Clause 85 - Consent requirement for services resembling taxis or private hire vehicles

Automated Vehicles Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:45 pm ar 19 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Llafur, Knowsley

With this it will be convenient to consider the following:

Clauses 86 and 87 stand part.

New clause 2—Accessibility information for passengers in automated vehicles—

“After section 181D of the Equality Act 2010, insert—

‘Chapter 2B


181E Information for passengers in automated passenger services

(1) The Secretary of State may, for the purpose of facilitating travel by disabled persons, make regulations requiring providers or operators of automated passenger services to make available information about a service to persons travelling on the service.

(2) The regulations may make provision about—

(a) the descriptions of information that are to be made available;

(b) how information is to be made available.

(3) The regulations may, in particular, require a provider or operator of an automated passenger service to make available information of a prescribed description about—

(a) the name or other designation of the service;

(b) the direction of travel;

(c) stopping places;

(d) diversions;

(e) connecting local services.

(4) The regulations may, in particular—

(a) specify when information of a prescribed description is to be made available;

(b) specify how information of a prescribed description is to be made available, including requiring information to be both announced and displayed;

(c) specify standards for the provision of information, including standards based on an announcement being audible or a display being visible to a person of a prescribed description in a prescribed location;

(d) specify forms of communication that are not to be regarded as satisfying a requirement to make information available.

(5) Regulations under this section may make different provision—

(a) as respects different descriptions of vehicle;

(b) as respects the same description of vehicle in different circumstances.

(6) Before making regulations under this section, the Secretary of State must consult—

(a) the Welsh Ministers;

(b) the Scottish Ministers.’”

This new clause mirrors existing provisions in the Equality Act 2010 relating to the provision of information in accessible formats to bus passengers, and applies them to automated passenger services.

Photo of Simon Lightwood Simon Lightwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

New clause 2, tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central, sets out that the accessible format of AVs being used as public transport will be set out in regulations. That would bring AVs in line with section 17 of the Bus Services Act 2017. It is similar to amendment 10 but has a wider scope. The requirement to consult with Welsh and Scottish Ministers would increase the transparency of the regulations to allow for proper scrutiny.

As I mentioned in the previous debate, we do not know what this technology is going to be used for or exactly how it is going to develop. We need to ensure that it will be accessible to disabled people no matter what the use case. Again, as I mentioned when speaking to amendment 10, disabled people are mentioned only in clause 87. That makes the Bill nowhere near clear or detailed enough.

For people with sight loss who use passenger services, both identifying and reaching a vehicle at the start of a journey and leaving it and making their way to a destination at the end of a journey can be difficult, even with a human driver to assist. It is important to reiterate that, as with amendment 10, there needs to be a clear and consistent standard for AVs when they are used as public transport, to make their location clear to passengers with sight loss when they make a pick-up—for example, with an audible signal. They should also be equipped to provide clear directions to get a passenger from a vehicle to their destination. During the journey there may be instances when a passenger needs to give further input to the automated driving system or remote operator. For instance, if a vehicle is delayed or diverted, a passenger may be asked whether they wish to continue their journey or stop at an alternative destination. The information must be presented in an accessible format that does not require the visual cues of a map or sight of the situation outside a vehicle to respond to.

As I mentioned when speaking to amendment 10, the UK currently has a 38% accessibility transport gap, which means that disabled people as defined under the Equality Act 2010 take 38% fewer trips than those without disabilities. That is linked to the point about disability groups being embedded in the process and consulted from the start, not only in respect of the statement of safety principles but throughout the Bill’s implementation and the establishment of an advisory council.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Llafur, Easington

I rise to speak to clause 85 and new clause 2. My understanding of the explanatory notes in respect of clause 85 is that automated passenger services that resemble a taxi would have to obtain a relevant local taxi licence. I hope that that is correct.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Llafur, Easington

I agree with that; I do not have a problem with it. However, one of the issues raised this morning, which the Minister indicated was outside the scope of the Bill but in hand, related to licensing schemes for non-road vehicles such as delivery robots. I believe they operate in the Minister’s local area, and they certainly operate in Milton Keynes. They are very popular, but we are talking about people with disabilities. As the robots are more widely deployed, there is a risk of them causing obstruction or injury if the Government do not address the issue. I know that is outside the scope of the Bill, but I want to flag it, because it is one of the issues that disability groups including the Royal National Institute of Blind People have raised with us.

There are several different scenarios in relation to new clause 2 in which autonomous vehicles can be used—from operating similarly to a taxi, which is what clause 85 is about, to operating a shared service such as a bus. In both cases, information concerning delays or diversions, when the passengers may wish to continue journeys or stop at alternative destinations, must be presented in an accessible format. On that, I support my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield, who made precisely the same points.

Normally there are a number of assessments with the explanatory notes. Has there been a disability impact assessment of the Bill’s implications? Have I missed that? Is this another occasion on which the Minister might indulge the Committee with an undertaking or an assurance that the issues relating to providing information to passengers, particularly those with disabilities and sight impairment, have not been forgotten by Government? Does he agree that people with disabilities should not be disadvantaged or excluded from this exciting new technology?

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I reiterate what I said earlier: accessibility is incredibly important. That is the whole point of this legislation and why it contains clause 87. We already have the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, which we consult on these matters. We have agreed to set up an accessibility panel of groups for automated passenger services. We have already met some disability groups—Guide Dogs UK was consulted by the Law Commission during the development of the legislation—so groups representing disabled people have been and will continue to be heavily involved.

Our concern is to ensure that we do not create a system that is too rigid, with inappropriate requirements that do not actually work in the best interests of people with accessibility needs. As the hon. Member for Wakefield said, we do not know quite how the commercial offerings will evolve, which is why we need to ensure that we are flexible. That is why the Law Commission stated explicitly that our focus at this stage should be on gathering evidence and facilitating learning.

Clause 87 requires that the accessibility needs of older and disabled passengers must be considered before a permit is issued by the permitting authorities. It also requires that specific consideration be given to whether the service is likely to improve the understanding of how to meet the needs of older and disabled users. Permit holders are then required to publish reports on the steps taken to provide accessible services. All this information will feed back into permit conditions, allowing us to set the right accessibility requirements in the right context for the benefit of learning from real-world use cases.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

I do not know the answer to this, so it is not some attempt at a “gotcha” question. In addition to any regular service running in the UK that the regulations would seek to cover, there is the CAVForth bus over the Forth road bridge between Fife and Edinburgh. Does the Minister know whether the service and the information available on board would meet the criteria under subsections (3) and (4) of the new clause? I do not expect the Minister to know the full answer at this time, but I would be interested to know what level of information we are currently giving on that pilot service. If he does not have the answer, will he write to us?

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I understand that there is actually a bus captain on CAVForth—a person who can deal directly with passengers and help them. That is part of the point I was making about being flexible, as we do not know how self-driving buses or taxis will operate. Self-driving taxis would not have a human being in them, so their disability requirements would clearly be different from those for taxis with people in them. We are on a learning curve about the best way to make all automated services accessible for people, which is why we have focused on gathering evidence and requiring accessibility to be included in permitting systems, but are not trying to set in stone, in primary legislation, exactly what those accessibility requirements should be. I do not know the specific requirements of CAVForth off the top of my head, but I can write to the hon. Gentleman on that point.

New clause 2 is unnecessary: pretty much all the provisions are in there and it is too rigid. We need to have a more flexible approach to ensure that the provision is optimal for disabled passengers and right for their needs in the different use cases.

Photo of Simon Lightwood Simon Lightwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

It is a great shame that the Government have, on three occasions now, failed to grasp the opportunities presented by our amendments to fully realise the potential of AV vehicles and to mitigate the risks presented to disabled people. At the appropriate time, we will wish to push new clause 2 to a vote.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 85 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 86 to 92 ordered to stand part of the Bill.