The Disabled Person’s Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) is the Department for Transport’s statutory advisor on accessibility, established as an independent body under the Transport Act 1985. The Department for Transport (DfT) is obliged by law to consult DPTAC’s expert panel on how changes to transport policy will affect the rights of disabled people.
As explained on their website, DPTAC operates as a ‘sounding board’ and ‘critical friend’ to the DfT. As a result, the documents we’ve received through our yearly Freedom of Information requests contain outspoken advice and criticism of government policy. With its expert panel and inside-view on policy developments, DPTAC’s letters and reports comprise some of the most important documents on transport accessibility today.
DPTAC documents 2016 – 2020
- April 2016 – DPTAC’s Letter to Peter Wilkinson, the DfT civil servant widely believed to be the architect of the industrial dispute over driver-only operation (DOO): ‘The toxic combination of driver-only operated trains and unstaffed stations fails to deliver a service that meets the needs of many disabled passengers. As a result DPTAC is seeking a guarantee that such policies cannot undermine the fundamental principle of accessibility – which would in any event be illegal.’
- April 2019 – DPTAC’s Pay As You Go consultation response criticises the ‘piecemeal and disjointed’ progress on smart ticketing, which leads to confusion and unfair penalties for passengers. DPTAC also warns of the dangers of ticket office closures and destaffing, urging the government to mandate sufficient staffing figures to provide ‘turn up and go’ unbooked assistance. **As of May 2022, the DfT is still refusing to publish all responses to their 2019 PAYG consultation.
- May 2019 – DPTAC’s Letter to DfT Ministers reiterates DPTAC’s ‘frequently-stated concern over staffing levels and, in particular, the potentially toxic combination of driver-only operated trains and unstaffed stations’ and complains about ‘wholly inadequate’ DOO guidance under development at the Rail Delivery Group. DPTAC questions the legality of DOO under the Equality Act 2010, and following the letter, met with ministers to urge them to take legal advice on the issue.
- May 2019 – Working towards a fully accessible railway: a frame of reference for the Williams Review includes a damning analysis of structure and culture; and calls for a ‘whole system approach’ that makes accessibility a ‘fundamental’ part of the railway. DPTAC proposes new regulations and huge investment to bring the timeline for full station accessibility down to forty years, from its current estimate of one hundred. This would require a £6 billion investment in step-free access alone.
- DPTAC Meeting Minutes (2018 – 2020) – nine sets of meeting minutes including strategy discussions, rail sub-group updates, and meetings with the Department for Transport.
The urgent need for transparency at DPTAC
In May 2022, we accused DPTAC of major transparency failures, pointing out that many vital consultation responses, meeting minutes, and formal letters to ministers remain unpublished. Under Freedom of Information law, they are obliged to adopt a ‘model publication scheme’, including the ‘prompt’ and ‘proactive’ publication of new information, which should be made ‘routinely available’ to the public.
The Chair of DPTAC, Keith Richards, responded:
‘We have to perform a balancing act between working with often very confidential information, and maintaining the trust and confidence of Ministers and DfT policy-makers, with being open and transparent with all our stakeholders about the DPTAC’s advice…We are increasingly publishing on the .Gov website the key areas where we have taken a clear view – you’ll see that these are largely labelled ‘DPTAC Position Statements’. But the need for DPTAC to have a new publishing policy is clear.
…You are absolutely right that we need to review our approach to publication and I have put that in place already and as a matter of priority I will be working on a clear policy with the members of DPTAC who chair our working groups. Going forward, DPTAC will live up to our responsibility to proactively ensure transparency. This will avoid placing an unfair burden on our stakeholders to seek information through the FOI process, which has regrettably been the case at times in recent years.’
We now await the launch of DPTAC’s new policy; and the publication of numerous overdue documents on their website. For a full write-up of the controversy, see this report from Disability News Service.
For more information: email@example.com
[This page remains under editing while the DPTAC investigation progresses. It was last updated on 13/05/2022]