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Govt promises 'package of measures' on bus wheelchair access later this year

16 May 2018

House of Lords Question - Buses: Wheelchair Users

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Responding to a question from Baroness Deech, the Government indicated that they favour a combined approach to protecting the rights of wheelchair users to travel on buses , including changes to law (hopefully to the bus conduct regulations) and guidance as well as attempting to influence passenger behaviour. Responding to a further question from Baroness Gardner of Parkes, the Government confirmed that there are no plans to review the standards for the size of wheelchair spaces on buses and the specification of the boarding ramps and lifts - to allow larger or heavier wheelchairs access.

The questions

Baroness Deech (crossbench CB) asked “what steps the government was taking to protect the rights of wheelchair users to travel on buses?”

My Lords, it is six years since the courageous Mr Doug Paulley was left off the bus and started legal action, without any legal aid, over wheelchair access. It is 16 months since the Supreme Court judgment in his favour. It is eight months since the department’s task force reported, and now it wants a further consultation. Will the Minister give a date for action? How will the priority of wheelchair users be ensured if a buggy user refuses to move? How will priority legislation be enforced, and how will the public become aware? Has the Minister on her travels not noticed that the purpose of wheelchair and elderly priority seats on London buses and trains is widely ignored?”

Baroness Sugg (Con), Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport replied

My Lords, I have indeed noticed that, and I acknowledge absolutely that there is frustration over the time it has taken the Government to respond to the Supreme Court ruling that was given in January last year. We know that wheelchair users continue to face unacceptable barriers when using bus services, and we are taking action to ensure that they get access to the wheelchair space. In March, the Government accepted in principle the expert recommendations of a task and finish group we set up on improving access to the wheelchair space, and we will bring forward a package of measures later this year to address the issue. I acknowledge that it can be difficult for drivers to force someone to give up a space, and that is why we are speaking to drivers, parents and other interested stakeholders on how best to address this. One option we are considering is to amend the conduct regulations [see DR UK recommendations on this], but we are also looking at driver guidance and how best to raise awareness of the behaviours expected from other passengers.

Baroness Brinton (LD)

My Lords, I had the privilege of being with Doug Paulley in the Supreme Court to hear that court’s judgment, which made it absolutely plain that the easiest way to resolve this problem was to amend the conduct regulations. The Minister’s predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, said at the Dispatch Box immediately after that judgment that the department would look at bringing forward those regulation changes. Sixteen months on, nothing has happened. To start a consultation when the Supreme Court was so clear seems ridiculous. When will the Government bring forward new draft conduct regulations?

Baroness Sugg

My Lords, again I acknowledge why there is frustration on this. As I said, amending legislation is certainly one of the options we are considering. I am conscious that not only wheelchair users rely on access to wheelchair space, and we must make ensure that the approach works for all passengers. We set up the task and finish group to look at this issue and advise us on what measures to take; those experts were clear that the solution lies in a combined approach, including legislation, so as I said, we are looking to amend guidance and influence passenger behaviour. We are working on this and will have a package of measures later this year, which we think will deliver what we need.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes (Con)

My Lords, I declare an interest in that my eldest daughter had to use a wheelchair for over 20 years. Fortunately, her multiple sclerosis has been treated and she does not use it any more. When she worked with London Buses on wheelchair access, she discovered that you have to be quite sure that the vehicle conforms to a certain weight limit. Manufacturers need to know what that limit is so that they can be sure that their wheelchairs will not break the ramp. If a wheelchair is too heavy, as some motorised ones are, it can cause damage. When my daughter first used one, the driver was very unwilling to take her on the bus, until the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, turned up next to her and said, “Get the ramp out, man”, which he did.

Baroness Sugg

My Lords, I am just sorry that all disabled passengers who travel by bus do not have the noble Baroness there to help them out. The size of wheelchair spaces on buses and the specification of the boarding ramps and lifts are based on the dimensions of an internationally recognised reference wheelchair. I recognise that many people use larger or heavier wheelchairs, which might not easily be accommodated. It would be difficult and complicated to amend the standard so we do not have any current plans to review it, but we will definitely ensure that the information is readily available.