In April 2005, the (then) Mobility and Inclusion Unit of the Department for Transport commissioned a research project to undertake an evaluation of the eligibility for the Blue Badge Scheme. The Blue Badge Scheme was then designed to provide on-street parking concessions for people who are unable to walk, have severe difficulty in walking or are blind, and this is reflected in the existing eligibility criteria for a badge. The objective for this project was to assess whether people with certain disabilities which do not necessarily affect their physical ability to walk, nevertheless have significant mobility difficulties that could be alleviated if they were to become eligible for the Scheme. Such concessions might entail entitlement to the full benefits of the Blue Badge Scheme, or a more limited entitlement, if appropriate. This was an acknowledgement that many disabled people have impaired mobility for reasons which might be “invisible”.
There were five groups of people for whom eligibility for parking concessions was considered:
- People with autism, and parents and carers of autistic children
- People with Colitis or Crohns disease, or similar conditions
- People with Alzheimers Disease, or similar dementia, and their carers
- People with learning disabilities and people with mental health difficulties
- People who are partially sighted.
As well as examining the mobility needs of the above groups of disabled people, the project assessed the impact of extending the Scheme on the viability of the Scheme as a whole, evaluating the impact of any increase in the number of badges both on the ability of badge holders to make use of the Scheme, and on non badge holders.
Furthermore, the research sought to investigate ways in which the severity of different conditions could be measured, so that a fair, workable and unambiguous means could be devised for identifying people who should be newly eligible for parking concessions.
The reason for developing criteria for limiting the extent to which eligibility should be extended related to concerns as to the potential negative implications for increasing the number of people entitled to parking concessions, and these concerns were investigated during the impact assessment phase of the research.
Focus Group discussions and telephone interviews were undertaken to ascertain the needs and interests of individuals that fall within the groups being considered for eligibility of parking concessions. Blue Badge holders and non Blue Badge holders were consulted through a series of Focus Group discussions to establish how “real” customers think and behave, obtain initial reactions to the possible extension of the eligibility criteria for the Blue Badge Scheme, and identify the reasons underlying attitudes. Organisations representing the interests of some disabled people were also consulted and a wider consultation with key stakeholders was undertaken as part of the assessments to establish user needs and impacts. Consultation was carried out by means of telephone interviews, face-to-face interviews and email correspondence.
The following key themes and issues emerged from the research:
- There was certainly quite widespread concern that awarding parking concessions to people whose disabilities were largely “invisible” might discredit the Blue Badge Scheme and undermine public confidence.
- There was clear evidence from focus group discussions of greater public acceptance of people using reserved parking facilities when there is visible evidence of their entitlement to do so.
- The link between extending eligibility to people with the disabilities and conditions considered in this report and the potential impact of encouraging greater abuse was frequently made.
- Concerns were also voiced as to the potential impact of an increase in the number of people having parking concessions, which would be an inevitable consequence of broadening eligibility criteria, making parking facilities more difficult to use for existing Blue Badge holders. These concerns relate to the supply of, and demand for, on-street parking facilities (i.e. metered and “pay-and-display” facilities).
- There was also some concern voiced as to the impact of increasing the potential number of people who park in on-street locations that are not available for non Badge holders (e.g. double-yellow lines).
- Concerns were expressed as to the efficiency with which the Blue Badge Scheme is currently administered by Local Authorities; this has been interpreted as an indication that any recommendations that would make the Scheme substantially more complicated should be avoided.
The main policy recommendations from the research were as follows:
- Eligibility for the Blue Badge Scheme should be extended to disabled people in the categories considered during this research, and to others, provided that they meet the suggested criterion that they require help, in the form of physical contact, from another person in order to cross a road safely, making due allowance of course for the normal range of development of road safety skills in children. This is distinct from merely needing supervision, encouragement, guidance or reassurance from another person.
- Whilst it is not thought appropriate for Blue Badge eligibility criteria to be extended to people with colitis, Crohn’s disease or some other condition which requires them to sometimes find a toilet at short notice for the purpose of defaecation or urinary need, enforcement agencies should be encouraged to adopt some mechanism for tolerance and pragmatism in relation to such people’s needs. It is suggested that consideration be given to more widespread recognition of mechanisms such as that used by members of the National Association for Crohn’s & Colitis, which enables them to leave a card on their vehicle dashboard to explain to enforcement officers and the general public the reason for their vehicle being inappropriately parked for a short period.
- Assessment of a person’s eligibility for a Blue Badge outwith the groups who have a statutory or deemed right to hold one should not be the responsibility of the person’s own GP, but should instead be undertaken by an independent panel of qualified health professionals at the behest of the Local Authority. A model for how such a system might work can be found in the Lothians of Scotland, and is described in this report.