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Disabled People’s Access (Public Transport)

Volume 596: debated on Thursday 11 June 2015

1. What assessment he has made of recent progress in improving disabled people’s access to public transport. (900245)

The Department for Transport’s 2015 annual progress report on promoting accessibility for disabled people on public transport has just been published, and it demonstrates good progress in achieving an inclusive transport system. The Government remain firmly committed to improving disabled people’s access to all public transport services.

In Newcastle, we are proud that our Metro was the first in the country to be fully wheelchair accessible, and I hope that the Minister will support renewed investment in it. That vision of inclusive transport should by now include talking buses, given that the technology is so widely available, but the Minister has done nothing to ensure that is implemented and has cut by half the budget for accessibility, so when will we have inclusive public transport?

The hon. Lady will be pleased to know that 83% of buses operating in the UK now meet legal accessibility requirements, and that will rise to almost 100% by the end of next year. She is right to focus on talking buses—something that she and I have worked on with the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association—but we have been advised that the cost of rolling that out across the country is prohibitively high. However, another way—I am sure that she, as a highly experienced digital expert, will approve of this—is to make all data on public transport open-sourced so that applications such as the Next Stop app, which is being trialled in Leeds, can be rolled out. That would give a much more personalised service to disabled people accessing public transport.

I am sure that the Minister welcomes the progress being made across the country in improving disabled access, but will she look at the issue of theoretical access, where elevators are often left out of order for days, if not weeks, on end, making disabled access only theoretical?

Across the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, there have obviously been great advances in improving access for those with sensory disablement—sight and hearing problems. As people travel between the four regions, has the Minister had any discussions with the Minister responsible in Northern Ireland to ensure uniformity in access for those with sensory disablements across the whole United Kingdom?

I have had not had those discussions, because I have only recently picked up that part of my portfolio, but my predecessor might have done. I shall apprise myself of the facts and, if necessary, would be delighted to have that meeting.

We all strongly support proper access to public transport for disabled people, which is absolutely essential. As the Minister represents a rural area, as I do, does she agree that some bus companies simply cannot afford to provide that? One way forward must be through dial-a-ride services, such as the one offered by Bradies taxis in Malmesbury, which I launched last Saturday, whereby elderly and disabled people in particular can ring up and find small buses to take them where they want to go.

My hon. Friend, whose constituency neighbours mine, makes an important point. Of course, I was delighted that the Government made money available in the previous Parliament to support exactly that sort of community access scheme.

The Minister’s colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones)—I congratulate him on his appointment—said at a transport event last night that his door would always be open. I invite the Minister and her new colleague to start with disabled people’s access to buses, because the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, the Royal National Institute of Blind People and the Transport Committee have all said that the Government’s exemption of bus companies from mandatory driver training is not working. The Government have ducked and dived on this: a review was first promised for 2014, then more evidence this January confirmed the disquiet, and this week I received a written answer telling me that there will be a research project—a review of the review of the review. Will she use the open door that her colleague spoke about to stop the buck being passed for disabled people on buses?

All our ministerial doors are always open to all colleagues. I invite the hon. Gentleman to focus on the fact that almost 100% of drivers have now received some form of disability awareness training. We think that the future lies in providing public sector data, so that people can use an app themselves to make their specific journey. The cost of providing this across the UK can be prohibitive, but we will have 100% accessibility on all buses by the end of next year.