On 28 March 2014, the ORR published findings from its research on disabled travellers’ awareness of the assistance available when travelling by rail. Of those surveyed, only 10% were aware of the information that train operators provide on the assistance available.
The report acts a useful reminder of the legislative and regulatory regime that exists to ensure that train operators deliver passenger services to those who are disabled. In summary:
- The Equalities Act 2010 – prohibits providers of public services from discriminating against disabled persons and requires them to take reasonable steps to make adjustments to physical features and provide auxiliary aid where those physical features or the lack of auxiliary aid puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage.
- The Rail Vehicle Accessibility (Non-Interoperable Rail System) Regulations 2010 (RVAR 2010) – includes obligations on access for wheelchair users, the size and location of handrails, passenger information systems and priority seats. Rolling stock that must comply with RVAR 2010 includes:
- mainline trains introduced into passenger service between 1999 and 2009 (previously governed by the Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 1998) unless covered by an exemption from the Department for Transport (the Department);
- mainline trains introduced into passenger service before 1999 but which are undergoing major refurbishment; and
- non-mainline light rail vehicles (such as those used on the metro, underground and tram systems).
- The Persons of Reduced Mobility Technical Specification of Interoperability (the PRM TSI) – sets European-wide standards for accessible trains and stations. Where the PRM TSI applies, the rolling stock no longer has to comply with RVAR 2010. The PRM TSI, therefore, applies to mainline trains introduced into passenger service from 2010.
- Passenger and station licences – require train and station operators to establish and comply with a Disabled Person’s Protection Policy (DPPP). The DPPP should include:
- policies for how the operator will assist disabled passengers and provide information on the accessibility of individual stations and trains;
- a commitment to making ramps available at all staffed stations to facilitate the boarding or leaving of the train by wheelchair users;
- a commitment to provide at no extra cost alternative transport for disabled passengers to the nearest accessible station when services are disrupted;
- policies regarding the carriage of scooters for mobility-impaired people; and
- policies for the provision of aural and visual information at stations, including on train departures and messages in the event of delays or disruption.
The Department has implemented several initiatives to improve disabled passenger access to the rail network. These initiatives include:
- Railways for All – The Department’s ‘Railways for All’ strategy is designed to ensure that disabled people are offered the same opportunities to travel. As part of this strategy, the Department is providing funding to Network Rail to carry out works to improve accessibility at stations as part of its Access for All programme.
- Rolling stock accessibility – The Department has set a target for all rail vehicles to be accessible by no later than 1 January 2020 unless exemptions apply.
- Minor Works – the Department is requiring train operators to commit to an annual spend on minor works to improve accessibility at stations in their franchise agreements.
It is important that train operators are aware of their obligations and have in place robust policies and working practices to help manage the expectations of disabled travellers and to comply with the applicable contractual and regulatory regime.