Frontlines: Disabled people and public transport

Public transport is still far from inclusive from the point of view of disabled people, writes Jennifer Harvey

I wish public transport were really public. Sometimes it seems to be. I know bus routes that have fully accessible vehicles, polite and helpful drivers, and audio-visual displays so you don’t miss your stop. The new generation of trams in Manchester, Sheffield and Nottingham also provide a pleasant journey, with no steps to negotiate. Wonderful if they’re going your way, less so if they’re not.

The government initiative to extend the provision of free bus travel is clearly a step in the right direction. Some councils have offered free bus travel for years to people over 60 and to disabled people, some are bringing it in this year, and by 2008 people over 60 should have free off peak bus travel nationally.

And yet for many people with learning difficulties, accessing even the best public transport is still a major hurdle. That ideal job, course or leisure activity might as well be on the moon if you can’t get there on the bus, and you can’t afford a taxi.

So although I welcome the extension of free bus travel, many people still need travel training to benefit.

Disability living allowance mobility component is there to help people get around, but you don’t get many taxi fares to the pound. And, of course, even if you know the way to and from the bus stop, you know what bus fares and travel passes you need, you know which stop to ask for and where to get off – the reality is that much public transport is dirty, smelly, infrequent and inaccessible.

I’ll try not to get too nostalgic for the days before deregulation of the buses. Suffice to say that where I lived (and still live) in South Yorkshire in the 1980s, any adult could go anywhere in the county for 10 pence. For most people this was great, and I personally managed to get well into my thirties before feeling the need to learn to drive, because the public transport was so good before then.

But times have changed, and you probably didn’t see too many disabled people  or people with learning difficulties on the buses back then.

So today, public transport should be truly public and accessible, as there can be no inclusion without it.

Jennifer Harvey is a day services co-ordinator working with people with learning difficulties

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