How can we improve access to public transport for autistic people?

On 27 May, I took part in a panel discussion at Autistic UK’s ‘The Future is Gold’ event. One question panellists were asked was ‘Why am I not able to get a free travel pass for use on all buses and trains on Merseyside? I have Asperger’s and don’t fit into any category.’ Here is the answer I gave :

I work in public transport, as a Night Tube station supervisor: my job is to get drunk people home! So I am aware both of the importance of public transport in enabling independent living (and saving the planet) and also the difficulties autistic people have in accessing it, whether that be the cost of fares or the sensory environment in stations and on trains.

Public transport has been privatised, fragmented, de-staffed and starved of funds by successive governments. Meanwhile, local government – which runs free travel schemes for disabled people – has had its funding almost wiped out by the Tory government.

That has created the situation we are in, where many people can not access public transport. That, I hope, answers the question as to why you are experiencing difficulties with this.

But this begs a supplementary question: what can we do about it?

We can win improvements to this situation if we unite with passenger groups, transport trade unions, disabled people’s organisations and others.

Firstly, please support the campaigns and strikes to keep guards on trains and staff on stations.

Looking forward, we could draft a Workers’ and Passengers’ Plan which sets out a vision of a cheap (or better still, free), accessible, safe, comfortable public transport system.

I’m campaigning for that approach within my own union, RMT, and the TUC Disabled Workers’ Committee. We are planning a seminar on accessible transport later this year, and would very much welcome the participation of autistic people in that.

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