National Express is bringing in a wheelchair priority policy on its buses after a disability rights campaigner raised a question on the issues at its Annual General Meeting in May.
Until now, National Express had had a “first come, first served” policy of wheelchair boarding on its buses, where passengers with pushchairs were entitled to occupy the wheelchair bays on their buses, even if they were needed by a wheelchair user looking to board.
Disabled athlete Susan Cook went to the company’s AGM on May 6 and managed to secure a subsequent meeting with the company’s CEO Dean Finch and Peter Coates, Managing Director of the operator’s Bus division, as a result of asking a well-crafted question on the subject.
Ms. Cook was supported in the activity by campaigning charity Transport for All, and was trained to ask her question by ShareAction, a charity which coordinates an “AGM Army” project, to help people attend company meetings and raise issues with the Directors.
In addition, National Express had already announced plans to introduce a ‘turn up and go’ service on its c2c train services in Essex from September, meaning disabled people needing assistance can simply arrive at stations and have staff help them without having to book in advance. It will be the first private train company to offer this service in the UK and has also pledged to be the first train operator to make their route completely accessible.
ShareAction’s work to train and support people facing forms of disadvantage to attend AGMs and speak out is funded by Lankelly Chase Foundation.
Ms Cook said: “It was great to use my power as a shareholder to secure a meeting with the company and persuade them to change their policy. I’m glad National Express saw sense on this issue and I’m looking forward to going to more AGMs to raise disability rights issues in future.”
Peter Coates, Managing Director of National Express UK Bus division said: “National Express as a group has always worked hard to ensure that our bus, coach and rail services are as accessible as possible. It was great to meet Susan and hear what more she felt we could do to make journeys on our services easier for those with disabilities.”
Lianna Etkind, Campaigns and Outreach Coordinator at Transport for All, said: “Being able to use public transport is an essential part of a full and active life, getting to work, having access to healthcare and education, or a social life, with freedom and independence. We’re pleased National Express listened to reason and have decided to change their policy on wheelchair priority. It was great to work with Susan and ShareAction to bring about this change.”
Catherine Howarth, chief executive of ShareAction, said: “Our AGM army project is all about giving a voice to people whose stories aren’t often heard in British boardrooms but who have ideas and solutions of great value to bring to the attention of company directors. We’re simply delighted that National Express listened and have committed to a better disability access policy as a result of Susan Cook’s brave intervention at their AGM.”
Transport for All is the organisation of London’s older and disabled transport users, which campaigns for a transport system that everyone can use with freedom and independence. www.Transportforall.org.uk