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.
- Disability (as this one affects me personally).
- Gender (because there is a massive discrepancy between male and female cycling rates, and this does not appear in other modes).
- 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?