How we're improving access to public transport across regions

by Helen Farmer

Published: 17 Dec 2019

Helen Farmer is part of our Inquiries and Intelligence Team. This team gathers first-hand information about discrimination issues recorded by advice providers and other stakeholders. The team reviews information to shape our current and future work. They can be contacted at

Our Strategic Plan for 2019-2022 identifies six priority aims, one of which is that public transport supports the economic and social inclusion of disabled people and older people.

We’re aware of problems that disabled and older people have in accessing public transport and believe that in many cases equality law may be being broken.

We’re talking to advice and representative bodies across England so we can better understand the barriers that older and disabled transport users face to develop our work in this area.

In October 2019, we partnered with Travel Watch North West to deliver an event at their bus users conference in Manchester. The event brought together individuals from across the region including bus operators, passenger groups and disabled people’s organisations. 

The morning session saw presenters from public and private industry delivering presentations alongside us, followed by a panel discussion.  Lively debate followed, with a particular focus on the Greater Manchester Combined Authority bus consultation (which we will be responding to) and the merits of public and private services.

The lunchtime break provided an opportunity for our team to lead a fringe event for delegates. We heard from organisations already working for better transport and used our time to raise awareness of our legal support project, which is providing assistance to disabled and older people who have faced discrimination whilst using transport services.

We’re aware of problems that disabled and older people have in accessing public transport.

The event was well attended and helped shine a light on the issues faced.

After lunch, we returned to the main conference hall for another panel discussion which focused on the accessibility of the bus network.

At this point, it became clear that despite the recent Paulley vs FirstGroup case, which we supported, the legal principles established (that bus operators must end ‘first come, first served’ policies and do more to cater for wheelchair users) have yet to trickle down to some operators and industry representatives.

Our attendance ensured that they were highlighted and we shared this information with our compliance team, who are engaging with the sector.

So what did the event achieve overall? The event helped us to make connections with organisations whose knowledge and ground level reach will help shape and develop our work.

It also helped us raise awareness of the legal support we may be able to offer to disabled or older people who have faced barriers to accessing public transport.

We’re now working regionally across England (as well as in Wales and Scotland) to deliver further events, testing out different approaches to ensure we can share knowledge and expertise with local organisations.

We are currently running a legal support project to challenge transport operators when they have failed to act on their legal responsibilities. If you provide representation to a disabled or older person who has had difficulty using (or trying to use) public transport, we want to hear from you. The incident must have happened in the last six months in England, Scotland or Wales. Find out more and report incidents here.