Talking Buses November 2016

Thank you for contacting me recently regarding the Guide Dogs 'Talking Buses' campaign and access to public transport for blind and partially sighted people. 

I appreciate Audio-Visual (AV) announcements are very important for those with visual or hearing impairments and I agree it is vital that everyone is able to use buses and other forms of public transport. I therefore share your concern that a lack of clear, audible information on buses can limit access for many blind and partially sighted people. I know several bus operators who have installed AV systems have found them to be good value for money, while disabled bus users have made it clear these systems help make their journeys easier.

As you are aware, the Government recently confirmed it would amend the Bus Services Bill, so that operators will be required to provide accessible information, using both audible and visible media, on board local bus services across Great Britain. I welcome this considerable concession, which follows pressure from my Shadow Frontbench colleagues who have consistently called for all buses to have AV communication systems to advise passengers of the next stop, any delays and any diversions from the published timetable. 

The Government initially favoured a voluntary approach but now proposes, in the Bus Services Bill, to amend the Equality Act 2010 to provide the regulation-making powers required to develop an accessible information requirement. The Government has said that it will bring forward regulations as soon as it is able to do so. I believe that the Government should now clarify when it expects bus operators to comply with the new regulations. 

I am pleased that the Government will amend the Equality Act 2010 to deliver the AV programme that my Shadow Frontbench colleagues and organisations such as Guide Dogs have been seeking. I believe this could make a vital difference to the lives of almost 2 million people with sight loss, as well as many elderly people who rely on public transport for their independence. I can therefore assure you that I will support this when the Bus Services Bill comes to the House of Commons. 

A further Opposition-backed amendment tabled in the House of Lords would have required all bus operators to provide compulsory, approved equality and disability awareness training. Although the Government did not accept this amendment, it committed to consider these issues further and has recently confirmed that in 2018 mandatory disability awareness training will come into force courtesy of an EU directive. The Government says that it is also currently finalising disability awareness training best practice guidance. I will continue to monitor developments on this and press for more disability awareness training for drivers and bus workers to ensure they understand the needs of disabled users, including those who are blind or partially-sighted.

Thank you once again for contacting me and for sharing your views, which I will continue to bear in mind. I will also continue to make the case, more widely, for local communities to have the power to make bus operators provide the services that local people need.