Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish a passenger charter for disabled land transport passengers setting out their rights, the legal obligations of transport operators, complaints procedures, passenger assistance schemes and accessibility requirements; and for connected purposes.
This week, our Paralympic heroes return from Tokyo, basking in glory and adorned with medals after a stunning fortnight of gruelling competition and thrilling battles, yet amid all the cheers that they arrive home to, many will also be greeted by the same barriers that disabled people face day in and day out. More than one in five of our constituents live with a disability—more than 14 million in total. Disabled people deserve every opportunity to live their lives to the full, but they face particular challenges simply getting around, for the purpose of work, socialising or everyday necessities.
Our public transport system is poorly integrated and can be a frustration for many of us, but far more so for disabled passengers who may take longer at interchanges, and may need help or support in embarking or disembarking or to recognise destinations. For disabled passengers, predictability is at a premium and up-to-date information is essential, as they may need to plan well in advance for even a relatively simple journey.
To provide a snapshot, here is the experience of Charles, as related to Scope, the disability equality charity. He said:
“Like many disabled people, I rely on public transport. Travelling can be a frustrating part of my day, especially as someone who has a limited amount of vision remaining. I’m the proud owner of a guide dog called Carlo. He's very excitable and eager to be outside for walks and adventures. Carlo fundamentally gives me my freedom and ability to visit new places, but without public transport, we’d both be stuck. I was brought up using public transport and try not to depend on anyone to drive me places, so I’m quite confident and independent. My biggest challenge with public transport is the amount of time involved with planning. A trip can take me double, or even triple the time to travel. Not to mention, having to leave almost an hour early in case of the usual delays or cancellation of services.”
Beyond the necessities of using public transport, for many disabled people, it is a point of pride to be able to do so, a demonstration and unlocking of their ability to lead independent lives. We should be determined to make our transport as accessible as possible. However, according to a 2019 survey of disabled people for Scope, 30% said that difficulties with public transport had reduced their independence, and as many as four in five said that they felt stressed or anxious when planning or carrying out such a journey. It is worth emphasising that the survey was pre-covid, so did not even take into account the additional fears that disabled people will have faced in travelling on public transport over the past couple of years—not least those unable to wear masks, who have often been unreasonably challenged about this.
There has been much legislation and regulation to improve disabled people’s rights over the past quarter-century, but many of those well-intended rules have added up to a patchwork of rights across different modes of transport, both for accessing travel and for raising complaints when disabled people have been let down. If complaints are not made, we cannot know whether existing regulations are being properly followed or enforced. The Office of Rail and Road’s annual rail consumer report 2019 stated that an average of a quarter of disabled passengers had not received all the assistance they had booked, which had left them frighteningly stranded, or humiliatingly relying on asking for assistance from fellow passengers. However, we deserve to know the accurate numbers to improve this unacceptable situation.
Let me give another example of testimony. Here is Ami’s story, again courtesy of Scope. She said:
“There have been countless times, when my mum has booked assistance and yet they don’t turn up until the last minute, causing me a great deal of anxiety. On two occasions, other passengers have had to lift me in my wheelchair on and off the train because assistance never arrived. This is dangerous, not only for me, but for the passengers that are lifting me too. If it were not for their kindness, then we wouldn’t have gotten home, or been able to attend important appointments. Quieter stations understandably have less staff, but they’re often more efficient when assistance is needed. It’s the bigger and busier stations that need to look into why some disabled people are not receiving a positive experience when assistance is required.”
Problems or distressing circumstances can arise across all sorts of types of transport, including fear of being overcharged for a taxi journey, not knowing whether a parent with a pushchair will make space for a wheelchair on the bus, or pre-booked assistance not turning up to help a disembarkation from a train. In each case it is more difficult than it needs to be for a disabled traveller to look up their rights or indeed to lodge a complaint. According to Scope’s survey, one in six disabled people said they had not complained about a problem because they did not know if they had the right to do so. Disabled people deserve better.
This is why my Bill would bring together the pre-existing rules into a passenger charter for disabled people. This would be a simple, accessible document covering all modes of land transport and setting out exactly what disabled passengers can expect, no matter where or how they are travelling. Taking this step would bolster the confidence of disabled passengers in their rights, and signpost how to get recompense if they deserve it. Adding such transparency and accountability should also improve the services required.
A single document would also expose where there are currently irregularities, gaps in provision or other anomalies that can be addressed. This may involve differences between providers or concepts that are not universally recognised, such as quiet areas for people with autism. Codifying a charter for disabled passengers would help operators as well as travellers. I hope that the Government and Members across the House will agree that this is a simple, inexpensive step that we can take to improve the quality of life of disabled people across the country.
Before I finish, I want to thank Scope for its research and tireless campaigning for these measures, and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), whose excellent work on preparing and championing this Bill was halted only by her well-deserved promotion. I am glad to see her here today.
Question put and agreed to.
That Charlotte Nichols, Lilian Greenwood, Huw Merriman, Alan Brown, Jim Shannon, Jamie Stone, Florence Eshalomi, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Paula Barker, Kim Johnson, Ian Byrne and Navendu Mishra present the Bill.
Charlotte Nichols accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 3 December, and to be printed (Bill 157).