10 July 2019
Travelling in any form comes with its own risks and challenges. This can be compounded for people with disabilities. These need to be taken into account in the planning and delivering of transport, although the needs of those with different impairments, including dementia, mental health issues and learning difficulties, will not be the same. Accessible travel is more than just being able to get on or off a bus, train or ferry. It includes the availability of accessible travel information, being able to get to the desired choice of transport, the walking environment, the facilities around and on the transport, people’s attitudes to others using transport and the interchange between different modes.
In the north east, there is a drive to ensure equality in transport, aligning with the national vision to ensure that all disabled people can travel with the same freedom, choice, dignity and opportunity as other citizens. To achieve this, Transport Scotland have developed a series of overarching outcomes in their ten-year Accessible Travel Framework:
Whilst the National Transport Strategy (NTS) is currently undergoing review, the NTS refresh in 2016 highlighted the need to continue to reduce inequality between groups such as those with disabilities, those with reduced mobility, people with children and older people. To ensure equal access to transport, all groups must be considered but there is often a difference between what is legally defined as accessible and the perception of accessibility, particularly given that accessibility means different things to different people.
In the north east and nationally there has been much work to ensure equal access to transport, including:
- Aberdeen Airport have launched hidden disabilities lanyards in partnership with Friendly Access with an aim to make air travel more friendly and accessible for all passengers. The airport now also offers passengers the opportunity to have familiarisation tours of the terminal prior to their travel plans.
- ScotRail have reduced the period required for passengers needing assistance from four hours’ notice in 2016 to two hours.
- Transport Scotland’s Ferries Accessibility Fund has enabled improvements to the service and facilities onboard since 2014.
- Thistle Assistance Cards were launched in the north east in 2018. The card enables bus passengers to discretely tell their driver about any extra help that they may need during their journey and aims to improve accessibility for those with hidden disabilities.
- All transport schemes are now designed with input from disability groups and are designed incorporating guidance from Cycling By Design and Designing Streets.
However, it is clear that more can be done to ensure equal and accessible transport opportunities, with Transport Scotland proposing to develop a consistent approach to passenger assistance information, improve street design, work with RTPs to develop good practice guides and are looking to create a universal passenger assistance training and development programme.
Although there is scope to improve accessibility in both public transport provision and street design, community transport will remain important to ensuring those who are unable to access conventional public transport are able to access services and be involved in their community. For the elderly, people with disabilities and those who are unable to leave their house by themselves, community transport plays an important role in preventing loneliness and social isolation and helps people to remain independent. Community transport represents a lifeline and is often the only means of transport for many vulnerable and isolated people.
In the north east Community Transport Services are offered by both Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeenshire Council, as well as a number of voluntary organisations. In Aberdeen City services operate off-peak on weekdays, providing a door to door service within the city for those unable to use conventional bus services. The vehicles are fully wheelchair accessible and passengers can be helped onto and off the buses where necessary. Travel is either within the area the passenger is picked up from or to and from the city centre or Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. Travel must be booked at least 24 hours before travel and new users must complete a membership form before travelling to check eligibility. All users pay a fixed fare for each journey taken.
Aberdeenshire Council run their A2B community transport service in and around several Aberdeenshire towns. These services operate within defined areas and off-peak on specific days of the week. The majority of services operate with a wheelchair-accessible vehicle and are open to anyone who has difficulties walking, has other disabilities or who doesn’t live near a bus stop or bus route. Passengers can be picked up and dropped off anywhere within the defined area of the service for free, but travel must be pre-booked. In some locations travel is open to the general public, with journeys charged a similar fare to other local services, although concession cards are accepted. In addition to the A2B service run by Aberdeenshire Council, there are several other organisations that also run community transport services. Details of these are available on Aberdeenshire Council’s website.
Questions for consideration
Although we welcome comments on the range of issues related to this topic, we have posed some key questions below for consideration in any response you may wish to make.
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References / Further Information
Going Further: Scotland’s Accessible Travel Framework https://www.transport.gov.scot/media/20113/j448711.pdf
Scotland’s Accessible Travel Framework: Our Delivery Plan for 2019 – 2020 https://www.transport.gov.scot/media/45041/accessible-travel-framework-delivery-plan-2019-2020-transport-scotland.pdf
Assessing the State of the Bus Network in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire https://www.nestrans.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/5aapp-State-of-the-Network-Report_Final.pdf
Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland: Annual Report 2018-2019 https://www.transport.gov.scot/media/45057/macs-annual-report-2019.pdf