The bus industry does not have the resources to provide full accessibility information, a transport minister has suggested.
Under secretary of state for transport, Baroness Vere of Norbiton, was defending the Government's decision to not force bus operators to provide key accessibility information on bus stops, stations and vehicles in the first stage of its bus open data platform.
It was considered ‘too great an implementation burden for bus operators’, the minister said.
In a written question, Lord Holmes, who campaigns on disability issues, asked the DfT for an explanation and what assessment it had made of the impact this would have on the disabled.
Under secretary of state for transport, Baroness Vere of Norbiton said that that following a consultation the Government had concluded 'the industry is not yet ready to meet this challenge and therefore [we] have chosen to focus on only legally requiring the core data types for the Bus Open Data Digital Service'.
She gave no answer on the likely impact to disabled people, who use buses about 20% more frequently than the non-disabled population.
However she added: 'Whilst we do consider accessibility information to be of great importance for public transport users, many operators would need to upgrade their systems in order to openly publish accessibility information, and many operators are not currently in a position to do so.
'We are working with the industry to support the voluntary and open publication of accessibility information and at a later stage in the [open data] programme, after the core requirements have been successfully delivered, return to this important data type and consider whether it would be feasible to legally require the industry to openly publish accessibility information about vehicles.'
Steven Salmon, director of policy development at bus industry body CPT UK told Transport Network: ‘The new statutory obligations on open data will coincide with the last “end dates” for virtually every bus to be accessible to passengers travelling in a wheelchair, and to have various other features, so there is little point in reporting something where the answer is always “yes”.
‘If you drill down another level, you come to legitimate, but harder-to-answer, questions such as “is the bus fitted with audible stop announcements?” and “is the system working?” Getting this level of information into real-time data systems is quite a challenge.
‘Turning to stops, we would support better information on whether for example people using a wheelchair can get to a stop using nearby infrastructure. However, most bus stops and their environs are managed by local highway authorities rather than bus companies. We believe that the local authorities, who have a duty to maintain the database of bus stops, should also have a duty to catalogue accessibility.’
Sir Nic Cary, former head of data policy at the DfT and founder and director at WAYSPHERE, which helps transport organisations to discover and extract greater value from their data, said: ‘It is technically difficult because of the looseness of the standards for this aspect of bus data.
‘Also, local authorities would be very hard-pressed to find the extra cash to update infrastructure. But I would ask DfT if we can at least have a timetable for implementing accessibility data. It is one of those measures that will benefit everyone.
‘At a time when driving up bus patronage should be a priority – because of its potential to reduce congestion and improve air quality – we should make every effort to increase the appeal of travelling by bus.’
Lord Holmes told Transport Network: ‘If we do not know what the data is then we cannot improve the data. In this new world of data we must not allow a lack of data to perpetuate bias and discrimination.
‘We have an unprecedented opportunity to use the technologies of the future to innovate and include but if we do not get it right at the start – with full and accurate data – then we run the risk of doing the exact opposite and designing for exclusion.’