|Road to Nowhere: Northern Ireland Executive Summary
Public transport plays a vital role in helping many people, including disabled people, to become more independent. Research has revealed that although disabled people travel less, they are more likely to use public transport.
Lack of information once they are on board a bus deters the two million blind and partially sighted people in the United Kingdom from using buses. This is because they are unable to do things that many of us take for granted, such as being able to identify their stop. Guide Dogs conducted a survey entitled “Road to Nowhere” to uncover the extent of the problem. This was a follow up to the “Forgotten Passengers” survey conducted by the charity in 2012 which found that 89% of blind and partially sighted people had missed their stop because they didn’t know where they were on a journey.
The “Road to Nowhere” survey was conducted between October 2012 and March 2013. Over 450 people responded from across the United Kingdom, including blind and partially sighted people (including non-guide dog owners), people with hearing problems and wheelchair users. The statistics in this Northern Ireland Executive Summary are drawn from the 52 people from across Northern Ireland who identified themselves as either guide dog owners or blind or partially sighted (but not necessarily a guide dog owner), though it should be noted that many people had dual sensory impairments.
If you are interested in the findings for all UK respondents, please email email@example.com.
Blind bus passengers are on the Road to Nowhere
Only 10% of blind and partially sighted respondents described their usual on board experience as excellent, with 48% describing it as average to poor. These results were consistent when comparing with the survey as a whole, suggesting that poor experiences are commonplace for disabled people.
The survey identified some clear problems with bus drivers which go part of the way to explaining why the passenger experience is so poor.
The difficulties begin even before people board a bus. Less than half of drivers always pull right up to the kerb. Failing to do this makes it more difficult for blind and partially sighted passengers to board a bus. Only 60% of drivers always tell blind and partially sighted respondents the number of the bus they are driving when asked. Once on board, only 33% of drivers always wait for blind and partially sighted respondents to find a seat before pulling off. To try and combat some of these easily solved problems, Guide Dogs produced a “Tips for Bus Drivers” leaflet in 2012. Copies of the leaflet can be obtained by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I don't travel alone on buses; I don't feel confident travelling on my own. I fear getting lost in an unfamiliar area and feel very isolated and vulnerable.”
Some 58% of blind and partially sighted survey respondents reported that they have missed their stop because drivers have refused to agree to tell them when they had reached their stop. This is a shocking statistic, and explains why so many blind and partially sighted people lack confidence in their local bus services and decide not to use them. It is a sharp rise from a year ago, when the “Forgotten Passengers” survey found that 29% of blind and partially sighted people had been refused help by drivers. At the time, this was a worryingly high figure, so the rise in refusals from bus drivers is a real cause for concern to Guide Dogs.
The only guaranteed way to overcome this problem of passengers missing their stops is with the introduction of audio visual “next stop” and “final destination” on board announcements. This would remove the responsibility for informing passengers about their stops from the drivers and leave them free to concentrate on driving the bus safely. Guide Dogs urges the Department of the Environment to include compulsory audio visual announcements in all Public Service Vehicles Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR) to ensure all buses across Northern Ireland are talking. This would bring buses in line with other forms of public transport, such as trains.
Audio visual announcements on buses would be so different, it would allow me to be more adventurous, I would be able to travel to destinations I'm not familiar with. At the minute I feel compelled to take a taxi. At the end of the month when cash isn't as good, I can't make the spontaneous journeys that others take for granted which is very frustrating. A bus driver has asked me when travelling alone "is my carer not with me" as he had seen me accompanied before and made the assumption that I was unable to travel independently.
The results about bus drivers will be worrying for Translink, who claim that their drivers are well trained to assist blind and partially sighted people. Guide Dogs also hope they will persuade the Department for Regional Development to implement the driver training elements of EU regulation No. 181/2011.
“I've missed my stop on many occasions and because of this have had a long, meandering journey home. I'm totally blind so regardless of if I'm 3 ft or 3 miles from where I think I am, it still means I'm lost.”
60% of blind and partially sighted survey respondents said that travelling by bus causes them difficulty in visiting places. Furthermore, 52% of blind and partially sighted people choose to stay at home on at least a couple of occasions each month rather than using the bus.
“My main issue with using the bus is the inconsistency with bus drivers. Some are fantastic, really helpful, for example helping me with scanning my pass. Others are very unhelpful. Also other passengers make me feel like I shouldn't use the disabled area and should give priority to people with buggies and older people.”
“During the pilot for audio visual announcements it improved the journey no end and made it much more straightforward travelling by bus”
When asked how they felt as a result of the difficulties they encountered when travelling by bus, 85% of blind and partially sighted respondents said they felt unable to enjoy the freedom that others take for granted, with nearly three quarters of those surveyed saying it cut them off from the rest of the community.
“I rely heavily on rural transport to get to the bus stop in my local town which causes me more problems. In my local town there is no bus station, so the buses pull up on the street and could be double parked or 2 ft away from the kerb. I can't tell which bus is the one I want and need to rely on other passengers.”
These damning results clearly show that improvements are needed to allow blind and partially sighted people the same freedom from isolation as other bus users.
“A bus driver drove past because I didn't have my hand out to stop it even though I had my Guide dog with me, I rang Translink to complain and they advised I need to put my hand out despite being visually impaired and suggested I bring someone along with me as it wastes time buses stopping when they don't need to”
The problems don’t end there for blind and partially sighted people. The knock on effects of bus services that don’t cater to the needs of blind and partially sighted people extend to employment prospects, with people turning down jobs (24%), being late for work (44%) and even missing job interviews (4%).
“Huge concentration is required to travel by bus just to ensure I don't miss my stop. I take 2 buses to get to work every day and the level of concentration required for this before I even start work is immense. Unfamiliar areas cause great difficulties for me and I don't know where to get off, so I tend to rely on taxi travel, rather than take the bus.”
In addition to hampering employment prospects, blind and partially sighted people are having their health put at risk. 44% of blind and partially sighted respondents said that the prospect of travelling by bus put them off attending doctors or hospital appointments.
There are no straight routes to get to my local hospital. I have to get two buses to get there. It is difficult to know which bus I need to get, as four different buses go from the same stop. My bus (No 18 or 19) can pull up behind another bus and its difficult to know which bus is mine and I have to ask a member of the public which bus to take.
As well as making it more difficult to find and hold down a job, the alternative to using the bus is an expensive one. 73% of blind and partially sighted respondents spent money on taxi fares because they didn’t trust their local bus services, with 17% spending between £30 and £50 a month, and 13% spending more than £50 each month on taxis.
The survey illustrates that, despite claims to the contrary, bus companies are failing to make adequate provision for the needs of blind and partially sighted people who want to use their services. Audio-visual next stop and final destination announcements would give blind and partially sighted people much greater confidence when using buses. It would also allow the bus driver to concentrate fully on driving the vehicle, and help many other groups of bus users, including tourists.
“Well I've only recently moved back to Belfast after living in the West Midlands and I have found that bus drivers here are much more helpful than they were in Birmingham. However now in Birmingham there are audio announcements on the bus and they are really useful. I think many people, not just blind and partially sighted people would benefit from this type of audio announcement.”
It is clear that on board audio-visual announcements will make bus travel easier for blind and partially sighted people, other people with disabilities and also the population at large, many of who will currently favour other modes of transport such as a private car or taxi.
“Recently when going home on the 4a route to Ballybeen I missed my stop and had to go to the end of the route and come back. This would not have happened if audio visual announcements were on the bus. It would be great to see some movement on getting some audio visual on some routes.”
Guide Dogs recommendations:
The Northern Ireland Assembly to amend the PSVAR (Northern Ireland) to require audio-visual next stop and final destination information systems on new buses across Northern Ireland.
The Department for Regional Development to implement the driver training elements of EU regulation No. 181/2011.
The Department of Regional Development to identify funding to retrofit existing buses with audio visual technology for the benefit of all passengers.