How disability aware are bus and coach drivers? Government use EU exemption so drivers don't have to have mandatory training

A colleague alerted me to this small parliamentary announcement last week. Basically EU passenger rights legislation that requires all bus and coach drivers to receive disability awareness training is due to come into force on 1st March 2013. The UK, however has decided to use its right to exemption over EU regulation, meaning that in the UK, bus and coach drivers will not have to attend mandatory disability awareness training after all. Norman Baker the Lib Dem under secretary for transport does say in his statement that they will review the situation in a year. Of course this is totally in keeping with the Coalition Government's policy of reducing "bureaucracy" and regulation.

This announcement is a huge disappointment to all those who have campaigned for better access to public transport. 

So why is disability awareness training so important for bus and coach drivers?

Anyone who saw Channel 4's No Go Britain campaign reports last year will know that public transport is far from fully accessible for all disabled people. Even in London where so much has been done to make public transport, especially buses, accessible there are on going problems. A lot of the problems disabled people face when using buses and coaches are not just physical barriers, many are attitudinal. 

The busy and / or inexperienced bus driver who won't deploy a ramp, is still all too common. Outside of London many buses don't have audible / visual announcements and bus drivers should assist disabled passengers to know which stop to get off at for example, but I have come across drivers who seem to think this is a task beyond them. (I have to say I have also come across some excellent bus drivers who have helped me tremendously.) I have even heard about bus drivers being abusive to passengers who could not count out the right bus fare or who took too long finding the right money due to learning disabilities or dexterity problems. Surely these are all breaches of most bus companies simple customer service policies let alone examples of unfair treatment of disabled passengers?

"Poor customer service can be the trigger that causes disabled people to make a formal complaint about discrimination."

When I worked for the Disability Rights Commission I had to carry out an audit of all the phone calls we had received relating to complaints about transport and other services over a 2 year period. One of the striking things I found was that in 99% of complaints there was a bad customer service element to the unfair treatment reported. I remember one person explained to me that she was used to having problems accessing services, whether it was shops on the high street or trains and buses. It was only when she experienced really bad customer service on top of the usual access problems that she felt she had to complain. As she put it: "I'd spend my whole day complaining to you if I complained about every time I can't access a service or a bus! Generally shop, station staff, bus drivers etc are very apologetic and try to be helpful. But when you come across someone who is totally ignorant to the problems you're facing, or who is rude and totally unhelpful that's when you have to complain!"

Disability awareness training of course isn't going to turn every grumpy bus driver into the worlds most helpful but what it will do is give confidence to those drivers who are inexperienced or nervous about working with disabled people. So often simple misunderstandings arise because a driver is nervous about what is the right thing to say in a situation. Disability Awareness training when delivered properly will also make drivers aware of their responsibility and those grumpy types will at least see being fair to disabled people as part of their duties as a bus driver not an added optional extra. 

Disabled people were very pleased that bus and coach drivers were going to receive disability awareness training, as not only should it improve the service they experience when using buses and coaches but it also sent a message to bus and coach companies that disabled passengers needed to be considered from the start of a bus drivers career and not just when he or she came across a disabled person trying to get on their bus. The government's veto on this regulation sends the opposite message to disabled people and transport companies saying that disabled people don't really matter, that the level of service they receive now is fine. Something which clearly is not true.

Review in one year?

I am curious to how Norman Baker intends to monitor and review this decision after a year? How will he measure success? I may try and find this out and of course will let you all know what I find out.

© Natalie Doig 2021