The AEU was established in April 2007 as part of the restructuring of the Department for Transport (DfT). It was drawn from the Mobility and Inclusion Unit (MIU) but has been refocused and repositioned to concentrate on cross modal accessibility issues. The AEU is responsible for developing policy on cross-modal accessibility issues, focusing on the transport needs of disadvantaged people, and DfT's Equality Duties. It leads on the Social Objectives Working Group by reviewing and developing proposals on meeting transport's social objectives in the short/medium and longer term.
The AEU supports, in particular, the Departmental Strategic Objective 4 "To enhance access to jobs, services and social networks, including for the most disadvantaged". It works to develop a policy framework and service delivery provision for public transport users, pedestrians and motorists that meet a range of individual needs and are accessible and safe.
The community transport and voluntary sector have a major role in enabling different groups to access key services, and the Unit takes the lead in strengthening links between the DfT and these sectors. Reducing transport crime is also a key issue for these groups, and the AEU works to identify, evaluate and disseminate good crime reduction techniques and programmes.
By collecting evidence to improve understanding of the transport requirements and travel behaviour of different social groups, AEU supports the development of policies and programmes that cater to their different transport needs. Other evidence needs include assessing the impacts of policies on excluded and vulnerable groups and understanding the crime and fear of crime issues in the different transport modes.
AEU also supports the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) research programme. DPTAC is a statutory body set up under the Transport Act 1985 to advise the Government on transport policy as it affects the mobility of disabled people. DPTAC considers and identifies its own research and evidence needs and these are taken forward within the AEU budget.
Evidence needs are dictated by the aim to "improve accessibility and inclusion"; more detailed objectives are:
- To implement the Disability Discrimination Acts 1995 and 2005
- To promote social inclusion working with the voluntary sector and through Equality Schemes
- To reduce crime, and fear of crime, on and around the transport network
- To promote personal mobility options for older and disabled people.
The revised research programme is intended to closely underpin Business Plan priorities and enable evaluation of previous policies and programmes. Examples include establishing baseline data on the use of public transport by disabled people and monitoring the level of fear of crime and perceptions of security on public transport. Particular priorities include the review of the Blue Badge Scheme and improving the quantity, quality and consistency of driving assessments and advice given to older and disabled drivers.
There is a complex interaction between health and transport, both in terms of access and impacts. In the medium term, the AEU programme will be addressing health related mobility issues, including:
- the relationship between age, health and disability, and implications for transport delivery
- prognostic studies on disease and expectations for future mobility needs - potentially supporting a longitudinal survey by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
- implications of specific conditions, e.g strokes, on personal mobility.
AEU uses evidence to develop policy, better understand the needs of different social groups, test developing policy and monitor and evaluate progress of policy, programmes and service delivery.
The AEU has a research budget ofapproximately £1.5m per year (based on 2007-8 figures).