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Will 2018 be the Year of Truly Accessible Public Transport?

It’s about time. There’s no doubt that it’s improving in some areas but there were also too many horror stories in 2017 that showed there’s still much to do.

Take the story of Ted Shiress, who told BBC Wales he was refused an Uber taxi ride in Cardiff on new Year’s Eve when the driver realised he is disabled.

As far as we can tell, although Uber has apologised to Mr Shires it has offered no clear public explanation of why the driver turned down Mr Shires and his friend.

We want make it clear that we have no evidence that’s why the taxi driver drove off. But Mr Shires’ story doesn’t sound great either, does it?

Life for many disabled people is tough enough anyway and transport is a major issue, which can make doing day-to-day activities even harder than they already are.

As Mr Shires told BBC Wales: “[at 3am, when the Uber taxi he ordered drove off] I just wanted to go home and go to sleep.”

 

Nightmare train journeys for some disabled people

Some of the worst examples of stories that emerged in 2017 about the discrimination disabled people have faced using public transport include that of Anne Wafula-Strike MBE.

The Paralympian was forced to wet herself on a three-hour train journey because the train’s disabled toilet was out of order! As the BBC reported, she settled for an out of court, confidential compensation payment from the train’s operator, CrossCountry

A CrossCounty spokesperson told the BBC: “While we have apologised for the events that day, a lot of good has also resulted from this, with the whole rail industry looking at ways to make Britain’s railways a more accessible environment, alongside the Department for Transport’s ongoing consultation on an Accessibility Action Plan.”

And as disabled actress and disability campaigner Samantha Renke’s story also showed, the Accessibility Action Plan is badly needed.

She told the Guardian how Virgin Trains failed to provide her with easy access to the space she had reserved and an accessible toilet during her train journey from Preston to London.

Not having access to the designated disabled space she had reserved because it was full of bags presented her with a particular issue, as she has brittle bone disease.

This means she has fragile bones that can break easily, and she uses a wheelchair, so a safe accessible and uncluttered space is vital for her whilst travelling.

We think she hit the nail on the head when she told The Guardian: “People aren’t scared to flout the Disability Act – there are no consequences,” she said. “We don’t have a lift? Oh well. There’s no toilet? So what?”

 

Time to do more to enforce The Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 has changed much for disabled people, but it clearly needs greater enforcement to ensure all organisations are doing everything they can to comply and offer disabled people the service they deserve.

Nobody wants to see court battles to enforce the Act. But maybe that’s what’s needed right now to make sure disabled people aren’t subjected to substandard, often humiliating, poor service in future?

It’s interesting to note that one of the reasons the Act hasn’t been tested more in court may be because the UK doesn’t have the same litigation culture as countries like the US. In the US there have been far more successful examples of people enforcing the country’s disability laws through court action.

 

Some positive changes, but more is needed in 2018

The evidence we are referring to in this blog is of course anecdotal. And there are public transport that should be praised for their efforts to make transport more accessible, as well as their customer information and services.

Some examples include train operator GWR, which added web accessibility software Recite Me* to its website last year. Then there’s Tyne & Wear Metro, which launched new “I need a seat” badges that make travelling easier for disabled passengers and others who need to sit down during their journey.

But 2018 could and should be the year pubic transport finally gets accessibility right for disabled passengers.

There may still be some problems and it will take time to get things right 100 per cent of the time. But we want to see a sea-change in this area.

We want to see real action coming on the back of the Department of Transport’s Accessibility Action Plan.

And we want to see a total commitment from public transport providers to show they’re doing everything possible to make reasonable adjustments to remove the barriers that make transport inaccessible for disabled people.

Now truly is the time for them to finally put the brakes on inaccessible public transport in the UK.

 

*Recite Me is a client of Big Voice Communications