Access for all? Keeping transport accessible in challenging times

31 March 2020

These are challenging times for people who still need to travel. But the challenge must be even more acute when it comes to passengers who have a disability. Many disabled people are key workers who need public transport to get to work, while others need to access healthcare or go food shopping.

On top of the ‘usual’ barriers experienced, there is now the added anxiety arising from coronavirus itself. Transport Focus knows through its research that journeys are often planned in meticulous detail by disabled passengers to help ensure a successful journey. The cost of something going wrong may not just be inconvenient, it can represent a threat to health.

So in a time of reduced timetables, disruption and uncertainty it is important that there is absolute clarity about what help and support is available. Perhaps one of the most important areas concerns the availability, and willingness, of staff to provide help.

Train company websites make it clear that assistance will still be provided and that this can be booked in advance, but passengers need confidence that help will be provided. Will staff still help with things like pushing wheelchairs or guiding people with visual impairments? On buses we know from our latest Bus Passenger Survey that 27 per cent of passengers (England outside of London) tell us they have a disability. It is the driver who provides all front-line assistance – has what they offer changed?

In all this it is important that we do not forget the needs of staff. They are working in very challenging circumstances and they also need very clear guidance about how to help people travel while staying safe. Do they have all the advice and equipment they need?

Nor is anxiety limited to public transport. Our research also shows that disabled motorists also need certainty. Will motorway services be open, will accessible toilets still be available, will they be able to get assistance to fill up with petrol?

The key to this is communication – ensuring that everyone (staff, passengers and motorists) know what to expect before setting off, and then have confidence in that being delivered.

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