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14.05.19

DfT calls for new technology to transform transport accessibility, but union warns against ‘faceless’ railway

The DfT has called for new technologies to revolutionise travel for older people and those with disabilities, but the RMT has “reacted with disgust” to its suggestions that travel apps can replace staff.

Jessie Norman, the future of mobility minister, has set out how new technologies like self-driving vehicles and the increased use of mobile apps have the potential to transform travel for those with mobility issues.

Speaking at an event in Bristol, Norman today called these technologies to be a key consideration for those companies developing future transport in a bid to address “some unacceptable barriers to travel” those with disabilities or mobility issues face.

But the RMT union reacted angrily to comments over the increased use of mobile apps in what it called a “cover for the continuing march towards a faceless railway where passengers with disabilities are denied access to services.”

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Travel apps and technology are all very well but it's total drivel from Chris Grayling's DfT to suggest that they are an alternative to having staff on hand to assist passengers with disabilities.”

Cash warned that as seen from the “driver-only chaos” on Southern Rail, when rail companies are allowed to pursue alternative models that axe staff, passengers with disabilities “are left cut off and stranded.”

“What we need are properly staffed stations and trains, and technology should be backing up those staff, not replacing them,” he added.

Norman said that “the needs of older people, and those with visible or hidden disabilities, must be at the heart of all new modes of transport.”

He also stressed how these new technologies could greatly improve the mobility of vulnerable user groups, “helping to address problems of isolation and loneliness across the country.”

The government launched its ‘Future of mobility: urban strategy’ in March, focusing on accessible transport innovations designed to empower independent travel.

The urban strategy builds on £300m spent on making rail stations more accessible for disabled passengers across Britain as well as a push to make operators to meet their legal obligations to design and deliver services in an inclusive way.

Ruth Owen, chief executive of Whizz-Kidz, said: “Improving accessibility is vital for the companies developing transport in the future if young disabled people are to be included and have access to the travel opportunities many others take for granted.

“It’s pointless booking a train ticket to go to work or attend a job interview if the right ramp isn’t available to get their wheelchair on the train.”

Jane Harris, director of external affairs at the National Autistic Society, added that public transport is “too overwhelming for far too many autistic people” due to unexpected delays or diversions and loud crowds, and said the government is right to prioritise this.

“This must mean that all future plans, modes of transport and technologies are shaped by the experiences and often hidden needs of autistic people and their families.”

 Image credit - Whiteway

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