Working in partnership with London TravelWatch

Unlocking a better normal for accessible transport

08 July 2021

What has Covid-19 shown us about disabled people’s needs when travelling?

We know disabled people have never found it easy to get around the public transport network so wanted to look at how Covid-19 has changed their experiences.

We used the views of our Transport User Panel, which we used for our recent webinar on accessible transport, along with what we’ve found through our weekly Travel during Covid-19 survey.

The survey looks at the impact of disability on work and other opportunities, the differing experiences of safety among disabled and non-disabled travellers and views on the use of ‘lanyards’ or cards that discreetly inform people that the individual needs a bit more support or time.

Disabled people were more likely to avoid public transport for safety reasons. Our weekly Covid-19 research shows there is also a perception gap between those who haven’t travelled thinking it’s unsafe as opposed to those who have travelled and have felt safe. When looking at disability this gap becomes bigger – 83 per cent of disabled people who had made a journey by bus felt safe while only 40 per cent who had not made a journey felt they would be safe doing so. Train travel had similar results – 89 per cent in comparison to 45 per cent.

“On the few occasions that I used buses during lockdown e.g. for medical appointments there were limited seats available to use so people were spread out and the majority of people wore masks.”

“Trains have not been busy even during rush hour, which has been really reassuring. I said fairly safe as mask compliance on trains has not been good, and I’ve moved seats a few times to keep distanced.”

We know from previous research that many disabled people experience anti-social behaviour from other passengers, so we wanted to explore disabled passengers’ experiences of being exempt from wearing face coverings and how others had responded to that.  The research found that some who were exempt from wearing a mask changed their behaviour to avoid conflict with other passengers or were made to feel uncomfortable.

When asked about lanyards there was relatively low awareness among both disabled and non-disabled people. However, there was still a high level of support for the scheme with close to four fifths of disabled people saying it was good or very good. Despite this support though, there was a some concern over at disabled people having to ‘label’ themselves.

“Fine in principle but a public statement of vulnerability may attract either condescension or victimisation. The badge/card should be available but not on permanent display.”

When looking at after the Covid-19 was no longer a risk, many disabled people were worried about the level of people travelling. However, others were looking forward to being able to use public transport again.

Making it easier for disabled people to use public transport can help improve access to employment along with other opportunities. It is important that, as we emerge from this pandemic, transport operators seek the views of disabled people to make sure services better suit their needs. It’s not enough to simply go back to normal after Covid-19 – it needs to be better then before.

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