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According to the House of Commons Transport Committee, more must be done to improve accessibility for disabled people throughout the UK’s public transport network.

According to official government figures, there are more than 11 million people living with a recognised disability in the UK, and around one fifth of those people have reported difficulty when using British buses, trains and aircraft.

The Department of Transport is responsible for delivering and implementing the government’s Accessibility Action Plan. And while progress was made – particularly in London – on the back of the 2012 Paralympic Games, Louise Ellman of the Transport Committee is concerned that many of the proposed measures in the plan are being delayed, watered down or simply ignored.

Despite the fact that around one in five people live with disability in the UK, the government still refuses to make disability awareness training for bus drivers a mandatory requirement. It is obvious that bus and train operators which operate for profit will not make the changes voluntarily, so it surely behoves politicians to take the lead and force these transport companies to adequately attend to the needs of 20 per cent of their customers.

Many members of the Transport Committee are also calling on the government to implement a national awareness campaign in order to shine a light on the difficulties disabled people face when using public buses and trains. Such awareness includes respecting space on buses and trains that have been designated for wheelchairs and other disability aids. However, the government’s reticence means millions of people will continue to be oblivious to such difficulties.

The Transport Committee has also criticised transport operators’ lack of commitment to upgrading their fleets with the latest accessible vehicles. Louise Ellman has also stated that financial penalties should be imposed on companies that fail to follow through on their promises for accessible routes – a problem which disabled people are facing up and down the country on a daily basis. Ellman also calls for audio-visual information on-board buses, and assistance for people with disabilities on trains without the need to book it in advance. Unfortunately, it seems her calls are being ignored.

Of course, it isn’t just buses and trains that present major problems for people living with disability. The Transport Committee has called for financial incentives designed to create fully accessible taxi fleets throughout the UK within ten years. The committee also recommends that the Department for Transport should be working with local authorities to roll out mandatory disability awareness training with cab drivers – making it a condition of acquiring a licence.

Despite political pressure from MPs and disability charities, airlines and airports are also proving to be slow at meeting the needs of travellers with disabilities. In America, carers are granted free passage on flights when they are responsible for fare-paying passengers who cannot travel without assistance. Both the European and British Parliaments have ignored repeated calls for similar regulations in Europe, as well as calls for compensation when walking aids and wheelchairs suffer damage during transport.

Of course, these public statements by Louise Ellman and the Transport Committee are welcome, but it is incumbent on Cabinet members and senior policy-makers to put real pressure on transport providers. However, with the government’s programme of austerity still showing no signs of slowing down, intervention doesn’t seem likely any time soon.


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