I have been contacted by my constituents about the Guide Dogs 'Talking Buses' campaign and access to public transport for blind and partially sighted people.
I appreciate that Audio-Visual (AV) announcements are very important for those with visual or hearing impairments and I agree it is vital that everyone is able to use buses and other forms of public transport.
I have therefore consistently supported calls for all buses to have AV communication systems to advise passengers of the next stop, any delays and any diversions from the published timetable and I know that several bus operators who have installed AV systems have found them to be good value for money, while disabled bus users have made it clear that these systems help make their journeys easier.
As you are aware, the Government recently confirmed that it would amend the Bus Services Bill, so that operators will be required to provide accessible information, using both audible and visible media, on board local bus services across Great Britain. I welcome this considerable concession, which follows pressure from the Opposition in the House of Lords.
The Government initially favoured a voluntary approach but now proposes, in the Bus Services Bill, to amend the Equality Act 2010 to provide the regulation-making powers required to develop an accessible information requirement. The Government has said that it will bring forward regulations as soon as it is able to do so. I believe that the Government should now clarify when it expects bus operators to comply with the new regulations.
I am pleased that the Equality Act 2010 will be amended to deliver the AV programme that organisations such as Guide Dogs have been seeking. I believe this could make a vital difference to the lives of almost two million people in the UK with sight loss, as well as many elderly people who rely on public transport for their independence.
I can assure you that I will support this when the Bus Services Bill is debated in the House of Commons. I will also make the case, more widely, for local communities to have the power to make bus operators provide the services that local people need.