At the end of May, I submitted a detailed complaint to Coventry City Council, highlighting multiple reasons why they were failing to protect vulnerable road users, in accordance with the Equality Act 2010. This highlighted the four key areas where I believe discrimination takes place, in accordance with “protected characteristics” as defined by the act.

Protected Characteristics

These are:

  1. Disability (as this one affects me personally).
  2. Gender (because there is a massive discrepancy between male and female cycling rates, and this does not appear in other modes).
  3. Age – this affects both the young and the old, both of whom are massively under-represented.

Futhermore, discrimination is compounded in the case of (1) and (3/4), where the protected characteristic means that the person is unable to drive a motor car – and this is also something that affects me personally.

Discrimination is deemed to take place when any person is shown to be at a massive disadvantage when compared with somebody who does not have that characteristic. In the case of the gender imbalance, this is becaue 75% of adult cyclists are male. This imbalance does not exist in Cambridge, where a substantial amount of infrastructure has been provided, whilst early counts on the new London cycle ways also show a much closer gender balance. In the Netherlands, cycling is slightly more popular amongst women, with males aged 18-44 with no disability being the least likely to cycle.

Nobody has any rights?

Having waited 6 months for a reply, at the end of last month, I finally got a response from the Cabinet member for city services, Jayne Innes (@jayneinnes), as follows:

I have spoken to our Legal Team, who have confirmed that the form of transport a person chooses to travel by does not of itself give him or her protections under the Equality Act 2010.

So by extension:

  • The council will start ripping out all blue badge parking spaces from Jan 1st – since disabled drivers or passengers “choose” to use their cars.
  • Virgin Trains can save thousands in lift maintenance and cleaning – taking the train is also a choice.
  • No more adaptable taxis are needed – just don’t tell that to the London Taxi Co.
  • No airline should ever bother offering in-flight meals for anyone who merely “wishes” to have them for health or religious reasons.
  • We can also rip out all dropped kerbs and tactile paving – walking is also a choice.

This is simply not the case. A person with protected characteristics is entitled to use any public service, subject to the get out clause of “reasonable adjustments”. This means that the council cannot be reasonably expected to convert the whole city overnight to one which is safe for everyone, but it absolutely means that the city can and must have a plan for doing so. If this excuse had been used on the tube, then wheelchairs would remain banned, as they were until 1993. The tube also demonstrates that access cannot always be perfect – yet TfL are continuing to progress (slowly) on making their stations more accessible. The reasonable adjustment clause might also be used to justify the inability to install lifts at a station like Oxford Circus, if TfL does not own the land above the station from which lift shafts might be sunk.

However, the right to cycle is absolutely enshrined in various laws regarding freedom of movement, from a national level through the EU (for now) and up to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. To deny this rights on the grounds that cycling is not “of itself a protected characteristic” completely misses the point that mobility is a fundamental right. It is the selfish minority of drivers in this city who continue to drive dangerously on roads which make it easy for them to do so who are denying others their basic rights to movement. Coventry city council urgently need a plan to change road layouts, so this stops being the case. It may take a decade, probably two, but they need to make a start on this, instead of further marginalising cycling by ripping out bus lanes and banning cycling in many parts of the city centre.

Update 20th December

I have just had a further reply from Cllr Innes, stating:

Having carefully considered your further email, the Council’s legal team advise me you have offered no new evidence. Therefore our original reply stands.

In other words, the council’s legal team have found a piece of the Equality Act which specifically excludes cycling. I’m very curious now – just where exactly does such a clause exist?

4 thoughts on “If you have a disabilty, you have no right to cycle

  1. The statement is correct I think. And as you point out, it’s the protected characteristics of people that give them ‘protections under the Equality Act 2010’, not how they travel. I can’t expect a local authority or service provider to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ because I use a cycle, but I can expect them to make reasonable adjustments because I’m a disabled person using a cycle.

    I agree with the argument that you’re making on age and gender, but I can imagine people growing up in the context of an English city, who struggle to ‘get’ cycles as mobility aids, will find the cycle infrastructure discrimination argument tough to understand.

    I wonder if the Legal Team are aware of and understand the authority’s Public Sector Equality Duty? I haven’t come across an authority yet that does, and I don’t hold out much hope for an authority that currently considers cycling as anti-social and suggests banning it in large areas of the city centre. I visited Coventry earlier in the year and did a lot of pavement cycling, not because I’m anti-social but because much of the city is hostile to people. But you know that better than I do :o)

    I wonder if a chat with someone responsible for Public Health within the authority might be more fruitful?

    • Kevin – this is why we need to keep lobbying. I used the tube as an example, (1) because TfL are doing something, (2) because it isn’t and cannot be perfect and (3) because any right minded person can accept that it’s going to take time.

      I’m not asking for an instant fix, I’m asking for a reasonable plan, in terms with existing policies “cycle routes fast, comfortable and direct, special consideration for disabled people” and the emerging plan policy “walking, cycling and public transport to be default choice for sub 3 mile journeys (no mention of disabled people)”.

  2. I wonder whether looking for the scenarios which affect the largest number of people in the most significant way might be a more fruitful approach.

    As I see it, a council only providing for motorised users goes against the Public Sector Equality Duty. As such provision discriminates on age & disability.

    So then the issue is whether the non-motorised provision is good enough. Requiring people to be dependent upon neighbours, friends or parents to drive them around is not good enough. Nor is taxi transport, as it is so expensive.

    Clearly for shorter distances walking is an option for people under 17 and most of those with disabilities. For some journeys public transport is practical. The case for cycling is strongest where the issue is access to out-of-town workplaces or access to almost anything from villages.

  3. Hello James,

    Pretty much everything I’ve read concerning Cllr Jayne Innes & cycling issues feels confrontational. When a cabinet member has to consult the legal ‘team’ before they dare sneeze it means they are on thin ice. The only reason to skate on thin ice, apart from reckless stupidity, is because the objective requires risks be taken. Sensible people only take risks when they are considered essential to achieve a necessary but difficult outcome. So, what is this necessary but difficult outcome Cllr Jayne Innes wishes to achieve that requires her to consult the legal team before answering a question?

    The official reply was, “I have spoken to our Legal Team, who have confirmed that the form of transport a person chooses to travel by does not of itself give him or her protections under the Equality Act 2010.”

    then, “Having carefully considered your further email, the Council’s legal team advise me you have offered no new evidence. Therefore our original reply stands.”

    Now if it takes a legal team (note: no capitals) to work that out, then it must be something that might be the opposite of what the legal team say it is. No doubt, if challenged, they would consult their legal team until eventually the objective of the question is lost in a hierarchy of legal teams. It’s an old trick which usually works. There have been recent examples where it hasn’t worked but it has taken years of relentless hacking away at the system which allows it to happen.

    So, it’s confrontational, otherwise the legal team would not be required. It’s also debatable, otherwise the legal team would not be required. This does not bode well for a resolution which benefits the general public.

    Confrontational generally achieves at best only a fraction of what is achievable through cooperation. How can this, or any other City Services issue, be resolved through cooperation when the legal team is the default council’s version of the doctor’s receptionist? I would like the pavements fixed so I don’t trip over so often but meet with the same reaction. It starts off with, “we can’t afford it” and progresses to silence. If I were to move it to the next level, through a formal complaint, I would no doubt be hit with the legal team. This is no way forward. Whether it’s protecting the vulnerable, scrapping bus lanes, victimising beggars, maintaining footways or improving cycling infrastructure, when they resort to the legal team it means the door is closed. There’ll be no cooperation on this watch.

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