How UK public transport is becoming more wheelchair friendly


The accessibility of public transport in the UK—or lack thereof—has been a hot topic in the last few years. There has been much criticism over a perceived lack of effort to ensure that the country’s bus and rail networks are wheelchair friendly. The public’s attitude towards physically disabled passengers also remains surprisingly negative, with Scope finding that one in four disabled people avoid public transport due to how they have been treated by others in the past. 

Yet, there are signs that public transport in the UK is becoming more wheelchair friendly. From government initiatives to the efforts of private companies, moves are being made to make it fully inclusive—both in terms of accessibility and encouraging better treatment towards physically disabled passengers.

Google Maps make tube travel easier than ever for disabled people

A little over a quarter of the 270 stations on the London underground network actually have wheelchair lifts or step-free accessibility, a fact which has been heavily criticised from all sides. The issue is more of a problem when you consider that other major cities around the world have shown full accessibility is achievable. The Metro systems in both Los Angeles and Washington, for example, have wheelchair lifts at every station and on every line, putting London to shame.

However, moves have been made to try and help physically disabled people better navigate the London Underground. Google won plaudits with their tube journey planner tool, which offers a ‘wheelchair accessible’ option to show which tube stations have step-free access. The move has been widely praised, including by chair of Transport for All, Ian Benson, who said: “Planning a wheelchair friendly journey is an absolute nightmare and this will help enormously. This new option will free many people to travel easily in a way previously denied to them.”

Government initiatives are making public transport more wheelchair friendly

The government has also taken huge steps towards making public transport more wheelchair friendly in recent times. Firstly, wheelchair spaces aboard all buses have been introduced after a 2017 Supreme Court ruling that “reasonable adjustments” should be offered to physically disabled passengers on buses. The Department of Transport (DoT) responded with a variety of proposals, including the creation of more wheelchair space and raising public awareness of the behaviour expected from passengers towards those in wheelchairs, all of which was taken on board by the government. 

Even more encouragingly, plans for full accessibility across all types of transport by 2030 were announced just a few months later. The DoT’s Inclusive Transport Strategy is aimed at those with both visible and non-visible disabilities and consists of a variety of different approaches. This includes increased investment in rail infrastructure, funding for accessible toilets at motorway service stations, and the implementation of audio and visual equipment on buses. There is also a commitment to producing league tables to show which operators are offering the best services for disabled people, as well as a pledge to raise awareness around passengers’ rights. 

Councils are improving the inclusivity of taxi services

As well as greater accessibility on buses, trains, and tubes, Britain’s taxis are also becoming more inclusive, with several local councils launching initiatives to improve taxi accessibility. In March 2018 Cheshire West and Chester Council agreed to add rear-loading vehicles to its approved taxi list after recommendations by the Corporate Disability Access Forum. Meanwhile, Aberdeen City Council passed a motion in June 2018 stipulating that all taxis must be wheelchair friendly by 2023, a move that committee convenor John Reynolds hailed as a“great decision for the people of Aberdeen”.

Some councils have even looked into toughening up disability discrimination rules for taxi drivers. As part of Portsmouth City Council’s equality and diversity strategy, an additional guideline was added to the Town and Police Clauses Act that criminalises taxi drivers who refuse wheelchair users. By updating the law in accordance with the Equality Act 2010, it gives more weight to prosecute taxi drivers who discriminate against disabled passengers. 

Despite the flak that the UK’s public transport receives for its lack of consideration towards disabled people, there are significant steps being taken to rectify the situation. With a clear effort to improve public attitudes towards disabled passengers too, the future is looking brighter for the millions of people with disabilities across the UK that rely on these services.