A better experience cannot arrive too soon for disabled rail passengers
08 July 2019
This morning I was keen to endorse the announcement of a new £20m fund for small-scale accessibility improvements across the rail network. Rail operators keen to install tactile paving, handrails and Harrington Humps (which increase platform heights) at more stations can apply for money to deliver such changes, all of which can open up journeys for disabled passengers, allowing them to travel with confidence, and benefit many other passengers too.
It is nearly a year on from the launch of the Inclusive Transport Strategy (ITS), and in a timely reminder of why this issue is so important, a report summarising some research with disabled rail users has also been published today by the Department for Transport.
This research - commissioned by Transport Focus in 2017 on behalf of the Department for Transport and used to inform the ITS - confirmed that two-thirds of disabled passengers experienced a problem at some stage of their journey. The stage with the highest proportion of problems was ‘on board the train’, with many of these involving toilets, priority seating and anti-social behaviour. Issues on the train were closely followed by challenged encountered while planning a journey or buying a ticket.
Results from this research also showed the huge extent to which these problems can differ depending on the type of disability - for example, passengers with a learning disability reported much greater difficulty with buying tickets.
Confidence is another key theme coming through the research. No one likes things to go wrong but when they do, the impact can be much greater for disabled passengers than for others. The consequences of being stranded - at a station or on a train - or of toilets not being available can be severe for disabled travellers.
Likewise, journeys are planned, often meticulously, to ensure that the passenger has enough energy, resources, time and medication to complete them successfully. So passengers need to have confidence in the information provided, they have to be able to trust it.
Nor are these challenges confined to rail, Transport Focus found similar themes in research published late last year which looked at the experience of disabled road users and has also helped drive effective policy intervention (through £2m funding provided under the Inclusive Transport Strategy to bring Changing Places accessible toilets to more motorway service areas).
Returning to rail journeys, being able to request assistance can help disabled passengers (see this section of the National Rail Enquiries for details on how to do this) but many people are still unaware that this facility exists. When passengers request assistance, they must be able to rely on this service – and while the process is getting better (compared to when Transport Focus first examined this topic closely in 2014) there are still too many instances of help not turning up when it should.
Help isn’t help until it arrives, and one thing we have learned time and again from the National Rail Passenger Survey is that it only takes one bad experience to turn people away from rail.
To accompany the DfT summary research report Transport Focus has also published additional research information.