Transport System: Failings - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 12:51 pm ar 25 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Holmes of Richmond Lord Holmes of Richmond Ceidwadwyr 12:51, 25 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Snape, on securing it. I declare my interests in the technology field as an adviser to Boston Ltd.

I will speak about accessibility and technology in transport. I begin with buses. In London we are incredibly fortunate with so many of our modes of transport—not least the accessibility of London buses, with their audio-visual output. In 2016 I was privileged to launch Manchester’s talking bus fleet. Other major cities have followed suit. We passed legislation to this effect a number of years ago. When the Minister comes to respond, will he say what this picture is looking like across the country? Is it still down to luck—where you happen to get on a bus—as to whether you can have that audio-visual information that so many of us require?

So-called floating bus stops are those where there is a cycle lane between the pavement, the bus stop and the carriageway where the bus pulls up. How are disabled people supposed to board and alight from those bus services safely and effectively? What equality impact assessment has been done around floating bus stops? It must be clear that buses have to be able to pull up, pick up and drop off at the kerbside, rather than the passenger getting on and off the bus in the middle of nowhere, which is what a floating bus stop feels like. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that it is time for a moratorium on floating bus stops so that a full impact assessment can be undertaken? Will he convene a meeting with the Secretary of State and interested parties to come up with accessible, inclusive solutions—which floating bus stops certainly are not?

Taxis are an incredibly important part of our public transport network. We currently have the ludicrous situation in the City of London where Bank Junction is closed to black cabs on erroneous safety grounds, even though a black cab has never been involved in an accident there. There are similar issues with cabs at Bishopsgate. They are also barred from Tottenham Court Road. Will the Minister consider writing to the City of London Corporation in relation to Bank Junction and Bishopsgate, and to the leader of Camden Council and the Mayor of London in relation to Tottenham Court Road, to establish how these effective bans on our excellent black taxi fleet deliver accessibility and inclusion? How do those various authorities believe that they are complying with their equality duties, not least the public sector equality duty?

Another area is so-called shared space. Many noble Lords may have had the pleasure of not coming across these. They are an architectural and planning folly where roads are made completely wide open. Pavements, kerbstones, signs, road markings, crossings and signals are all taken away in the belief that road users and pedestrians will be able to get on better and be more sympathetic to one another. Buses and blind people, toddlers and tankers are able to interact in this extraordinary utopia. We managed to achieve a moratorium on all new so-called shared space. Can my noble friend the Minister say what is happening with the maintenance costs of all existing shared space developments? How many have had to be retrofitted to make them accessible for their local communities?

More disabled people are gaining employment than at any time in our history, and leisure and social facilities are becoming more accessible and inclusive. Is it not a tragedy if disabled people are not even able to get there for want of accessible transport, or are so stressed by the time they pitch up at work because of the inaccessible transport experience? What an unnecessary burden to put on disabled people across our country. It is wholly avoidable and yet currently not avoided.

I turn to technology. We have an extraordinary opportunity—nothing short of the complete technologisation of all our transport with AI, blockchain and the internet of things. What extraordinary possibilities we have to optimise the transport system and to connect all its vehicles in real time. Emergency vehicles would be able to be given the best route through congested traffic. Congestion would be reduced and efficiency increased. Can my noble friend the Minister comment on how much technology is being used by National Highways and Network Rail—not least to optimise their assets and resources, but also to get ahead of all the safety and maintenance challenges?

Inclusion and innovation are the golden threads that we need to see running through all our transport networks and systems. We can have a 21st-century transport network on all modes. Currently, we surely do not.

In conclusion, does my noble friend the Minister agree that we do not have public transport in this country? We have transport for some of the public, some of the time. Outside London, Manchester or other major cities, there is transport for some of the public, some of the time. For a disabled person or a wheelchair user, for the blind, hearing or cognitive impaired, there is transport for some of the public, some of the time. In reality, all too often there is fully accessible transport for many of our fellow citizens none of the time. Yet we know how to do this through inclusion and innovation. Imagine public transport inclusive by design and accessible by all. Would that not be quite something?