It’s been exactly one year since we published documents from the Disabled Person’s Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), revealing years of cover ups inside the Department for Transport concerning driver only operation (DOO). A month ago, we repeated our FOI request and can reveal that the situation around DOO and disabled access is now at breaking point.
The latest documents show that since April this year, DPTAC has been in open rebellion against the DfT due to a ‘wholly inadequate’ piece of research: ‘Effects of modes of train operation on passengers with disabilities’ by the consultants Steer. The existence of this report has so far been concealed from the Transport Select Committee and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, as well as the disability charities involved in the DfT’s ‘Inclusive Transport’ campaign.
The Steer Report – ‘Effects of modes of train operation on passengers with disabilities.’
In an outspoken letter sent to ministers on 2nd May this year, DPTAC states: ‘our headline advice is that the results of this work should be used with extreme caution […] our advice is that the research and Guidance Note fall very considerably short of articulating measures that mitigate the potentially very negative consequences of driver-only operation, when combined with unstaffed stations; a toxic combination for many disabled people that excludes them from using the rail network.’
In the letter, DPTAC challenges the legality of the DfT and train operating companies’ plans for DOO, questioning whether the running of unstaffed trains through unstaffed stations is consistent with the Department’s duties under the Equality Act 2010. The full letter to ministers can be viewed here:
After Andrew Jones’ appearance at the Transport Select Committee on 8th May, DPTAC scheduled an urgent meeting with ministers and sent ahead a list of demanding questions, also concerning the legality of plans for DOO:
- June 2019 emails – DPTAC arrange meeting with Transport Ministers and send urgent questions in advance.
The DPTAC documents prove us right in our ongoing pursuit of a report by the consultants Steer (formerly Steer Davies Gleave). We had previously understood a 2013 Steer report to be the foundation of the entire DOO project, meaning that this new discovery of a piece of 2018 research is part of a six year history that has so far evaded all Parliamentary scrutiny. The 2018 Steer report ‘Effects of modes of train operation on passengers with disabilities’ is yet a further stage in a process of policy development that’s been going on for years within the closed circle of the DfT, Rail Delivery Group and train operating companies.
Key documents: DPTAC’s Letter to Ministers dated 9th April, sent 2nd May * June 2019 emails – DPTAC arrange meeting with Transport Ministers and send urgent questions in advance * DPTAC’s second submission to the Williams Review – Working towards a fully accessible railway, 8th May * DPTAC’s response to the PAYG consultation, submitted 30th April 2019
The Steer Report – Timeline of Events
Background – the 2013 Steer Report
Since August 2017, we have been pursuing a 2013 Steer report known as “Driver only operation – passenger”, which we believe forms the basis of the entire DOO project. We first drew attention to the existence of this report with our publication of a 2014 email from Michael Woods of the Rail Safey and Standards Board (RSSB). However, the Steer report has been held back by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), who are not subject to freedom of information legislation. After we broke the story two years ago, the RDG refused to release the report under FOI, giving the following comment to press:
“In 2011, an independent report into making the railway more efficient recommended that driver only operated trains should be the default option across the network. Following this, a more detailed report was commissioned to investigate the financial implications of different ways of enacting this recommendation. As a public service which spends taxpayers’ money to better connect the country, it is only right that we look at ways to make our services more efficient but it is entirely normal that such analysis remains confidential. Where it is being introduced, careful consideration is being given to ensure that a second member of staff, not necessarily a guard, is available wherever appropriate to assist passengers.”
After three years of industrial action and with a looming legal threat against the government from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, there is little need to emphasise the public interest value of the 2013 Steer report. After FOI requests to the DfT, DPTAC, RSSB and the ORR we have discovered that the document is held only by the Rail Delivery Group. This means that the private industry-led consortium has complete control and ownership over a document that we know has been foundational to policy. The fact that this document has been held back by the Rail Delivery Group for six years also provides the rail industry’s most urgent example of the need for FOI legislation to be extended to private contractors.
To date – the 2018 Steer Report
Our FOI request to DPTAC has revealed the existence of a 2018 Steer report on DOO, ‘Effects of modes of operation on passengers with disabilities’. Although we have been able to publish DPTAC’s damning verdict on its contents, the report itself has been withheld under section 22 (1) of the FOI Act – namely that the report is already ‘planned for publication’ by the Department for Transport.
However, it’s clear in the correspondence that ministers are deciding whether to publish, not when. An email from May 30th, where a DFT civil servant chastises a member of DPTAC for referring to the report at an ORR event, states that: ‘Ministers haven’t yet decided whether to share’ and ‘while some of the TOCs at the meeting today might have been aware when you raised it, the disability groups and EHRC definitely wouldn’t be.’
The DPTAC email correspondence shows the 2018 Steer Report passing through at least three ‘iterations’, a process managed by the Rail Delivery Group in collaboration with consultants Steer – and in which they have sought feedback from train operating companies ‘to ensure recommendations are feasible’. The following excerpts from February 2018 further demonstrate this unhealthy dynamic:
From DPTAC meeting minutes – 12th Feb 2019:
Our requests to the Transport Select Committee:
(1) At his 8th May update to the Transport Select Committee, the Rail Minister Andrew Jones maintained that driver only operation is ‘not policy’. This is no more than an issue of semantics, relating to a behind-the-scenes legal wrangle over who holds the Public Sector Equality Duty in franchise contracts. The documents we’ve published today show that this legal discussion is already going on behind the scenes at the DfT, who are undoubtedly preparing for a legal challenge from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. We call on the Transport Select Committee to seek sight of any legal advice provided to the Department, which could potentially influence changes to legislation following the Williams Review and is therefore in urgent need of oversight.
In particular, please note:
Points 2.6 and 2.7 of the DfT and DPTAC Rail Sub-Group Meeting minutes – 12th Oct 2018:
The following paragraph from a DfT civil servant sent to a member of DPTAC on 30th December 2018.
(2) We call on the Transport Select Committee to demand all ‘iterations’ of Steer report(s) on driver only operation since 2013, and to question the Rail Delivery Group thoroughly on the report’s six year history. We will continue to request the 2018 Steer Report under FOI, but our primary concern is that documents are being withheld from the Transport Select Committee, meaning there can be no proper scrutiny of Departmental policy.
(3) We call on the Transport Select Committee to undertake an investigation into transparency and research standards at the DfT. Railway policy has been developed behind closed doors for up to a decade, and it is outrageous that this ‘research’ process appears to have been dominated by the Rail Delivery Group, the majority of whose members are train operating companies. Despite years of industrial conflict on the issue, the TSC has not even been allowed to view the business case for DOO (which we believe to be contained within the earlier 2013 Steer report).
[This article was edited on 03/05/2022 to remove expired links to documents]