pc10p0] ?>spaces on buses but not to require that they be used by wheelchair users only. That, essentially, as I understand it, was the judgment. Therefore, it should be perfectly plain to users of buses that, where a wheelchair space is provided and a wheelchair user wants to use it, it is ideal if that user is able to do so.
However, we are not planning to provide compulsory legislation to evict people from those spaces if they are not wheelchair users. So much can be done by people being considerate towards each other rather than by trying to pass laws to force people to be considerate. It is common sense that, if you are in a wheelchair space, perhaps with a buggy, and somebody wants to come on with a wheelchair, it is good manners to fold that buggy up and to make that space available for a wheelchair user. We should not need to legislate to do that. That is a matter of good manners as much as anything else.
Chair: Thank you very much, Minister.