Bus accessibility fail is open to legal challenge, peer warns

 

Equality campaigner Lord Holmes has warned there could be legal grounds to challenge the Government's failure to regulate for the inclusion of accessibility data in its Bus Open Data plans.

The peer suggested there could potentially be an individual or group legal action under the Equality Act or through the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

”Local

'There are a number of potential legal angles that could be explored. It would be a great pity if it came to that but if it does there will be no one to blame but those who failed to protect accessibility and inclusion,' he told Transport Network.

The news comes as the Department for Transport made the Public Service Vehicle Open Data Regulations law last week.

The statutory instrument means from the end of 2020 all operators of local bus services in England and the borders will be legally required to publish timetables, fares and location data.

It has been over a year since Lord Holmes raised with ministers the fact that there was no requirement for operators to provide accessibility data for vehicles or bus stops.

Despite these concerns, the DfT failed to make such provision in the regulations and has even refused to provide a timeline for the when operators might be obliged to provide this data.

Lord Holmes said: 'It's an extraordinary position that we find ourselves in. Over a year after we were told it's not the right time to do this, again we see accessibility treated as a nice-to-have option or even an irritant rather than an essential element and an economic driver.

'Everyone benefits from this having this. It is not an inordinate cost and burden. It's not seen as an imperative for all concerned.

'This information has significant economic and psychological benefits, it will help with rebuilding the economy and rebuilding communities by helping social ills such as isolation. There is nothing that is not positive and inclusive in this.'

When asked about the failure to provide a timeline for including the accessibility data, Lord Holmes said this was a serious concern and while the DfT has said the matter will be kept under consideration this provided little reassurance.

'An ambition without a plan is less than a dream. A statement without a timeline is nothing more than a whim and a wish. It would be more than reasonable to give a timeline. I think it would be absolutely right for a plan to be stated today.'

The DfT has always maintained that requiring the disability data was too much of a burden for operators. However, this argument was dismissed by Lord Holmes.

'This is just a deeply disappointing and avoidable mistake. This is not the hard stuff. The data is known. The specification for every vehicle on the road is known and it can be applied to the routes. It should have been seen as a positive step for all concerned.'

Turning to the wider issue of accessibility planning, Lord Holmes - who is one of the UK's most successful Paralympic athletes winning a total of 9 golds, 5 silvers and 1 bronze - said the process often went wrong because it was not built in from the beginning.

'We must plan for an inclusive approach that is seamless, with ease and please and connectivity from the start. If it is forgotten or always thought about last thing, once the strategy has been set, it will be a pain because it was not built in earlier.'

Lord Holmes also warned that disabled people had been let down during the COVID-19 crisis.

'There has not been enough consideration of people with disabilities. We say we are in this together but are we? It doesn't feel like that.'

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