Two new high-profile campaigns are set to highlight the barriers that disabled people face when trying to use public transport.
The A2BForAll campaign, which has been backed by several leading disabled people’s organisations, published research this week showing that more than half of disabled users have felt discriminated against when trying to access public transport.
More than half of the 200 disabled people questioned said they had been forced to find other ways to travel because of the treatment they received on public transport.
The campaign, headed by Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, wants the government to appoint a regulator – funded by the transport industry – to improve staff training, and keep a central register of complaints that would play a key part in awarding public transport franchises.
The campaign has grown out of legal action being taken by 16 disabled people in Darlington against the bus company Arriva North East (ANE).
Gordon Pybus, chair of Darlington Association on Disability, which has supported them in their legal action and backs the campaign, said accessible public transport was vital with the government reforming the benefits system and calling for more disabled people to find work, particularly with many likely to lose their Motability vehicles because of disability living allowance reform.
He said: “To allow us to do that, we must have a transport infrastructure that is really accessible for all disabled people.”
The Liberal Democrat transport minister Norman Baker said: “While a regulator might look superficially attractive, it could cause duplication with work already being done by Passenger Focus [the rail watchdog] and Bus Users UK [the bus passengers’ organisation], and it will almost certainly add to costs.”
A2BForAll is also being backed by user-led charities Transport For All, Trafford Centre for Independent Living, and Derbyshire Coalition for Inclusive Living, and is funded by legal firm Unity Law.
They hope to secure more than 100,000 signatures on a petition backing the demands, so the issue can be debated by MPs.
Channel 4 News has also launched its own campaign, to investigate the state of accessible public transport in the lead-up to the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.
Channel 4 News wants its No Go Britain campaign to build up a comprehensive picture by asking disabled viewers for their experiences.
Alison Walsh, Channel 4’s disability advisor, said: “The stories that the Channel 4 News team reveal, and the picture they build across the country, should form the basis for serious discussion about how we can improve the system for disabled users.”
Baroness Grey-Thompson told Channel 4 News that she had been forced to crawl off a train earlier this year because there were no staff on the platform to receive her late-night train.
She said: “I think as a disabled person travelling, you always have an element of fear or just feeling very uncomfortable, of panic, of wondering whether you’re going to get off.”
She said she wanted to see many more disabled people using public transport, but “unless there are some massive changes – not only to the equipment but to staff training – we’re not going to get more disabled people using public transport”.
Baker said his department was “working hard to ensure that all transport staff have the appropriate disability awareness training”, and has supported a disability awareness training module for the bus industry. About two-thirds of bus drivers have now had awareness training, he said.
He added: “We recommend that transport operators involve disabled people themselves in developing the training, and that both front line and management staff are trained and their skills regularly updated.”