Ministers have promised that the Government's National Disability Strategy will boost inclusivity across the entire transport network but the strategy contains few new commitments on transport.
Officials described the overall strategy as ‘the most ambitious endeavour to remove barriers to disabled people’s everyday lives’ with ‘a range of initiatives to remove barriers and improve confidence for disabled people as they return to trains, buses and taxis after the pandemic’.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said an audit of all UK train stations, originally pledged in the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, is now underway, whose findings will form a new public database ‘so people can better plan their journeys and, along with input from disabled passengers, will shape future investment in accessible rail travel’.
The DfT said it will also ‘work with Network Rail to improve safety with a new programme to install all station platforms with tactile paving’. However the strategy itself only commits the department to ‘develop proposals’ for this issue, with no guarantee of funding.
The strategy also acknowledges that a pledge to ‘introduce Regulations by Summer 2022 to require bus companies to provide audible and visual announcements onboard their services in Great Britain’, which is subject to final analysis, was previously announced in Bus Back Better, the National Bus Strategy for England. Government grants to help smaller companies achieve this will now total £3.5m.
In addition, new research into the designs of bus stops and stations ‘will ensure they are accessible for all’, while the DfT said it will also support new legislation for taxis and private hire vehicles, ‘protecting disabled passengers from being overcharged and to better ensure they get the right help from drivers’.
The DfT also repeated a pledge to work with consumer groups to design more accessible chargepoints for electric vehicles and said an announcement on next steps to reduce parking on pavements to declutter streets and free up paths will be made later this year.
There will also be a further £450,000 funding to help deliver more accessible toilets, through the Changing Places programme, and £1m to improve access at ports to the Isle of Wight and Isles of Scilly.
Accessibility minister Chris Heaton-Harris said measures would ‘have a positive, real-life impact and double-down on our promise to build back fairer from COVID-19’.
Anthony Smith, chief executive of watchdog Transport Focus, said the measures would ‘help remove barriers and improve access for all transport users’ while Robert Burley, director of campaigns, care and support at Muscular Dystrophy UK, the strategy was ‘a step in the right direction’.
Disabled Tory peer Lord Shinkwin told the BBC that the strategy was ‘a mixture of a to-do list and a should have done by now list’.