Fiasco of 60-mile trip heralds new transport law change
Wednesday December 4, 2002
Ministers have announced a consultation on making it unlawful to bar disabled people from public transport - three years after such a reform was proposed by the government's disability rights taskforce.
The move has come within days of publicity of the plight of Ann Bates, a wheelchair user, who was sent on a two-hour round trip by train to enable her to get from one platform to another at the same station in central London.
When she arrived by train at the northbound platform at the City Thameslink station, Bates was told the lift was out of order and she could not otherwise get to street level. The only solution offered her was to take a train to Luton airport, 30 miles away, where she could change to a service to take her back to City Thameslink's southbound platform, where the lift was working.
To the acute embarrassment of the authorities, it transpired that Bates had been on her way to a meeting at the Department of Transport to advise on difficulties facing disabled people who travel by train.
The department this week announced it was inviting views on whether transport services should lose their current exemption and be brought fully within the Disability Discrimination Act, making it unlawful to provide services - or a lower standard of service - on grounds of disability and requiring operators to review their practices accordingly.
David Jamieson, junior transport minister, says: "It is unacceptable that transport operators can still lawfully deny a person access to a vehicle for no other reason than that that person is disabled. While this sort of discrimination is becoming rarer, best practice is not universal."
The move has been welcomed by the disability rights commission, which is urging the government to legislate quickly to amend the act. Almost half of all transport- related calls to the commission's helpline are about treatment that is lawful under the act, such as bus drivers refusing to help disabled people board vehicles that are otherwise accessible.
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