RNIB Charter launched at First’s Chelmsford depot

First UK Bus has become the first national bus operator to sign up to the new ‘Bus Charter’ launched by the RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People), which ensures bus services are accessible for customers with sight loss. The signing of this Charter was marked by a ‘Swap with Me’ event, which saw bus drivers change places with blind and partially sighted customers so they could better understand the challenges people with impaired sight face when using the bus.

The activity was held at First’s Chelmsford depot and was attended by First UK Bus MD, Giles Fearnley and Transport Minister, Baroness Kramer, as well as blind and partially sighted campaigners. Also attending were CPT representatives who support efforts made to improve better access for all on PCVs. They noted that even though they support the RNIB Charter, the organisation would not be forcing its membership to sign up to it, letting individual members make the decision themselves if they so desired. RNIB’s ‘Swap with Me’ events are part of the charity’s ‘Stop for me, Speak to me’ campaign, which is promoting a better understanding of partially sighted and blind people’s needs when using buses


Signing the Charter

RNIB’s charter is designed to tackle the main problems faced by blind and partially sighted people, to give them a voice in a positive and constructive way. The RNIB’s ‘Stop for me, speak to me’ campaign has defined what these challenges are, with the organisation having spoken to older, disabled, blind and partially sighted passengers to find out how they think things can be improved.

First on RNIB’s Bus Charter is a range of points outlining what visually impaired passengers expect from bus drivers. This includes the operator agreeing: its policy will be to pick up any waiting passengers at stops, with the bus positioned safely with no obstructions to entry; its drivers will tell the blind or partially sighted person which service they are and ask if they need assistance; its drivers will not pull away until the blind or partially sighted passengers have found a seat; and it will ensure any audio announcements will not be switched off or turned down.

The second part of the Charter focuses on working with others to make improvements. It includes the operator agreeing to: check all customer feedback systems with blind and partially sighted passengers, ensuring they are as accessible as possible; review its timetable and stop information in conjunction with blind and partially sighted people, local authorities and other stakeholders to ensure optimum accessibility; and make sure all its drivers are aware of the rules around concessionary passes and will support the scheme with a travel assistance card that indicates what additional assistance is needed.

The Bus Charter will also see operators enhance the bus environment for visually impaired passengers. This includes agreeing to: seek to improve the way sound can be heard through the assault screen; actively promoting the priority seating and areas for disabled people; make the pass scanners as visible as possible; explore all options of using audio announcements; and prioritising vehicles with audio announcements to routes chosen in consultation with passengers with sight loss. The Charter also encourages signees to build interactive sight loss awareness training into its existing training programme. It suggests blind and partially sighted people are involved in the design of the training materials and activities, with endorsement sought from organisations representing people with sight loss and vision impairment.

Transport Minister, Baroness Kramer in ‘sim specs’ discusses the needs and difficulties of visually impaired and blind bus passengers

Transport Minister, Baroness Kramer in ‘sim specs’ discusses the needs and difficulties of visually impaired
and blind bus passengers

At the launch of the Charter at the Chelmsford depot, Baroness Kramer made a key note speech. Attendees were also shown a video produced to raise awareness of blind and partially sighted bus passengers’ needs. Giles Fearnley said it: ‘had a very strong message and was very upbeat, very practical. Within its five minute duration it had a strong impact.’

Improving access

First UK Bus MD, Giles Fearnley dons ‘sim specs’

First UK Bus MD, Giles Fearnley dons
‘sim specs’

Giles Fearnley and Baroness Kramer, as well as CPT staff and drivers from the depot, participated in the ‘Swap with Me’ activity. It saw them wear ‘sim specs’, goggles that simulate a vision impairment and were tasked with hailing and boarding a bus, interacting with a driver, finding a seat and disembarking from the vehicle. Throughout the experience, each participant was paired with a blind or partially sighted passenger to discuss what their needs are and what difficulties they face on buses. Giles commented that it was a ‘great learning experience’.

Giles said, ‘We have been working with the RNIB for a while and were one of the first to do the “Swap with Me” events. The experience and lessons learned from these activities has been fed back into our driver training modules. We are setting new standards of customer service across our operations in the UK. By improving our customer proposition we will encourage more people to travel by bus more often.’

Giles experiences boarding a bus as a visually impaired person

Giles experiences boarding a bus as a visually impaired person

For First, it is not just about enhancing its services for the visually impaired, it is about improving access for people with all disabilities. Giles said, ‘As part of our commitment to improve customer service we are working with a number of disability groups to understand how the company can provide better services. To us, this is about helping our drivers understand passengers’ needs and giving those passengers the confidence to use the bus.’

‘I’m delighted that we’ve partnered with RNIB and with its help have organised more than 15 “Swap with Me” events across our UK operations. These initiatives have proved invaluable in better understanding some of the obstacles people who are blind and partially sighted have to overcome when catching the bus. Indeed each of our 17,000 drivers are receiving specific training so that they do have a better appreciation of those issues. We are very proud to be the first bus operator to sign RNIB’s “Bus Charter”.’

It is not just First that has teamed up with the RNIB to promote better access to buses for vision impaired and blind people. Reading Bus and Kinchbus have also signed the Charter. Reading Bus CEO, James Freeman, said, ‘We encourage other operators to actively engage with RNIB to help improve their driver training as well as their understanding of visually impaired people and how they, as operators, can be the catalyst to helping break down any barriers that exist to prevent blind and partially sighted passengers from travelling on their buses.’

By Chris Peat



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