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Improved Public Transport for Disabled People: Volume I - Report


Executive Summary


The Scottish Executive commissioned research to support their commitment to assessing public transport options for disabled people and to improve targeting of funding. Originally the focus of the required work was on the role of concessionary fares in relation to accessibility of transport for disabled travellers to inform the commitment laid out in the 2003 Scottish Executive Partnership Agreement. Advice from the Advisory Group led to the scope being broadened out at a very early stage. As a result, the focus of the research was changed to explore and assess a wide range of potential improvements to public transport for disabled people in relation to:

1. Difficulties in relation to the availability of transport
2. Difficulties in relation to the accessibility of transport
3. Information needs
4. Affordability
5. Fear of travel - confidence
6. Personal barriers to travel

Evidenced from the literature review carried out for this study demonstrates that improved access to public transport is a crucial element of trying to increase opportunities, reduce inequalities and generally improve the life quality of many groups in society. Previous research 1 has also indicated that there have been some improvements introduced in recent years. The introduction of recent Disability Discrimination legislation is a key step forward, but it is clear that many barriers still remain and that improvements are required in order to facilitate the use of practical, affordable and accessible transport for many people with illness and disability. Additionally, key demographic trends suggest that it is likely that difficulties with transport will extend to affect a larger proportion of the population. Therefore, research was required to identify what actions are still required to further improve the situation and to explore why previously identified 'solutions' had not necessarily been adopted or successful.

Aims of Research

This report presents the research findings of the large-scale project undertaken by TNS System Three Social Research ( TNS), the Transport Research Institute at Napier University ( TRi) and Transport and Travel Research Ltd. ( TTR) The key objectives of the research were as follows:

  • To examine the reality of disabled people's travel patterns.
  • To identify disabled people's needs and priorities in relation to travel and transport.
  • To identify what prevents people from travelling more easily, often and widely.
  • The identification of the measures required to move towards equality of travel opportunity.
  • The recommendation of how such measures can successfully be implemented.

Discussions and feedback undertaken as part of the research has indicated a strong feeling, expressed by many individuals and organisations, that previous research has clearly identified the problems faced by disabled people in relation to travel and, to a certain extent, has also identified the necessary solutions. Indeed, there was a belief by some that no further research was required and that, instead, what was needed was action. However, consideration of the findings of previous research against the current situation indicates that, despite solutions being known, a clear problem still remains and many of the recommendations continue not to be implemented.

Therefore, in addition to the aims and objectives outlined above, this research was required to:

  • Examine why previously identified travel solutions have not universally and successfully been implemented and the impact of this on disabled people.
  • Identify how previous barriers to implementation could be overcome.
  • Identify the priorities in relation to the introduction of initiatives in order to inform targeting and phasing in relation to funding.

Research Methods

In order to comprehensively and systematically address all the research objectives, a broad range of research methods were adopted as follows:

  • A comprehensive literature review in order to examine previous evidence and contribute to an understanding of what, if any, barriers had lead to research recommendations not being implemented as quickly or as comprehensively as required.
  • Analysis of the Travel Diary Element of the Scottish Household Survey ( SHS data) to identify current travel patterns and compare the number and type of trips undertaken by disabled and non-disabled people in order to investigate whether key inequalities still exist between the two groups.
  • A questionnaire survey of 700 people who are either disabled or have a long-term illness, randomly selected from previous respondents to the SHS( TNS survey). This survey examined the current travel behaviour of self-reported disabled adults, how their current travel behaviour compared with their preferred travel behaviour and examined their views on what schemes and initiatives would be most likely to bring about a real change in travel behaviour.
  • A series of case studies involving in-depth examinations of existing schemes and initiatives aimed at improving transport provision. The aim of this element of the research was to learn from existing good practice, to identify how elements of existing schemes could be improved and more broadly implemented and examine why some initiatives are not successful in order to learn how to implement successful schemes.
  • Physical audits examining how disabled people negotiate the built environment. This was particularly important to demonstrate the range of difficulties and obstacles that can exist on just one journey and that, therefore, any range of solutions needs to be holistic and comprehensive.
  • Analysis of available data on concessionary fares was undertaken to assess the potential impact of fare concessions on the travel behaviour of disabled people.
  • Finally, a feedback exercise was undertaken with transport providers and organisations representing disabled people to examine the relevance, practicality and usefulness of the solutions identified.

Two accompanying volumes of Annexes contain results from the different elements listed above and further details of the survey methodology.

Key Findings

Different travel experiences of disabled and non-disabled travellers

Data from a range of sources (literature review, Scottish Household Survey and the TNS survey of disabled adults) demonstrated that key inequalities still exist between disabled and non-disabled travellers, that many disabled adults have difficulty travelling and that the considerable majority of disabled adults would like to travel more than they currently do. Key findings in relation to differences include:

  • A non-disabled adult is 50% more likely to make any kind of trip on a day than is a disabled adult ( SHS).
  • The average number of trips made per person per day was 1.7 by disabled people, 2.0 by people with a long term illness and 2.5 by people with no disability or long term illness ( SHS).
  • The biggest difference in trip making between disabled adults and non-disabled adults is not the way they make the trips or the reasons for the trips, but the fact that the former are less likely to make a trip at all. ( SHS)
  • In the light of the reduced number of trips made, disabled adults were less likely to report participating in a range of social activities (e.g. communicating with, visiting, or going out with friends or relatives) compared with adults with a long term illness, or with non-disabled adults ( SHS).
  • A significant minority of respondents in the sample, 3% (n=18) NEVER travelled at all ( TNS).
  • Essential journeys, such as shopping or visiting a doctor, were much more common among disabled adults than social visits ( TNS).
  • A key reason for disabled people not undertaking journeys is difficulty travelling - almost three-quarters of disabled people or those with a long term illness experience at least occasional difficulty travelling ( TNS)
  • Around 40% of respondents cannot undertake, or have difficulty undertaking, the most commonly made journey; almost two thirds cannot undertake a more complex or longer journey such as a weekend away ( TNS).
  • Seven in ten respondents in the TNS Survey would like to travel more than they currently did. This varied by a combination of age, type of disability and economic status ( TNS).
  • Maximum latent demand for each journey type are estimated to range between 9% for hospital appointments and 69% for taking a holiday ( TNS)
  • Minimum latent demand is estimated to range between 1% for hospital appointments and 13% for travelling on holiday. ( TNS)
  • The 'true' figures lie somewhere between the minimum and maximum estimates ( TNS).

Barriers to travel

Despite barriers being identified in previous research, the range of evidence examined identified that many barriers which negatively impact on the travel behaviour of disabled people persist. In addition, a key issue identified is that, generally, more than one obstacle or barrier exists for each journey; the barriers vary by journey type and transport mode and those with different disabilities face different barriers. In essence the evidence shows that because the problem is multi-faceted, no one single 'solution' is likely to make a difference to the travel opportunities of disabled people in Scotland.

Some of the barriers are:

  • Difficulties with existing conventional public transport provision in relation to physical accessibility.
  • Difficulties travelling from home to point of public transport departure.
  • Difficulties with the physical environment of public transport buildings and infrastructure e.g. railway stations, and the pedestrian environment e.g. kerbs, stairs and pavements.
  • A lack of trust or confidence in the transport system - even in relation to basic features such as drivers using ramps.
  • Personal safety issues relating to using public transport
  • A lack of a reliable companion or information source for the entire journey

A key issue relating to the role of concessionary fares is the relationship between eligibility for certain types of travel and the travel needs of individuals. Many people, although eligible for concessionary travel on buses and trains cannot actually use such forms of transport but could use, for example, taxis for which they do not necessarily enjoy concessions.

The evidence suggests that although affordability is a key element of accessibility, concessionary fares alone are unlikely to have a major impact on travel behaviour unless other, perhaps more visible, barriers have been addressed

Possible and most popular transport solutions for disabled travellers

A range of sources were used to identify the potential solutions considered likely to have the biggest impact on disabled travellers. The TNS survey asked respondents to indicate what they believe would enable them to travel more easily or widely.

By far the most common suggestion in relation to what might help disabled people use public transport more is 'transport from door to door/someone to pick me up' suggesting that the problem is not with existing modes of transport but with getting to stations and bus stops from home and getting to the final destination at the other end.

Similarly, the options considered by the largest proportions of respondents as likely to encourage them to travel a lot more were 'an on call, inexpensive and accessible door-to-door taxi service' and an 'on-call accessible door-to-door bus'. This further demonstrates that the key element is the door-to-door factor, coupled with the flexibility of an 'on-call or on-demand' element. A further significant proportion of respondents suggested that 'someone to accompany me' would be the most important solution to their travel difficulties.

Although several specific suggestions were made in relation to improving some aspects of existing public transport provision - for example, 'more frequent trains/buses', 'more direct buses/train routes', these were less common and in fact, largely reflect the comments made by the general population in relation to what would make them use public transport more.

Broadly, it would suggest that apart from some marginal or minor changes ('seats for use while in queues', 'more lifts and ramps at stations' and 'more help from staff on transport'), the significant changes required are not necessary to the functioning of the existing public transport system but rather an additional element to be overlaid enabling people to get to and from destinations and, in some cases to be accompanied while doing so.

Overall, evidence from the different sources examined for this extensive research indicated that there are a range of potential individual solutions which need to be introduced in some form as follows:

  • The opportunity to be accompanied by a companion from door to destination spanning different modes of transport
  • Adding on a flexible, user-friendly, fully accessible, affordable door-to-door element to existing transport provision (with appropriate concessions)
  • Further provision and stricter enforcement of parking for disabled people
  • Providing a reliable pre- and during journey information service encompassing all elements of travel (times, stairs, staffing, vehicle quality etc) and spanning different modes of transport
  • Making existing conventional public transport provision easier to use in relation to:
    • physical accessibility
    • freedom from fear or intimidation
    • affordability
  • Funding to enable access to personal adapted car or system of facilitating access to shared accessible car
  • Improving the physical environment of public transport buildings and infrastructure e.g. railway stations, and the pedestrian environment e.g. kerbs, stairs
  • Building customers' confidence and trust that they can rely on all elements of a transport system that by its nature involves a chain of provision and guaranteeing accessibility and reliability across the whole journey

Any move towards creating equality of travel opportunity will require a range of co-ordinated schemes and initiatives tailored to both the local physical environment, the needs of specific people in any local area and dovetailing with existing transport opportunities. Additionally, all modes of transport need to be included - of particular importance in the Scottish context is ferry and air travel for example. A transport policy enabling a disabled traveller to arrive at a ferry port by bus but then not cover ferry accessibility would be a failure in the chain of provision.

For example, a danger would be for a local authority or regional transport authority to introduce a scheme such as a Dial a Bus scheme without a) assessing the potential impact on the travel opportunities for local disabled people b) without addressing other barriers such as information provision, pavement and other obstacle issues and linkages with other forms of transport and c) most importantly without ensuring the scheme formed part of an overall strategy to ensure sustainability of provision. In other words, a careful assessment of the current local transport system, the existence of particular schemes and the needs and particular barriers of local disabled people must to be undertaken in order to match the kinds of solutions identified in the case studies and survey work with the actual needs of the local community.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Key requirements for implementation

As referred to throughout the report, previous research 2 has clearly identified barriers and solutions. Despite this, key inequalities still exist demonstrating that more is required than has so far been achieved. Therefore, the report examines structural reasons for the limited changes to date, outlines the specific recommendations required in order to make a real difference to the travel opportunities and travel behaviour of disabled people and, in addition, discusses how such recommendations could best be introduced and implemented.

A coherent and comprehensive strategy for achieving equality of mobility should be an integral part of National, Regional and Local Transport Strategies rather than being separate or 'add-on'. Evidence from the literature review, the feedback exercise undertaken for this study and case study evidence indicates that unless the strategy is integrated, only piecemeal rather than comprehensive developments will occur, continuing to prevent real progress being made.

The sheer scale of some of the current problems needs to be recognised (for example the challenge of adapting all rail and bus stations or creating a comprehensive pre-journey information service) and realistic phased targets should be set in consultation with transport operators. Schemes aimed at information provision should be set within the broader context of 'knowledge expansion' as indicated in the feedback exercise. Information provision should be combined with initiatives to ensure that the services are reliable and operate as expected.

Linked to this, the inevitable cost of implementing some of the necessary changes and initiatives needs to be recognised by government. Setting duties and responsibilities for other agencies and transport operators without the provision of additional funding will not achieve the required outcomes. As indicated in the feedback from operators, funding is already in crisis and the current climate is more likely to see cutbacks rather than expansions in non-statutory services.

Duties for transport authorities and providers need to be enshrined in law and policed through the setting of targets that are in some way enforceable and are properly monitored. Such targets need to relate to measurable outcomes of transport initiatives rather than the provision of services. Contracts with transport operators should include specific relevant performance measures.

Such duties should specifically relate to the provision of the schemes and initiatives outlined above (and identified in previous research). Local authorities must have a duty to audit need for each and arrange for supply accordingly. This is likely to be aided by the Disability Equality Duty which should be a useful tool in enforcing and monitoring developments.

To be at all effective, monitoring needs to be focused on measuring outcomes rather than monitoring the existence of schemes and initiatives. This should be facilitated by a set of benchmarks against which to measure success. A national framework should be developed to guide local activity and direct outcome monitoring.

Schemes which require co-ordination across different transport operators and geographies must be overseen by regional and/or national authorities in order to ensure that the chain of accessibility is maintained.

In addition to the provision of schemes and initiatives discussed above, minimum national standards should be introduced in relation to staff training and awareness which again should be carefully monitored.

Concessionary fares policy should be reviewed in terms of priority in relation to the other substantial funding requirements highlighted above and to ensure the concessions are meeting the needs of disabled people. Additionally, there needs to be a requirement to measure the outcome and cost-effectiveness of concessionary fares in keeping with other transport initiatives. Policies and practice related to parking for disabled people should also be reviewed.