I’m Chair of Transport for All and here today as the co-Chair of the Inclusive Transport Stakeholder Group.
So, this is my maiden speech in Parliament which, to be honest, is the closest I want to get to being an MP. The whole news cycle is obsessed with Brexit, and our MPs are being criticized for failing to achieve it or indeed anything else. But as we’ve heard this is very far from the truth.
The Inclusive Transport Strategy comes at the end of a period of huge change. The past 30 years has seen Disabled and Older People fight against Government and Transport providers for their right to access public transport. This fight has, in the past, met with resistance but this has now largely changed. We’re pushing at an open door. Everyone accepts that accessibility, that inclusivity benefits all passengers and society at large.
As a direct result of this fight we have accessible buses. Traveling by train no longer means in the guard’s van. Decades of pressure means that today the industry is being much more proactive. Across the country, in all modes, there are great examples of good practice, some of whom are represented here today.
Yet we still have inconsistency. Every day there continue to be individual stories of the challenge disabled people face when trying to use public transport. On last night’s news we heard of one wheelchair user being refused access to a bus. Last weekend a guide dog user was refused access to a taxi, for the 4th time this year, despite the provisions in the Equality Act being enacted. These incidents remain disappointingly common.
This is the landscape that the Inclusive Transport Strategy is in.
For the first time the Strategy sets out a consistent approach across modes. It sets expectations for both passengers and providers. It makes clear that Disabled People themselves should be involved in the design and delivery of services. It provides the mechanisms to monitor progress towards its goals, a key function of the Strategy Group.
Out of this strategy will come solid action plans from Government, from sectors and from individual operators. The strategy will mean that these plans are aligned. It will mean that passengers know what to expect and can hold service providers to account. It will mean that good practice is more easily identified and can be shared. Accessibility should not be considered some element of competitive advantage. These good practice initiatives must not be some guarded secret but must be widely adopted.
The strategy represents a line in the sand. A point from which accessibility and inclusion will be embedded in decision making just like Health & Safety. Change may not come quickly. After all some of our infrastructure is Victorian. But there is much that can be done quickly and cost effectively. In fact I was in conversation with some London Bus Operators recently. Their assessment of what was possible far exceeded my expectations. This is really encouraging for a time when worry free, hassle free transport is normalized for Disabled People.