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The Bus Services Bill – a victory for accessible transport

Lianna Etkind's picture
Four people with matching white-blue T shirts stand with placards on a pavement

After a long-running campaign by the charity Guide Dogs, the Government have agreed to make all buses accessible to people with sight loss and hearing loss by requiring all buses to have audio and visual information on-board. Rachel Kitchin of the Guidedogs Campaign Team explains more

Having spent more than six years campaigning to improve the accessibility of bus services, at Guide Dogs we’re delighted that the Government has added a clause to the Bus Services Bill that will, if successful, introduce on-board audio and visual information. This will tell passengers what the next stop and final destination of the bus is, meaning that people with sight or hearing loss will know where they are on their journey and when to get off the bus. Being able to use the bus on their own confidently will be a huge step forward for people with sight loss – take action now to support the amendment through Parliament.

Without Talking Buses (buses with audio-visual announcements on-board) travelling alone can be an incredibly anxious experience, as people are forced to depend on a busy bus driver remembering their stop or even on counting stops or turns to know when to get off. We ran a survey in 2014 that found that two thirds (65%) of respondents with sight loss had missed their stop in the preceding six months. For someone with their sight missing your stop can be an annoyance, but for someone without it can be scary or even dangerous, and a major blow to your confidence.

Jacqueline is a guide dog owner from Doncaster who grew up finding buses a difficult and sometimes frightening way to travel, which didn’t just cause her unnecessary stress but also made her less independent. When she moved to London a few years ago and found that all buses in the city were Talking Buses, she said that suddenly she “…was able to travel on my own without stress or fear... it’s such an amazing feeling! There’s nothing that can compare to that sense of independence and achievement.” Young woman stands with guidedog, red bus in background

It’s not just people with sight and hearing loss who will benefit from Talking Buses. Older people, people with autism or learning disabilities, tourists, and even people who simply want to relax into a book or podcast on their journey will benefit from this simple technology. I’m sure we’ve all been there - travelling somewhere new and not knowing the area can be a tense experience, so how many people would use the bus more often if they knew how easy it could be?

I’ve been working on the Talking Buses campaign for a little over two years, and in that time we’ve named puppies after two successive bus ministers, created giant birthday cards, handed in two petitions, held one giant nationwide campaigning event and helped to send countless letters from constituents.

Thanks to the hard work of our campaigners we were able to build a sound and well-evidenced campaign, and we had the support and personal stories of thousands of people who had experienced the very real problem that we were trying to solve. Jacqueline’s story is all too common. It took time and persistence and a little bit of luck, but we’ve finally convinced the Government that there is a problem, and that this is the solution that best works for everyone.

Before we get to celebrate too much however, remember that it’s not over yet! Firstly, the Bill has to be finalised (and become an Act of Parliament) with the amendment in it, which won’t be until early 2017. After that we’ll need to make sure the Regulations that accompany the new Act are as comprehensive as possible. There’s still campaigning to do to make sure we get Talking Buses as quickly and as completely as possible! Follow this link to help the Talking Buses campaign through its final stages.

To find out more about the campaign go to www.guidedogs.org.uk/TalkingBuses

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