Equity in transport: a path to an inclusive and sustainable transport network for all

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After participating in this week’s Accessible Transport Policy Commission meeting at the House of Lords, I was inspired to write this next article on some of the concerns raised by Motability Foundation in its The Transport Accessibility Gap document.

The meeting brought together local government leaders, people with disabilities, and transport professionals to examine the key role that local and regional policymakers have in making transport systems more accessible. Consequently, this article seeks to spotlight some of the pivotal issues discussed and delineate actionable steps for leaders and decision-makers to enhance transportation accessibility for all segments of our society.

Transport serves as a fundamental pillar in the pursuit of sustainable urban development, offering the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, combat air pollution, and alleviate traffic congestion while improving access to essential services and opportunities. Nevertheless, despite its promise, our transport infrastructure frequently fails to adequately cater to the varied needs of our communities, particularly marginalised groups such as individuals with disabilities. Rectifying these discrepancies is essential not only for attaining transport equity but also for optimising the social, economic, and environmental advantages associated with a well-functioning transport system.

Transport enables our society to function, driving economic prosperity and enriching quality of life by facilitating connections to essential destinations such as schools, workplaces, retail centres, recreational venues, and other key hubs. However, despite its pivotal role, the UK’s transport infrastructure has often marginalised disabled individuals, resulting in a significant disparity referred to as the “transport accessibility gap,” as emphasised by the Accessible Transport Policy Commission. According to the Motability Foundation, disabled individuals embark on 38% fewer journeys compared to non-disabled users – a glaring inequality that not only hampers the ambitions and potential of disabled individuals but also deprives the nation of their invaluable contributions to both social cohesion and economic vitality.

With 14 million disabled individuals in the UK, transport operators have a substantial potential customer base whose needs are not currently being addressed. Therefore, understanding the specific needs of various demographic groups is fundamental to crafting truly inclusive transport solutions. Setting equity commitments within broader climate and transport objectives is a vital step towards prioritising inclusivity in transport and spatial planning.

Broadening public transport coverage and increasing frequency, especially in our under-served areas, are important steps toward improving accessibility. The potential for mass rapid transit systems, increased bus routes, and integration of informal transport networks offer viable solutions to connect communities with vital destinations.

Many of our trains and buses fail to provide designated seating for disabled passengers, while stations continue to pose challenges with excessive steps, inadequate lifts, and some with no tactile paving. Prioritising funding into addressing physical accessibility features such as wheelchair ramps, low-floor buses, and audible announcements becomes imperative to ensure that our transport system is inclusive and accommodating to passengers of all ages and abilities, particularly in the urban environment.

Public transport users with accessibility needs often encounter prolonged travel times, requiring careful planning and enduring indignities, and sometimes sustaining injuries along the way. Therefore, the shortcomings of the existing system compound the challenges faced by disabled and older individuals when accessibility features or services malfunction, leading to extended journeys or stranded passengers. Enhancing communication, in real-time and integrated across various modes, could help mitigate the effects of these system failures.

Improving affordability is another key aspect of promoting transport equity. Subsidies, discounted fares (such as the anticipated £1 fare for 16–25-year-olds within Cambridgeshire and Peterborough), and targeted assistance programmes can help to alleviate financial burdens, making transport more accessible to marginalised groups.

Furthermore, the lack of necessary training among staff to effectively understand the barriers that people with disabilities face is another prevalent issue. Hence, prioritising disability awareness in scheme and service design alongside diversity in our workforces is imperative. Implementing recruitment and training programmes tailored at under-represented groups, including those with visible and invisible disabilities, can cultivate inclusivity while enhancing service quality.

Trying to access our transport network can be a challenge in itself. The vast majority of journeys start or finish on the pavement. Street clutter and furniture, pavement parking and poorly positioned bins and signs are not only inconvenient for people who use wheelchairs and other mobility aids and those who are partially sighted; it is often dangerous as well. These cluttered pavements impede people’s independence, is time-consuming, and transform even short journeys into frustrating and perilous endeavours.

In conclusion, enhancing the connectivity of infrastructure and services across various transport modes and providers is essential to improve the journey experience for disabled and older passengers. Engaging with expert stakeholders and people with disabilities on accessible and inclusive planning and design is a crucial step in achieving this goal. Civic leaders, politicians and other key members of the transport sector are encouraged to sign the Accessible Transport Charter that commits them to appointing a champion for disabled individuals to ensure representation at all levels of decision-making on transport design and funding allocation; to encouraging and facilitating the establishment of accessibility panels; to advocating for the promotion of community transport services and accessible public transport, encompassing rail, tram, bus, active travel, and shared mobility options; and to assist in spearheading efforts to foster accessible, inclusive, and safe streets for disabled individuals in collaboration with local authorities.

An accessible and inclusive transport system benefits everyone, allowing all individuals to access economic, professional, and social opportunities regardless of age, ability, or disability. Achieving equity in public transport necessitates a multifaceted approach addressing coverage, affordability, accessibility, safety, and workforce diversity. By prioritising the needs of marginalised communities and implementing targeted interventions, we can develop truly inclusive transport systems that foster sustainable development and improve the quality of life for all.

In order to drive this change effectively, it is crucial to deepen our understanding of disabled people’s lived experiences of transport, shed light on systemic issues, and identify opportunities for improvement. This presents an opportunity to transform the lives of disabled people, narrow the transport accessibility gap and unlock significant socio-economic value.

Tim Bellamy is the Acting Assistant Director – Transport at Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority

Tim originally published this article on LinkedIn on 8th March 2024  

Feature Image: Author sourced  

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