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Rail Services: Disabled Access

Volume 621: debated on Thursday 23 February 2017

13. What steps he is taking to ensure that disabled passengers have equality of access to rail services. (908852)

This is an issue worth waiting for, as I am sure the House will agree.

We are committed to improving the accessibility of the rail network. Currently 70% of train fleets’ operating passenger services meet modern accessibility standards, with the remaining vehicles due to be either upgraded or replaced by 1 January 2020.

Has the Minister had a chance to read the Muscular Dystrophy UK Trailblazers’ “End of the Line” report, in which young disabled people identify problems with accessibility to train stations, to which the Minister referred, and the advance booking system? Will the Government commit to looking at both issues with a view to finding a solution?

Probably the most rewarding period of my time as a Member of Parliament has been spent chairing the Muscular Dystrophy UK Trailblazers all-party group and challenging and cross-examining the industry, so I am well aware of the report. It is worth pointing out that Passenger Assist bookings are increasing by 7% year on year. The challenge for the industry is to ensure that passengers who wish to just turn up and go get the same service as those who book through Passenger Assist. More than that, the industry should ensure that when Passenger Assist does not work properly, people have adequate recourse to an ombudsman’s system to get redress. That is not currently the case.

Can the Minister confirm that the number and availability of on-board supervisors at Southern Rail is increasing? As a result, can we expect to see an improvement in services for disabled passengers?

I am certainly keeping a very careful eye on Govia Thameslink Railway both in terms of official passenger assist bookings and the unofficial turn-up-and-go service. I am very keen to see the outcome of the mystery shopping exercises being conducted by the Office of Rail and Road. I want to ensure that all passengers who travel on GTR get the service they need from the on-board supervisors.

You will recall, Mr Speaker, that six weeks ago I asked a question at Transport questions about the experience of disabled passengers. I have subsequently been contacted by lots of people who have told me their stories—awful stories that shame us all. I want to ask the Minister about the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, of which this House can be rightly proud. Does the Act apply to train operating companies? I think we would all expect the answer to be yes. If so, what are the Government doing to make sure that train operating companies allow disabled passengers to travel? I have been told that in the past disabled passengers were able to turn up at the station and travel in the guard’s van like a parcel. However unacceptable that is, we are taking that away. Do the Government accept that by encouraging train operating companies to take guards off trains, they are contributing to a breach of the Disability Discrimination Act?

I would be very concerned at any suggestion that it is appropriate, in any way shape or form, for passengers with a disability to travel in the guard’s van. Indeed, most of our rolling stock these days does not have a guard’s van to travel in. Like the hon. Lady, I have received a number of worrying complaints. I have met the Office of Rail and Road, which scrutinises the licence conditions under which all train operating companies operate. It is conducting a very careful evaluation of the thresholds for triggering licence conditions, which is why it is doing a mystery shopping exercise. Over and above that, I want to ensure that where individual passengers have an inadequate level of service, they too have a route to go down to seek redress from train operating companies.