From the woman stuck on a train with an out of order toilet, to the man in a wheelchair unable to get a space on the bus, too many of the people I’ve spoken to are not able to travel with the dignity every single person deserves.
Public transport is a key feature of many morning commutes. For those of us taking the train, when we face a platform alteration, we can react quickly and easily to make sure we can still reach our destinations. I often make use of buses or taxis if I need to meet a colleague for a morning meeting, or for lunch later in the afternoon. We can make these decisions at a moment’s notice, confident in the knowledge that our transport network will allow us to turn up and go when we need to.
Transport is at the heart of how we live our lives and many of us, myself included, have taken for granted our ability to get from A to B easily without too much planning. But this is not the reality for everyone.
I was appalled to read in the news about the experience of Tanyalee Davis – her experience of travelling by train fell far short of what people should expect. As Transport Accessibility Minister, I’ve spoken to many others for whom this is a sadly familiar story. But it doesn’t need to be.
For our ageing population, and the fifth of people who identify as having a disability, access to transport can be far from straightforward.
Someone in a wheelchair needs to be confident the bus they’re getting on is going to have adequate spaces available for their use. Someone who is deaf or hard of hearing may not hear a platform alteration announcement, meaning they miss their train. And a delay or cancellation to a flight communicated at short notice by staff who are not disability aware can cause immeasurable psychological distress to someone with autism, anxiety or dementia.
These are only some of the barriers disabled people face when trying to access transport, and all are simply unacceptable.
I am determined to make sure that disabled people have the same access to transport as everyone else, and that they are able to travel easily, confidently and independently.
Through the Inclusive Transport Strategy, which we have published today, we are taking the first steps towards a transport system that is fully accessible by 2030. We are providing up to £300 million to make train stations and facilities more accessible.
We are giving £2m to install more Changing Places facilities – making sure everyone can stop off and use the toilet at motorway service stations, regardless of their mobility. And we are providing a further £2m for audio and visual equipment on buses, so that no one misses their stop because they do not know where to alight.
Funding and infrastructure are only part of the solution. We have also committed to supporting industry initiatives, including improving and simplifying the process of booking assistance for rail journeys, and recognising when the industry is doing something right through a formal accreditation scheme.
But we are also holding the industry to account if things go wrong. We will set a minimum target for the successful completion of booked assistance, ensuring that train operators who do not deliver the assistance booked provide compensation to passengers.
We will encourage disability awareness training for staff across the wider transport network. And we are supporting the appointment of a new Rail Ombudsman who will investigate customer complaints and make decisions that are binding to the industry. However, delivering this ambitious strategy is not the work of just one department. The Department for Transport will make sure that the goals set out in this strategy receive the Government support they need.
I have been encouraged by the enthusiasm I’ve already seen from transport operators and disability groups, and I look forward to working with everyone who has a role to play in making this happen.
It is unacceptable that people cannot be confident their wheelchairs will be available to them when they touch down after a flight. It is unacceptable that partially-sighted or blind passengers on our railways are not receiving the assistance they need, even when it’s booked in advance. And it is unacceptable that the needs of those with less visible disabilities such as dementia and autism are not adequately recognised or understood by those facilitating their journeys.
There is much still to be done if we are to deliver real change for disabled people on our transport network. We have come a long way, but a genuinely inclusive transport system will be central to this Government’s mission to build a country that works for everyone.
It’s time to roll up our sleeves.