The Frequency of Conflict over Bus Wheelchair Spaces

In oral evidence to the Select Committee on the Equality Act 2010 and Disability on Tuesday just gone (3rd November), after apposite and powerful evidence from Transport for All / Gwynneth Peddler (including on the repeated difficulty of conflict for the wheelchair space on buses,) Simon Posner of the Confederation of Passenger Transport Industries said that conflict for the wheelchair space on buses was less frequent than some would claim. I contacted the Committee with concerns about his evidence and out of courtesy copied him in on the email address in his Linked In profile, but my email to him bounced. I therefore decided to make this an open letter and Tweet it at him (@SimonPosnerCPT).

Dear Committee,
I watched Tuesday’s evidence session and I am concerned at something Simon Posner said.

In response to Baroness Campbell’s query about the use of the wheelchair space on buses: “Can you just tell me how you are helping your drivers to address this issue in the absence of the law?” Simon Posner told the Select Committee:It is a problem, I have to say it’s one that’s possibly not as widespread as many people would lead us to believe“.

He has previously stated similar in a live TV interview with me on Channel 4 News – he said this is a “very isolated case“.

Yet the CPT has participated in specific research that demonstrates otherwise. The DFT’s Mobility and Inclusion Unit commissioned substantial research into this area in 2006-2008, at a cost to the taxpayer of £30,000 – see their project summary. I attach the research  report – note that this is actually the final report, even though it says “draft”.

Some key quotes:

Bus drivers interviewed through this research identified that the last two years in particular have seen the growth in the problems from buggy use and the competition for priority space on the bus.

A substantial majority of wheelchair users in all three areas identified that there were problems with their space on the bus being occupied by a buggy or pushchair. In the West Midlands, 93% of respondents said that the space is occupied a lot or sometimes, 92% in Merseyside and 87% in Aberdeen. Overall, less than one in ten wheelchair users said that this never or rarely happens.

nearly a third of respondents who were wheelchair users said that the buggy owner refused or usually refused to move.

the majority of wheelchair users said that the bus driver rarely or never intervenes

It is therefore clear that there is substantial evidence that there is a frequent and substantial problem of conflict for this space. As noted, this competition was increasing due to the increasing number of “accessible” buses in use round the country and thus the increasing number of pram, pushchair and wheelchair users attempting to use the bus. I have no doubt that competition for the space is more intense than it was when this research was conducted 9 years ago; anecdotal evidence of disabled peoples’ experiences confirms this. Comments that such conflict is infrequent are met by derision when made or read out at meetings of disabled public transport users.

The CPT were involved in and fully appraised of the results of the research. A contemporary report to DPTAC stated that the bus companies who took part in the research were approached through the CPT: “Bus companies were approached through the Confederation of Passenger Transport” and the attached report demonstrates that the findings were fed back to the CPT:

For the final stage of the study, a number of case studies were identified using the information in the literature review on measures taken to address the problems and a presentation to a selection of bus operators on the findings of the research organised by the Confederation of Passenger Transport.

Mr Posner was CEO of the CPT when this research was conducted in 2006. Before he joined the CPT he worked in the mobility unit at the Department for Transport, which commissioned the research. He has also previously served as DPTAC’s secretary, as he noted in the session.

I am therefore quite concerned that Mr Posner appears to be attempting to play down this issue. I would not want the Committee to be mislead by Mr Posner’s comment.

To be fair to Mr Posner, I have copied him in to this email.

Thank you

Doug Paulley

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