Mar 292017
 

Picture of a policeman's helmet in a bus wheelchair space

I’ve got West Yorkshire Police to recognise that a bus driver who refuses a wheelchair user access to an empty wheelchair space on a bus is committing a crime and should face punishment.

Disabled people, bus companies and drivers should all be made aware that such crimes should be reported to the Police.

The Police Crime Commissioner said:

I have heard back from West Yorkshire Police now. They have confirmed that bus drivers refusing access to wheelchair users is a summary only offence which can be enforced by the police.

Any reports of access issues would be logged and an enquiry conducted on the evidence available. Prosecutions could subsequently be considered.

The police would therefore encourage anyone to contact the police if they believe they have been a victim of this crime.

They have taken steps to ensure the Force’s Contact Centre staff are informed to ensure that any calls are handled appropriately.

Contact the Police by live chat, phone, SMS text or Text Direct.

Under the same legislation, drivers are also under a criminal law obligation to:

  • accept passengers with assistance dogs
  • allow a wheelchair user on to the bus even if the wheelchair space is occupied, if passengers and/or their effects in that space can readily and reasonably vacate it to another part of the vehicle
  • work a ramp or boarding lift (including by using the manual override if an electric mechanism is broken), when a wheelchair user wishes to get on or off, e.g. when a wheelchair user presses the special blue button to show they want to get off
  • help wheelchair users get on or off
  • enable wheelchair users to access and leave the wheelchair space
  • kneel the bus if they think a disabled person would benefit from it and/or if asked to do so
  • make sure the bus is displaying the correct route number and destination.

The above duties are criminal duties on a driver, separate and added to the duties under the Equality Act. Failure to comply with the duty may result in a driver’s criminal conviction, a fine of up to £500 and endorsements on the driving license.

I would encourage disabled people and their allies to contact other Police Forces / Police and Crime Commissioners, to encourage them to take similar proactive action.

Arriva Rail North’s antipathy to slopes

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Mar 282017
 

I traveled to Salford today, after my interesting time booking my trip to visit my Dad. I fully expected a lot to go wrong. Sadly, I was right.

Inventive placement of reserved sign in the wheelchair space

The TransPennine from Leeds to Manchester was OK, except that the hand-dryer in the toilet was non-functional. One of the two wheelchair spaces was reserved for me; the other one was unreserved and unoccupied – so despite TransPennine’s staff claiming otherwise, there evidently was no reason why they couldn’t and wouldn’t book me in.

TransPennine didn’t bother putting a “slot” for the Reserved ticket in their train wheelchair spaces. Every standard seat, yes – but not in the wheelchair spaces. So staff have to get inventive about how and where they affix the reservation card.

Failed assistance

At Manchester Victoria everything unraveled as usual. The assistance I had spent so long booking didn’t turn up to get me off the train. The TransPennine train guard got the ramp himself. I then wandered around Manchester Victoria in a disorganised and lost fashion until I found the connecting train for Salford. With still no assistance staff around, the dispatch staff deployed the ramp and helped me on board.

National Rail Enquiries' station page for Salford Central station

National Rail Enquiries’ station page for Salford Central station

Then the guard came. The dispatch staff had evidently told him I was intending to get off at Salford Central, cos he told me that it is not possible for wheelchair users to get off at Salford Central. He said the platform is too low and it makes the ramp from the train to the platform too steep for safety.

TransPennine Assisted Travel had happily booked assistance for me to travel to Salford Central in my wheelchair; they evidently didn’t think there is a problem. Neither does National Rail Enquiries, which blithely notes there’s ramped access to the ticket office and all platforms, and a ramp available to get on or off a train.

Staff at Manchester Vic commented that it was not good that TransPennine assistance staff didn’t know about the access problems at Salford. Man Vic staff had a conflab about how to get me where I needed to be. It’s a 2 minute train ride so shouldn’t take long, but my meeting was in 12 minutes time, and even though there was a set of accessible taxis waiting outside the station, Arriva Rail North would have to call in their contracted firm whom typically took 20 minutes just to turn up.

So they put me on a bus. They told me the bus would take me direct to the venue, but that wasn’t the case. I had no idea where I was or where I was going, so it’s a good job the (very helpful) station staff gave me a map.

In the end, I turned up at the meeting 20 minutes late, instead of 10 minutes early.

I phoned a manager at TransPennine Express, who had dealt with my complaint about my booking experience. He tried to sort out how I would get home again afterwards (for which I am grateful.) He attempted to get TransPennine to book a taxi for the first leg home. The result was that whilst I was in my meeting, I received several embarrassing missed calls. When I eventually answered the phone (despite my hearing loss), TransPennine’s assisted travel team told me that TransPennine wouldn’t pay for a taxi because Salford Central is run by Arriva Rail North. He also said there are not normally any access problems at Salford.

I had to phone the TransPennine manager again, and he attempted the taxi booking again.

All of these phone conversations took place during my 3 hour window in Salford, during my meeting and lunch with my Dad. So not only did I have my journeys disrupted, it interrupted and spoilt my day out.

Levitation required

Ramps at Salford Central

I arrived at Salford Central a few minutes early for the return journey, so I thought I’d see what the problem was. They’ve spent a lot on modernising the building with impressive Approved Document M compatible ramps and lifts throughout the station. However, when a train came in, I could immediately see the problem for wheelchair access.

A Pacer at Salford Central station

A Pacer at Salford Central station

The warning on the platform edge says “Mind the Step“. I think it should say “Mind the Leap and the Bound” as well. That is one maHOOsive step.

It wasn’t just a problem for the hateful Pacer; it was the same with a Sprinter:

Pacer and Sprinter at Salford Central

The Sprinter’s floor is a little lower so it’s just at knee height and not the Pacer’s gonad height, but it’s still a significant height difference; and I would pity anybody (including me) attempting to push my bulk up a ramp onto it. (Sadly, when I became a wheelchair user the NHS had a temporary supply issue with jetpacks and their levitation therapist was off sick, so I missed those essential skills and equipment – and without it Salford Central station is pretty inaccessible.)

There are clear and undeniable problems that affect wheelchair access at Salford Central. Which leads me to question:

  • Why wasn’t the platform sorted when the rest of the station was renovated?
  • Why describe it as fully accessible when it isn’t?
  • Why did TransPennine’s staff member deny there is an issue?

Taxis and toilets

It was a good job that TransPennine’s taxi turned up. It wasn’t comfortable; as a very tall person in a wheelchair accessible cab, I have to travel backwards whilst hunched over. Comfy – not.

Doug in an “Accessible” Taxi

The trials didn’t end there: there was of course no toilet in the taxi, and the toilet on the Transpennine was out-of-order, so I had to wait until I got to Leeds.

I was exhausted so I decided to spoil myself with a taxi home. What a wonderful welcome I received at Leeds Station Taxi Rank!

“Wheelchairs cross here”

This looked familiar from 2015…

GETT booking history

I thought I’d wait a bit to see if anybody noticed it and sorted it out. But no, 2½ hours later, the cones were still there…

In the meantime I tried Gett. An app by which people in Leeds can book taxis. I recently asked Gett how I could book a wheelchair accessible taxi; they said to put my need in the “Notes for Drivers“.

Turns out that Gett drivers don’t bother reading the Notes. 4 drivers accepted the booking, then asked me to cancel when they realised I am a wheelchair user – one only when he turned up. When one of the previous four inaccessible cabs accepted my fifth attempt to book, I gave up.

The next time somebody says British public transport is effortlessly accessible…

tell them where to get off.

 

 

Law Requiring Accessibility of Taxis

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Mar 262017
 
Clamping into wheelchair spot in a minibus

With thanks to Dave Lupton / Crippen Disability Cartoons

Back in 1995, the Government put taxi accessibility requirements into the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), but didn’t commence the relevant sections. They said these are to be commenced “from days to be determined“. The provisions hadn’t been commenced 15 years later when the Equality Act replaced the DDA. And they still hadn’t been commenced in 2016, when the Equality Act and Disability Select Committee reported. Baroness Deech said it how it was – “It has been the will of Parliament for 20 years, 20 Years! that taxis be accessible. How many more decades is this going to take?

When the Committee reported in March 2016, the Government mumbled that they would commence the wheelchair taxi discrimination section of the Equality Act (s165). (I can’t say “announced” because it was not.) The Government confirmed this in their response to the Report in July 2016:

Having given careful consideration to the effects of commencing sections 165 and 167 of the Equality Act, including ensuring that drivers understand fully their responsibilities, we will now proceed to bring the measures into force, aiming for commencement by the end of 2016. This will provide wheelchair users with similar protection from discrimination as that already available to assistance dog owners – ensuring that they are provided with the assistance they need to access taxis and private hire vehicles, and that they can no longer be charged extra

S165 and S167 will become law on 6th April 2017 (not “by the end of 2016.”)

So wheelchair users should celebrate at their new-found enforceable rights to taxi travel, then?

No.

S167 allows taxi licensing authorities to compile a list of accessible taxis and private hire vehicles. Note: the authority is not obliged to create such a list. If they produce such a list, and only if, then taxi drivers whose vehicle is on that list are obliged to comply with their duties under S165, those being:

(a) to carry the passenger while in the wheelchair;

(b) not to make any additional charge for doing so;

(c) if the passenger chooses to sit in a passenger seat, to carry the wheelchair;

(d) to take such steps as are necessary to ensure that the passenger is carried in safety and reasonable comfort;

(e) to give the passenger such mobility assistance as is reasonably required.

These duties only apply if and when the Local Authority produces a list of accessible taxis, and if the vehicle is on that list, and if the driver hasn’t been awarded an exemption from his or her duties due to medical problems. (Local Authorities have been obliged to process applications for such exemptions since 2010; a Kafkaesque situation that resulted in the Committee’s pithy remark: “taxi drivers can apply for exemption from duties which do not apply and which, since their enactment 20 years ago, have never applied.“)

The Government has recently produced guidance for local authorities to decide whether, how and when to produce a list of accessible taxis.

One would hope that they would recommend all local authorities to get on with it now – after all, they’ve had 20 years warning since the prospective was introduced into the DDA; 7 years since it was repeated in the Equality Act; and another twelve months since the Government said the sections would be commenced. Local authorities already have processes for issuing certificates exempting drivers from the existing obligation to take assistance dogs, and since 2010 have been obliged to have similar processes for driver exemptions to take wheelchair users; so the administrative burden of exempting wheelchair taxi drivers should be minimal.

No.

we recognise that LAs (Local Authorities) will need time to put in place the necessary procedures to exempt drivers with certain medical conditions from providing assistance where there is good reason to do so, and to make drivers aware of these new requirements. In addition, LAs will need to ensure that their new procedures comply with this guidance, and that exemption notices are issued in accordance with Government regulations.

As such, we would encourage LAs to put in place sensible and manageable transition procedures to ensure smooth and effective implementation of this new law. LAs should only publish lists of wheelchair accessible vehicles for the purposes of section 165 of the Act when they are confident that those procedures have been put in place, drivers and owners notified of the new requirements and given time to apply for exemptions where appropriate. We would expect these arrangements to take no more than a maximum of six months to put in place, following the commencement of these provisions, but this will of course be dependent on individual circumstances.

So the obligations on taxi drivers won’t be in place unless and until the licensing Local Authority produces a list of accessible taxis. Local Authorities aren’t obliged to produce a list. If a Local Authority does produce a list, it may be six months before they do, or later if “individual circumstances” warrant it.

Whoopi – blooming – do. I am so grateful to Parliament for being so proactive in litigating for my transport rights.

There are so many holes even if the Local Authority does produce a list.

  • There is no obligation on local authorities, taxi firms or anybody else to increase the number of accessible taxis. The postcode lottery will continue.
    • There aren’t any wheelchair accessible taxis in the town where I live.
    • 100% of London taxis are wheelchair accessible – but only a tiny number of private hire vehicles e.g. Uber.
    • 4% of Inverness taxis are wheelchair accessible.
  • Taxi drivers will only be obliged not to discriminate and to assist wheelchair users who wish to transfer out of their wheelchair and stow it in the boot IF the taxi is fully wheelchair accessible. There will be no such obligation on drivers of inaccessible taxis.
  • There is no definition of what is a “wheelchair accessible taxi”. Licensing authorities have to make up their own. They may choose to list taxis that can accommodate the reference wheelchair – or they may not.
  • The Government intends on producing a UK-wide standardised notice of medical exemption from the obligations, for drivers to display in their cab. But the Government hasn’t got round to it yet. Nor has it said when it will. Evidently, 20 years / 6 years / 1 year’s notice wasn’t enough.
  • No body is tasked with enforcing S165. If and how each Local Authority enforces it is left entirely up to the Local Authority, so yet again, it’s a postcode lottery. S165 could be very much like the Conduct Regulations, which place bus drivers under a similar duty to put down the ramp for wheelchair users and other such access measures. No body is tasked with enforcing the Conduct Regulations, and no driver has ever faced enforcement for breaching them.

The commencement of S165 and S167 of the Equality Act was pretty much the only action the Government took in the face of the damning Select Committee report into the inadequacy of the Act. Their dilatory and rubbish actions emulate their refusal to introduce measures to oblige non-disabled people to shift when a disabled person needs the wheelchair space on the bus.

Andrew Jones MP, the Government minister with responsibility for transport accessibility,  said “This Government is committed to ensuring that transport works for everyone, including disabled people.” But I don’t think the Government’s actions show any such thing. I think the Government is attempting to obliterate disabled people, and is entirely sanguine about committing grave and systematic abuse of disabled people’s rights, so it doesn’t care two hoots about our public transport access needs.

(I don't guarantee that the above is error-free.)
Mar 212017
 

Computer Says NoI want to visit my Dad at the People’s History Museum next Monday, so I phoned Transpennine Express’ assisted travel line to book tickets, the wheelchair space and assistance with ramps.

The call lasted two hours.

There are no advance tickets available. This immediately rang alarm bells: it is theoretically possible that all advance purchase tickets have already sold, but usually this is a sign that seat reservations on the train haven’t opened.

Inability to book a seat is a pain for Temporarily Able-Bodied people. But at least they can fight for any of the 179 seats on the train; or (less attractively) stand. Wheelchair users can only travel in one of the two wheelchair spaces. If there are already two wheelchair users on board, we can’t travel.

Being bumped onto a later train would be a major problem, because we have to book assistance and ramps to get on and off the train 24 hours in advance. If we change our schedule there’s no guarantee the message will get through or that staff will be available to assist us.

I quote below some of the ocean of fail I unleashed by daring to attempt to book that train:

Advisor: Outbound journey: no reservable seats on either of them journeys, so it would be down to the train crew to find you seat. Me: Northern rail is non-reservable I know, but I am surprised at the Transpennine from Leeds to Manchester Victoria being non-reservable. TP Express usually is.  Advisor: Yes, it’s saying not able to reserve any seats on that one.

Me: Okay. Well I’m not happy to travel without booking the wheelchair space. Please find out what is up and ask somebody to sort it? I know the wheelchair space isn’t reservable on Northern Rail but they are on TP Express. Advisor: Yes. It’s not letting us book it at all. No availability. It’s just showing no availability on our system. If you still want me to put the booking through, that would be down to you if you got there and the seats weren’t available.

Me: I want to know please whether it is a technical problem or if it is that both wheelchair spaces are already booked by other wheelchair users. Advisor: No not a technical problem, just cannot book any seats from Leeds to Manchester Victoria at all on our system. Me: No seats either? Not just the wheelchair space? Advisor: No, no seats at all, nothing.

TransPenninge Booking site showing "reservations available".

Yet the Transpennine Express website states: “Reservations available“.

This makes me suspect that reservations are supposed to be available but aren’t available because of a fault.

Me: Please get on to whomever can find out why that train isn’t reservable, find out why it’s not reservable, get them to sort the problem so I can book the wheelchair space. Advisor: There is no way we can make the journey become available for booking when its showing no availability. … Nobody at Transpennine Express will be able to book you a seat on that particular journey because they all got the same system as me. Me: Why is it unreservable? Why have Transpennine made it unreservable? Advisor: It’s just a non reservable service on that train. We cannot reserve any seats on it at all. Me: I know. Why is it unreservable? Why have Transpennine made all the seats on that train unreservable? What’s the problem? Advisor: Some journeys are just like that cannot reserve seats on them. That’s just the way the booking system is. Me: That doesn’t answer. Why is that train unreservable? What is the problem? Advisor: There is no answer for that im afraid. It’s just that some services are unreservable.

I was thinking perhaps if there aren’t wheelchair users on it, and it’s just unreservable because of a cock-up, I could either persuade them to sort it out or chance it on the day.

The “discussion” went on for some time, until she passed me to her manager. I repeatedly asked him whether the wheelchair spaces are unavailable because they had already been booked by other people.  However the manager refused point-blank, for “data protection” reasons.

Me: She said the whole train is non-reservable; that’s clearly a problem your end because your own website says that seats are reservable. I want to know for definite whether it’s non-reservable due to some technical problem or because somebody your end has made the whole train non-reservable or if it is because the spaces are already gone. Manager: Okay, so all I will confirm at this point is that no availability on that train. Me: why is the train non-reservable? is it definitely the case that the wheelchair spaces are already reserved by wheelchair users? Manager: There is no availability for us to reserve any seats. Me: Why is the train non-reservable? Is it definitely the case that the wheelchair spaces are already reserved by wheelchair users? It’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask. Manager: I cannot give you travel details of other passengers on that train unfortunately. Me: You can find out though whether the wheelchair spaces will already be occupied. I don’t want travel details of other passengers on the train, I just want to be certain that this isn’t just due to some technical or booking failure that has made the whole train non-reservable when in fact the wheelchair spaces are not engaged. Manager: The spaces currently have no availability. We cannot share the details of other customers who have booked those spaces.

Me: At no point have I asked you to share the details of other passengers’ journeys. I just want you to tell me categorically that the wheelchair spaces are already occupied for the journey I would like to do. Manager: That would be passing on info in respect of other customers travel arrangements, therefore I cannot give it you. Me: No it wouldn’t, it would be simply telling me whether the spaces are reserved or not. If I phone up a cinema and try to book a wheelchair space, they tell me, the wheelchair space is free, or somebody has already reserved it, or they tell me there’s a tech problem that means they can’t reserve it or there’s some maintenance issue or something. Asking whether a wheelchair space is reserved or not is not asking for details of other customers travel arrangements. I just want to know whether the wheelchair space is showing as unavailable because the whole train has been made non-reservable or some other such problem, or if it is because they are occupied for part or all of the journey I want to do. That is not sharing anything about other passenger’s journeys.

He still refused. Manager: As I said earlier, I cannot confirm anything about other customers’ bookings or reservations, this will be a breach of their confidentiality. And later: Manager: I cannot give you info from other customers.

Other juicy bits:

Me: I would like to speak to your manager please. You can do that, what you mean is you will not, you are refusing. Manager: I will arrange for a call back from manager, which is normal process, however as this is Typetalk service I would be unable to arrange that with you.

Me: Your advisor earlier said that the whole service is non-reservable, that she is unable to book any seats at all, not just the wheelchair space. Manager: The rest of the train is really irrelevant because all we are talking about here is wheelchair space, unless you want to book a normal seat.  Me: If the whole train is unreservable then it’s clearly something that is up your end with the bookings. Is the whole train unreservable for some reason?

He never answered that either, though to be fair he did state categorically that there were no technical or organisational reasons why he would be unable to book the wheelchair spaces. Here’s the whole transcript with the exception of certain identifying details. (NB: I’ve cleaned the text relay output a lot but it’s still pretty hideous and inaccessible I’m afraid.)

Sometimes I think being disabled should come with a full-time secretary, solicitor and a baseball bat. (For relieving tensions on a baseball – I don’t do physical violence.)

I shall ask the Information Commissioner to assess this… unusual interpretation of approach to data protection.

I have little confidence that everything will go right on Monday. I am dreading it. I shall take careful note of the booking status of the spaces…


ADDENDUM the following day

This morning:

This afternoon:

They’ve booked the wheelchair space. So the space evidently wasn’t booked by a wheelchair user and there evidently was a technical or organisational reason why they didn’t book it.

It gives the wheelchair space reservation, but still says “no seats reserverd”… still not confidence-inspiring.


Twitter reactions

Buses Bill – Committee discussion about mandating priority for wheelchair users on buses

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Mar 162017
 

The Commons Buses Bill Committee today debated proposed amendments to the Buses Bill to ensure mandatory disability awareness training for bus drivers, and to enforce priority for disabled people to use the wheelchair space on buses.

The Houses of Parliament have a serious security problem with their Parliament TV website which means I can’t embed the video here:

However you can watch it direct on the Parliament Live TV website. The accessibility-related amendments were debated between about 12:07pm and 12:55pm. If you’re going to watch it, I recommend having the list of amendments handy.  “New Clauses3, 4 and 7 are the ones – marked “NC3, NC4” and “NC7” on the right of the amendments paper.

Parliament have not subtitled this video, but the record of the debate should be made available on Hansard and thus TheyWorkForYou.com tomorrow – I’ll link it when it’s published.

My summary:

  • bus companies will have to do disability awareness training for their drivers come March next year
  • Andrew Jones MP has set up a small working group of people from bus companies and disabled people to look at the practicalities of implementing priority for disabled people in the wheelchair space, which will do its work over the summer
  • the two Labour MPs argued repeatedly, clearly and cogently for enforceable priority for disabled people for the wheelchair space, and for such to happen quickly.

The amendments were collectively withdrawn and/or voted down, on the basis that the changes asked for are either already in place or there are clear plans to make them happen, and because NC7 didn’t add anything to existing legislation.

We carry on fighting…

Change the law: enforce disabled people’s priority on buses

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Feb 162017
 
Government petition: change the law to enforce wheelchair access on buses

Government petition: change the law to enforce disabled people’s access on buses

Despite our partial victory in the Supreme Court against Firstbusdisabled people are still being refused access to buses where the wheelchair space is occupied by non-disabled people.

The Supreme Court justices recommended Parliament reconsider the legislation. Let’s ask the Government to do so.

Please sign and share the petition on Parliament’s website to ask them to change the law.

Parliament petition: enforce disabled people's right to use bus wheelchair spaces

Parliament petition: enforce disabled people’s right to use bus wheelchair spaces

Thank you!
 

Feb 152017
 

Section 50 of the Freedom of Information Act gives requesters the right to ask the Information Commissioner to decide if a public authority’s handling of the requester’s Freedom of Information Request is in compliance with the Act.

Application for decision by Commissioner.

(1)Any person (in this section referred to as “the complainant”) may apply to the Commissioner for a decision whether, in any specified respect, a request for information made by the complainant to a public authority has been dealt with in accordance with the requirements of Part I.

Here’s the bit I’m interested in: (my emphasis)

Any person … may apply to the Commissioner for a decision whether, in any specified respect, a request for information made by the complainant to a public authority has been dealt with in accordance…

I don’t think the Commissioner complies with this, and I think she / her office should.

Here’s a current example, in which the ICO is refusing to decide whether an authority’s handling of my request complied with the Act in my specified respect – whether they were correct to use the S43 exemption:

In January 2015, as part of my campaign to make Leonard Cheshire pay carers the living wage, I put in Freedom of Information requests to many councils for details of how much they pay care providers including Leonard Cheshire. Surrey Council (alone, out of the 172 I surveyed) maintained that the S43 exemption (Commercial Interests), partly because they were currently undertaking a review of care home contracts.

In February 2016, on the assumption that the review would be over, I sent a new request for the original data. Their dilatory response of 19 April 2016 cited S43 again. I requested an internal review; their usual dilatory response of 21 July 2016 upheld S43.

On 29th June 2016, I sent the ICO a S50 request. It read, in its entirety,

Hello

Please can you conduct a S50 request:

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/surrey_council_leonard_cheshire

1) failure to respond within 20 working days

2) inappropriate reliance on S43

I have given them every opportunity to respond, including requesting
an internal review, but they have neglected to so so.

Thank you

Doug Paulley

After Surrey had completed their internal review, the ICO contacted me to ask if I was still unhappy. I emailed them on 23rd July to say that I was most definitely still unhappy about their use of the commercial interests exemption and repeated my request for a S50 assessment. The ICO appointed an investigator, who emailed me on 20th September 2016, stating:

The focus of my investigation will be to determine whether the Council is entitled to rely on section 43(2) as a basis for withholding the information described in your requests

I was entirely clear in my initial S50 request, and throughout all following correspondence, that my S50 request was about their use of S43. I initially included their failure to respond within the deadline, but still it was clear throughout, and in both my S50 requests, that my concern was about the authority’s illegitimate use of S43.

On 6th February 2017 (nigh on a year after the request) Surrey Council released info that arguably satisfied the request:

Following on from the email below and subsequent correspondence with the Information Commissioner, given the passage of time, we are now able to confirm…

The Information Commissioner’s Office emailed me to say they would drop their investigation.

Surrey Council has now sent me a copy of an email it sent to you disclosing the range of fees for LCD as at the date of your request. This would appear to satisfy your request and I therefore now propose to close this case as having been informally resolved.

(One wonders if the Act allows them to unilaterally decide not to complete the S50 assessment.)

I wasn’t happy with this. I stuck to my guns on the S50 assessment. However the ICO then refused to look at the use of S43:

I will do a decision notice. It will be on the narrow issue of Surrey Council’s delay in providing the information to you.

I said: hang on, my S50 request was about their use of S43:

I appreciate your position, but it is clear that the substantial delay was caused by the authority’s inappropriate and prolonged reliance on the exemption. If you hadn’t intervened they wouldn’t have responded at all because they would have maintained that exemption. Writing a decision notice solely on the a time limit issue is disingenuous.

When I sent you my S50 request, back on June 29 2016, I asked you to conduct a S50 assessment into “1) failure to respond within 20 working days 2) inappropriate reliance on S43.”

I didn’t ask you to take 7.5 months to persuade the authority to release the information, then to count the case as closed; then on my remonstration to write a decision notice solely about their delay in response. I asked you to do a DN about their delay, and the fact that they inappropriately used S43.

I appreciate you always prefer an informal resolution to requests as being better all round, but in this case it’s not acceptable. They are dodging the issue by saying that the time since the request has meant they can release the information. This gives me no confidence whatsoever that when I ask for updated information they will supply the information.

Don’t just do a DN about delay. Do it on their S43 refusal also.

Once again the ICO flat refused:

I consulted with senior colleagues regarding your concern about the position I set out for you: namely, that we will do a decision notice addressing the delay in response. They have agreed with my position and I do not intend to change my approach.

If you wish to challenge the scope of our decision notice in that regards, you will be able to appeal the decision notice to the First-tier Tribunal (Information Rights).

I quoted S50 again, and in no uncertain terms set out what I believe is the Information Commissioner’s obligation in the Act:

I require the Information Commissioner to make a decision as to whether the authority’s reliance on the S43 exemption was legitimate. As the complainant, I specify that specific: that is my “specified respect”.

I appreciate that you have asked your seniors, but frankly they are not infallible and in this instance they are wrong. The Information Commissioner does not have the ability to pick and choose whether to respond to the “respect” specified by the complainant.

Please register and investigate a complaint under your complaint procedures that the Commissioner is refusing to comply with her legal obligation set out in the Act to make a determination as to whether the authority was legitimate in refusing to provide the Information for 11 months because they believed S43 was engaged.

Should the Commissioner either not respond to this complaint, or respond but not rescind the decision to ignore the respect I specified, I will apply for a judicial review, in order to ensure that the decision notice addresses the specific point I raised and to ensure that the Commission re-evaluates their obligations set by the Act.

But the Commissioner’s office still refused.

Thank you for your further comments. I will ensure that your comments are passed on to my line manager, [name redacted], who is a Group Manager at the ICO. However, I should be grateful if you would complete our complaints form…

I will, in the meantime, continue to draft a decision notice in the terms previously explained. I acknowledge that you disagree with the scope I have outlined.

I shall send the complaint; and, given that she is continuing to draft the decision notice, I will apply for judicial review; and when they issue the decision notice, I will go to the FTT if need be. But I must say I do think this is ridiculous.

I was perfectly clear all along that my S50 application was for an IC determination as to whether the authority’s use of the S43 exemption was engaged. S50 states that the ICO must decide whether the authority’s actions were compliant with the Act “in any specified respect”. To my mind, the IC is not legitimate in deciding for themselves what they will and will not decide.

I don’t know the Tribunal and Appeal Court decisions in this area – but to me the law is clear, and the IC are wasting their ever-dwindling resources fighting my request for no good reason…

…Or am I barking up the wrong tree?!

Bus driver still not asking pushchair users to shift…

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Feb 062017
 

The basis of the Firstbus case was that the bus company must do more than get their drivers to just ask pushchair users to vacate the wheelchair space. All sides agreed from the very start that the bus driver must at least ask the non-disabled person(s) occupying the wheelchair space to make way for a wheelchair user. Now they have to “request and pressurise“.

Yet there are still examples of bus drivers refusing to ask people to move. I’ve already discussed a bus driver who refused to let a wheelchair user on even though the wheelchair space was free. Here’s a video showing a bus driver refusing to even ASK the people occupying the space to move so that his mother could get on in her wheelchair at the hospital bus-stop, where they had been visiting his father.

Utterly disgusting and unacceptable. But not the first time – it had already happened to the same person the same week:

And on multiple occasions over the last 6 years:

The impact is significant.

Over the past 5 years of the court case, and especially since the judgment, I’ve had large numbers of wheelchair users contact me telling them they are still experiencing such problems.

There was the incident on the way home from the Supreme Court case.

More:

I’ve also received a large number of emails from people experiencing this. E.g.:

i’m in a wheelchair and the bus driver said i could not get on due to 2 pushchairs being on the bus there was space for the 2 pushchairs to go together and for me to go into the  wheelchair space the bus driver still refused
It is shocking that even despite this ruling, Firstbus and other companies are not enforcing disabled people’s right to travel on the bus.
If this happens to you:

sue the company.

Unity Law. Nuff said.

Prosecute Bus Drivers for Refusing Wheelchair Users – it’s a Criminal Offence

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Feb 032017
 

Bus drivers refusing to allow wheelchair users onto buses where the wheelchair space is either unoccupied or occupied by people who can readily and reasonably move are committing a crime. They should be prosecuted, given a £500 fine and 3 penalty points. Then they should have the consequences for their employment consequent to being convicted of a crime they have perpetrated whilst working.

Here’s the ins and outs.

S24 of the Public Passenger Vehicle Act 1981 states that everybody must comply with regulations under that Act under pain of being triedon summary conviction” i.e. in magistrates’ court (thus a criminal record), “a fine not exceeding level 2 on the standard scale” (£500) and, for bus drivers subject to the Act, “the conviction to be endorsed upon the licence“. On the Government’s list of endorsements,  the only appropriate code seems to be M60 “Offences not covered by other codes (including offences relating to breach of requirements as to control of vehicle)” – 3 points lasting 4 years.

The “Conduct Regulations” are one set of those regulations. These are properly and snappily titled “The Public Service Vehicles (Conduct of Drivers, Inspectors, Conductors and Passengers)(Amendment) Regulations 2002“. Read the Conduct Regulations (PDF). Amongst other things, they say:

12.—(1) This regulation applies (subject to regulation 15(1) (duties requiring the proper functioning of equipment)) in relation to a driver and a conductor of a Schedule 1 vehicle.
(2) If there is an unoccupied wheelchair space on the vehicle, a driver and a conductor shall allow a wheelchair user to board if—
(a) the wheelchair is of a type or size that can be correctly and safely located in that wheelchair space, and
(b) in so doing, neither the maximum seating nor standing capacity of the vehicle would be exceeded.
(3) For the purpose of paragraph (2), a wheelchair space is occupied if—
(a) there is a wheelchair user in that space; or
(b) passengers or their effects are in that space and they or their effects cannot readily and reasonably vacate it by moving to another part of the vehicle.

(“A Schedule 1 vehicle” simply means a wheelchair accessible bus.)

So if you’re not allowed on a bus in your wheelchair, and the wheelchair space is either empty or there’s somebody in the space who can “readily and reasonbly” move to another bit of the bus, call the police and report the driver.

So: take a recent situation.

  • Kirsty Shepherd, a wheelchair user from Wakefield, was refused access to a bus because there was a baby buggy in the buggy space.
  • This bus had a separate buggy and wheelchair space: so the wheelchair space was free.
  • The wheelchair space was empty.
  • Kirsty quite rightly protested at not being allowed on, and insisted on speaking to the driver’s boss, so the driver phoned his boss on his mobile.
  • The boss told Kirsty that Kirsty could catch the bus.
  • The boss told the driver that Kirsty could catch the bus.
  • The driver still refused.
  • The boss told Kirsty, again, that she could catch the bus.
  • The boss told the driver again to let Kirsty on.
  • The driver still refused – then terminated the bus, telling everybody to get off.
  • The driver told the other customers that Kirsty had terminated the bus.
  • Everybody got off and most of the passengers shouted at Kirsty for being “selfish”.
  • The driver shouted at Kirsty, accusing her of terminating the bus.
  • Kirsty told the driver to put the bus back into service
  • The bus drove off with all the passengers back on board. Even the mum with the pushchair in the pushchair space. But the wheelchair space was still empty – because Kirsty was still not allowed on.
  • Kirsty, understandably very distraught, successfully caught the next bus, 40 minutes later. So did somebody else with a pushchair. They simply occupied the pushchair space and the wheelchair space respectively, without an issue, as Kirsty has done many times before.

On Monday (3 days ago) Arriva said they were “investigating this as a matter of urgency“. So I emailed Arriva pointing out that the driver had committed a criminal offence, and that

I expect you to act precisely as you would if a driver had conducted another criminal offence whilst on duty, for example drink driving or assaulting somebody. You are under a duty to report this matter for prosecution, or to place an information before the magistrates. You will also of course have to deal with any other matters, but refusal to allow a wheelchair user on board when the wheelchair space is free is a specific criminal offence in and of itself. I look forward to hearing that you have treated this criminal offence with the seriousness it deserves.

I got a read receipt for my email. So I know they got it.

Arriva have today issued an apology. Apparently, Arriva:

said there had been “a genuine misinterpretation” of company policy and that the company’s policy was complicated by the many different configurations of buses in the fleet.

A genuine misinterpretation?! The law couldn’t be clearer: if the wheelchair space is free the driver MUST allow a wheelchair user on. What’s more the driver’s boss told him, repeatedly, that he must allow Kirsty on in her wheelchair. If the driver believed this is company policy,  that doesn’t say much for the driver! If the driver similarly believed company policy required him to break speed limits and to drive while drunk, would he do so? As to the supposed confusion over “different configurations“: what?!

Bollocks.

So what are Arriva doing following their driver’s criminal behaviour whilst driving their bus?

  • The company is to distribute new signs to “clarify the position regarding wheelchair access” to its bus fleet
  • The company is also to issue a driver briefing as part of its disability awareness training
  • The driver is going on his usually yearly update, that might cover disability awareness and wheelchairs
  • The driver’s manager will have a word with him, just like he did during the incident
  • The company said sorry to Kirsty.
  • And…
  • …That’s it.

NB: To her eternal credit, despite being absolutely humiliated by the driver’s treatment of her and him blaming her to other passengers, Kirsty went to the media and achieved widespread coverage. (She’s marvelous.) So this isn’t just how Arriva deal with drivers’ criminal behaviour, it’s how they do so under a publicity spotlight.

Arriva evidently don’t report, suspend or sack drivers who commit crimes whilst driving

So next time you’re on an Arriva bus, don’t complain if the driver verbally assaults someone, foments hatred among passengers leading to a likely breach of the peace, if he refuses somebody based purely on prejudice against their race then blames them for terminating the bus, shouts at them for no good reason, or whatever, because quite clearly Arriva expect and tolerate such illegal discrimination and hate crimes.

Other criminal offences

Drivers’ failures to do any of the following are also criminal offences under the Conduct Regulations, also meriting a £500 fine, 3 points and a criminal record:

Part Obligation
14.1 Deploy the ramp when a wheelchair user wants to get on or off
13.2 Operate the kneeling mechanism when needed and on request
14.2&3 Assist disabled people to get on or off the bus, if needed
12.4c Carry a means of manually operating automatic ramps if they break
12.4d Ensure wheelchair users can access and exit of the wheelchair space
12.4e Ensure wheelchair users are in the space before continuing driving

I therefore urge wheelchair users to call the police if a driver fails to deploy the ramp on request (e.g. in response to the blue bell)

An interesting corollary: drivers are obliged to allow wheelchair users onto the bus if passengers or their effects are in the wheelchair space and they cannot readily and
reasonably vacate it by moving to another part of the bus, irrespective of whether or no those passengers actually move. Drivers are then obliged to make sure that any wheelchair user is correctly and safely positioned in a wheelchair space. Should the wheelchair user be unable to get access to said wheelchair space because said passengers refuse to move, an interesting stalemate should develop where the bus driver refuses to drive the bus until the non-disabled person vacates the space. As identified by Lord Toulson:

There is therefore an apparent tension in the regulation, because regulation 12(2) requires the driver to permit a wheelchair user to board if there is an unoccupied wheelchair space, which includes a space physically occupied by a person who could readily and reasonably move elsewhere, but for as long as that person remains in the wheelchair space the vehicle must not be driven.

Jan 302017
 

Some people argue that wheelchair users expecting pushchair users to vacate the wheelchair space are expecting special treatment, not equality, and being unreasonable. They advocate “first come first served” as fair.

The answer is that yes, we are expecting special treatment, and we’re not ashamed of that. We need special treatment to have any chance at accessing things which non-disabled people take for granted. This is because the built environment, services and society isn’t set up with our access needs in mind. That’s why Parliament has made it a legal requirement that all service providers make reasonable adjustments. For all other “protected characteristics” (age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and so on) – the Equality Act “just” imposes the obligation not to discriminate. It only requires service providers to proactively do stuff for disabled people. This is to recognise the extra barriers that disabled people face on a day-to-day basis.

One of those adaptations is the wheelchair space on buses. NB: it’s a wheelchair space. It’s not an “everything” space; it’s not a “wheelchair, buggy and luggage” space, it’s not a “first come first served” space, it’s a wheelchair space. This is entirely clear throughout legislation and has never been in dispute at any point in “my” legal case or any other.

It’s designed around wheelchairs, for wheelchair safety (as far as I know pushchair safety on buses has never been assessed, nor crash-tests of buggies or an approved design of buggy spaces, unlike for wheelchairs), wheelchair users’ ease of use and for wheelchair user’s comfort. It has to have signs in it saying it’s for wheelchair users. Passengers and their effects (buggies, luggage) are legally required to move from the wheelchair space if a disabled person needs it, unless there are extenuating circumstances (e.g. somebody giving birth on a bus) They are obliged to move under criminal law. Drivers are obliged to allow wheelchair users on, also under criminal law.

There is no law requiring drivers or bus companies to allow a person with a buggy on to a bus, or to allow them to occupy any space on the bus whatsoever.

Our QC put it well in Court:

“The case has in some parts being identified as being about competition between the rights of wheelchair uses, and travelers with children and buggies. But we say that is not the right way to view it.

“We do not suggest that parents traveling with buggies don’t have the need for assistance or to be taken into account.

“We do not suggest that bus companies shouldn’t consider about the general public as it is.

“What we say … is that we have a particular problem – Wheelchair users, Mr. Paulley in particular – and we have been given a particular solution. And we do object to the solution to other problems being grafted on in some way that undermines the strength of the solution which we say Parliament has given” (us.)

(video on Supreme Court website, about 7min 30s in)

The County Court Judge put it more starkly:

Although such a policy might inconvenience a mother with a buggy that, I am afraid, is a consequence of the protection which Parliament has chosen to give to disabled wheelchair users and not to non-disabled mothers with buggies.

(County Court judge as quoted in the Court of Appeal judgment)

So, people with buggies, I’m afraid it is not your space. It was wrong of bus companies to advertise buses as “buggy friendly” where there’s only a wheelchair space and no buggy space. It is doubly wrong of them to put buggy signs in wheelchair spaces. And whilst we’re generally happy to lend the space to others when we’re not using it, us disabled people (well, most of us anyway) object when you selfishly occupy the wheelchair space and refuse to return it to us when we need it.

Happily most parents and guardians agree with usas shown by Mumsnet – but there are a lot more pushchair users than wheelchair users…

If you (non-disabled people with buggies) want a space on buses, perhaps learn from us. This is how we got ours:

It took about 30 years for us to achieve ubiquitous wheelchair spaces on buses. Good luck with your campaign. We fully support you – after all, we want everybody to be able to travel, including parents with buggies (after all, many disabled people are parents!) and as easily and comfortably as possible.

But in the meantime, don’t discriminate against us by using the wheelchair space when we need it.

Graphic: Equality doesn't mean treating everybody the same

Image after Craig Froehle

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