The UK government has developed a wide-ranging strategy that spells outs its determination to give disabled people “the same access to transport as everyone else”. The Inclusive Transport Strategy: achieving equal access for disabled people report was commissioned as a fundamental aspect of the government’s manifesto commitment to get one million more less-able people into work by 2027. It recognised that some of the steps would take time to put into action, particularly around infrastructure upgrades, but pointed towards improving staff training and creating clearer, more accessible information as areas that could be improved in much shorter time frames.
In order to help deliver those improvements, the government said that it will free up more than £300 million for rail accessibility improvements up until 2024, will continue funding mobility centres that offer clinical expertise to those looking to increase their independence, and will subsidise around £1 billion in concessionary fares for older and disabled people.
Advising and helping formulate the actions outlined in the report – which also has a section that makes sure disabled people are fully aware of their rights – the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) said the steps in it were ‘clear, ambitious and practical’. Its chair, Keith Richards, said significant improvements had been made in the accessibility of transport over the last few decades but much more needed to be done for those valuable members of the community. “There has been an increasing recognition that tapping into the £249 billion of spending power of households with a disabled person in them makes good business sense for the transport sector,” he said.
Writing the Ministerial Foreword for the UK government’s Inclusive Transport Strategy, Nusrat Ghani, the Secretary of State for Transport, said that in his view operators were making progress in recognising less visible disabilities such as autism, dementia or anxiety and added that it with technology that could open up new opportunities. SmartRail World has written about one such technology (which is planned for release in around three weeks’ time) that has been developed by Transreport – Passenger Assist, which enables those with special requirements to ‘book ahead’, so they can be met when they disembark from the train.
The action being proposed by the government to make transport more accessible for all passengers comes against a backdrop of unrest in some parts of the country. In June, it was reported that wheelchair users were effectively prevented from travelling on a third of all TransPennine Express trains in the north of England owing to the operator using a fleet of trains built in the 70s that have no disabled access ramps, nor space to store them. That isn’t the picture across the UK, however. Such as in Scotland, where Network Rail is investing £10 million to upgrade three stations between Glasgow and Edinburgh, to install lifts and make other accessibility improvements.
This year, an extensive report put together by published rail authors, bloggers and rail enthusiasts showed that it was that it was mainland Europe that was leading the way in terms of improving accessibility. The Great Train Comparison was commissioned to see how well modern European train operators met the needs of today’s passengers and it assessed operators across the continent. Swiss Federal Railways took the top spot because of its “sophisticated offering for passengers with a physical disability” and easy-to-follow instructions for “those who might benefit from explanations in simple language”. Spain’s Renfe was second thanks to “carefully coordinated assistance to customers on all its trains”, while Eurostar impressed with its policy to upgrade those using wheelchairs from Standard Class to Standard Premier.
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