Being able to travel independently is so important when it comes to living life to the fullest. Unfortunately, according to new research by specialist lawyers Bolt Burdon Kemp, disabled people are far more likely to have issues travelling via public transport than able-bodied people. Around a quarter of Londoners aged 50 and over are disabled compared with 12.7 per cent of Londoners aged 16 to 49 . The proportion of London’s population that are disabled increases with age and 52% of all Londoners aged 65 and over are disabled.
The new research found that, despite being the best city in the UK for public transport accessibility, a shocking 69% of London tube stations are still not fully accessible.
Why improvements to public transport are important for disabled people
It’s important to recognise the role that public transport plays in our lives, as well as why poor service or poorly-designed trains and buses impact disabled people more so than able-bodied people. Every day, many disabled people rely on a transport network to get out and about. If the system is poorly designed for disabled people – or, indeed, doesn’t accommodate for them at all – this can present a significant obstacle in their lives, if not a major inconvenience.
For disabled people who rely on public transport, not being able to travel comfortably can limit access to employment and leisure opportunities, as well as greater independence. For some it will means increased costs as they are forced to rely on other forms of transport. For others, hours lost due to poor public transport add up across a week and can have a massive impact on their ability to work and enjoy the same amount of family and leisure time that able-bodied people do.
Transport shouldn’t be a limiting factor for anyone pursuing opportunities. It’s the responsibility of the public transport network, as well as independent researchers, to keep the needs of disabled people in the forefront. So, what does the state of public transport look like for disabled people? Below are some findings from the research.
Disabled passengers are more likely to be disadvantaged by public transport
Transport Focus is an independent watchdog for public transport users. As part of this work, they created a Transport User Panel to understand how things can be improved for transport users, with recommendations and opinions directly from the people themselves. The Panel consists of a wide range of people who use public transport across the UK.
When asked about public transport in their local area, disabled people were more likely to rate it as fairly poor or very poor. 17% of disabled respondents did so compared to 14% of able-bodied respondents. What’s more, only 37% of disabled respondents said they found it easy to use public transport. This is striking when you consider that over half (54%) of able-bodied respondents were able to say they found it easy to use public transport.
Transport Focus also found that 7 in 10 (70%) disabled people would like to use public transport more than they currently do, with 6 in 10 (62%) saying they’d travel more if public transport was easier for them to use. It’s deeply disheartening to know that limitations to public transport are unfairly depriving members of our society.
Disabled passengers say they felt unsafe on public transport during Covid-19
When asked about travelling on public transport during Covid-19, more disabled people than able-bodied people said they felt unsafe or unable to travel, with 1 in 5 (20%) disabled people saying they felt unsafe (compared with just over 1 in 10 (14%) able-bodied people). More specifically, 1 in 4 (25%) disabled people said they felt unsafe using buses during Covid-19 (versus 20% of able-bodied people) and just under half (45%) of disabled people who hadn’t made a train journey said they didn’t feel it would be safe to do so. It’s important to take these feeling into account when making improvements in the public transport system.
Transport for London is making marginal improvements
But are improvements being made? Transport for London (TFL) are responsible for upgrading and maintaining London’s public transport network. According to their own figures, only 77 underground stations out of 270 were fully accessible in 2019. Two years on, and they’ve only made a marginal improvement with 84 stations out 270 now being classed as fully accessible. While it does show that TFL are working on the issue, until all stations are fully accessible, disabled people will continue to face issues when travelling around London. It’s our hope that, by continuing to shine a light on this ongoing issue, that positive change may happen quickly and effectively.