Public transport and disabled people

One of the greatest inequalities facing disabled people is access to transport. Without accessible, affordable transport, many are cut off from their communities and the level of independence they can achieve is compromised.

The problems aren’t just about physical access, although this is bad enough. Under the disability discrimination acts, public transport doesn’t even have to be fully accessible until 2017. Even then, railway carriages need only have a ramp operated by platform staff -Êbooked 24 hours in advance. Why aren’t they designing railway carriages with integrated automatic ramps?

London Transport has wheelchair-accessible buses, but many drivers haven’t been trained to use them. Some people with mental health difficulties, like my friend with agoraphobia, are frightened to use buses on their own. Twenty years ago in Trieste, Italy, the bus drivers were receiving training to help people with learning difficulties and mental health problems – why isn’t this routine today?

Many mobility-impaired people, most of whom are elderly, only travel using Dial-a-Ride schemes, which are stretched to capacity, and usually have to be booked well in advance. Most services limit the distance and number of journeys someone can make.

Now, an EU manufacturing ruling (Framework Ruling 70/156/EEC) threatens national production of wheelchair-accessible vehicles. In this country, 30 companies convert 8,000 vehicles for wheelchair accessibility each year. Volume production has meant that a vehicle that cost £18,000 10 years ago, now costs £13,000. This EC directive will reduce the limit of any model a company can produce from 500 to 75 per year, which will push up costs. Even with benefits this puts converted vehicles beyond the reach of most people.

Our government helped this happen. The Department for Transport was aware of the consequences when it was negotiating this bill with the EU. The legislation has its second reading in the European parliament soon, so anyone who feels strongly should raise the issue with their MEP.

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