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Rules, Roles and Responsibilities in Transport

An outline of the roles and responsibilities in accessibility arrangements in respect of each main mode of transport is provided below. This is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. For more accessibility guidance, please visit our resources.

  1. Cross Modal 
  2. Bus and Coach
  3. Rail
  4. Community Transport 
  5. Ferry
  6. Taxi and Private Hire Cars
  7. Concessionary Travel
  8. Roads and Streets
  9. Driving and Parking 
  10. Air
  11. Planning and Infrastructure

1. Cross Modal

The Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 Act provides a broad legal framework covering discrimination against people with specific ‘protected characteristics’. One of the protected characteristics is disability. The Equality Act brings together over 116 separate pieces of legislation, including the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

A person has a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act if they have a physical or a mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to do normal day to day activities.

The Equality Act says that people must not be discriminated against because:

  • They have a disability.
  • Someone thinks they have a particular disability (discrimination by perception).
  • They are connected to someone with a disability (discrimination by association).

Discrimination might also be on the grounds of a combination of protected characteristics.

There are six main types of disability discrimination under the Equality Act.

  • Direct Discrimination
  • Indirect Discrimination
  • Harassment
  • Victimisation
  • Failure to make reasonable adjustments
  • Discrimination arising from disability

A positive duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people applies to service providers and those exercising public functions. This requires those subject to the duty to remove or change physical features, provisions, criteria or practices which would put a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with a person who is not disabled. It does not apply to other protected characteristics. It is not an absolute obligation, but must be complied with if reasonable.

These duties not to discriminate and to make reasonable adjustments apply to any person or organisation providing goods, facilities or services to the public. This includes transport operators.

There are also special rules applying to public authorities, or those exercising public functions.  These comprise a general equality duty, with three main aims set out in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010. In summary, those subject to the general equality duty must have due regard to the need to:

  • Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation
  • Advance equality of opportunity between different groups
  • Foster good relations between different groups

Further specific duties on some public authorities (like local authorities and regional transport partnerships) are set out in the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) (Scotland) Regulations 2012 and these include a duty to publish equality outcomes and provide information in accessible formats.

Clear and detailed guidance detailing the meaning of the different forms of discrimination is available on the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s website at

Models of Disability

Definitions and the language used are important because they form the basis of models. Models are not scientific or philosophical theories or ideologies. They are merely ways of looking at things or situations. There are two predominant models of disability commonly in use in the UK; the Medical Model and the Social Model.

Medical Model

Under the Medical Model, disabled people are defined by their illness or medical condition. They are disempowered: Medical diagnoses are used to regulate and control access to social benefits, housing, education leisure and employment.

The medical Model promotes the views of a disabled person as dependent and needing to be cured or cared for, and it justifies the way in which disabled people have been systematically excluded from society. Control resides firmly with professionals.

Choices for the individual are limited to the options provided and approved by the ‘helping’ expert.

The Medical Model is sometimes known as the ‘individual model’ because it promotes the notion that it is the individual disabled person who must adapt to the way in which society is constructed and organised.

The Medical Model is vigorously rejected by organisations of disabled people but it still pervades in many attitudes towards disabled people.

The Social Model

The Social Model has been developed by disabled people in response to the Medical Model and the impact this has on their daily lives.

Under the Social Model, disability is caused by the society in which we live and is not the ‘fault’ of an individual disabled person, or an inevitable consequence of their limitations.

Disability is the product of the physical, organisational and attitudinal barriers present within society, which lead to discrimination. The removal of discrimination requires a change of approach and thinking in the way in which society is organised.

The Social Model takes account of disabled people as part of our economic, environmental and cultural society. The barriers that prevent an individual taking part in society are the problem, not the individual.

Barriers still exist in education, information and communications systems, working environments, health and social support services, transport, housing, public buildings and amenities. The devaluing of disabled people through negative images in the media – films, television and newspapers – also acts as a barrier.

The Social Model has been developed with the aim of removing barriers so that disabled people can have the same opportunity as everyone else to determine their own life styles.

A simple example is that of a wheelchair user. He/she would not be disabled if he/ she lived in an environment which provided the ability to gain full access to buildings and their facilities in the same way that someone without his or her impairment could do.

The Social Model of disability has fundamentally changed the way in which disability is regarded and has had a major impact on anti-discriminatory legislation.

United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD)

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is an international human rights agreement written by and for disabled people.

It is for people who have a long-term physical, mental, learning or sensory impairment who may face barriers to participating equally in society.

The Convention places obligations on the UK and Scottish Governments to take steps to make sure disabled people enjoy their human rights in the same way as others.

Disabled people and the Commissions play an important role to protect, promote and monitor the implementation of these rights.

If you, your family members or friends have a disability, this Convention offers useful information and encouragement. It guides you and your family – and friends who want to help you – in exercising your rights. It also defines the actions governments must take to help all disabled people realise their rights.

It is important to remember that the rights in this Convention are not new rights. They are the same human rights recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities guarantees that these rights are respected for disabled people.

The principles (main beliefs) of this Convention are:

  • Respect for everyone’s inherent dignity, freedom to make their own choices and independence
  • Non-discrimination (treating everyone fairly) Full participation and inclusion in society (being included in your community)
  • Respect for differences and accepting disabled people as part of human diversity
  • Equal opportunity
  • Accessibility (having access to transportation, places and information, and not being refused access because you have a disability)
  • Equality between men and women (having the same opportunities whether you are a girl or a boy)
  • Respect for the evolving capacity of disabled children and their rights to preserve their identity (being respected for your abilities and proud of who you are)

Independent Living

Independent Living is a right shared by everyone in Scotland. It is a legal right and a human right. It means we are all entitled to have choice, control, dignity and freedom over our own lives so that we can participate in society as equal citizens.

That means disabled people and those with long-term conditions. However, many disabled people find it difficult or impossible to participate fully in society. Whether in learning, working, volunteering, taking part in politics or sport many disabled people are denied access to opportunities or do not achieve the same results as other people who are not disabled. There are lots of reasons for this including policies and practices that discriminate against disabled people, people’s attitudes and of course poorly designed and managed buildings, streets, and transport.

The Scottish Government’s Commitment to Independent Living

The Scottish Government is committed to delivering equality and human rights for disabled people across Scotland by addressing independent living.

The rights to independent living are enshrined within the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the Human Rights Act 1998, and the Equality Act 2010.

The UNCRPD is an international human rights agreement written by and for disabled people. It states that disabled people have and should enjoy the same human rights as everyone else.

Scotland’s approach to implementing the Convention complements the Scottish Government’s existing work to promote disability equality and independent living for all disabled people.

The basic rights of independent living

Human rights and rights to independent living mean that disabled people should have access to the right support and practical assistance, at the right time, in order to participate in society. This support includes things like access to education and employment, accessible and adapted housing, technical aids, communication support, information, advocacy, personal assistance and full access to transport and the built environment and rights to equal citizenship and to participate in society.

Working Together

In Scotland there is a movement of disabled people and their organisations, including Access Panels, which aim to work together to overcome these barriers. They also aim to help service providers to get better at what they do.

There are many laws, regulations, policies and standards which aim to ensure that service providers work to remove these barriers but there are gaps in the law and what duties there are do not always get met.

Access Panels are groups of disabled people who can help service providers get better at meeting their duties and working to ensure that all disabled people can lead independent lives and participate fully in society. We can do this by working together with them and being involved in the decisions which affect our lives. One way of doing this is called working in coproduction. This means Access Panels and service providers working together equally, sharing resources, power and goals. Together we can get the best results.

2. Bus and Coach

Bus and Coach Operators

Bus and coach operators must comply with rules about the accessibility of their service, over and above the general requirements of the Equality Act 2010. This includes the following regulations:

  • Public Service Vehicles Accessibility Regulations (2000) – Details the accessibility requirements that must be met by all bus and coach providers. The Regulations include provision for low floor boarding devices, visual contrast on step edges, handholds and handrails, priority seats and provision for passengers in wheelchairs. All single decker buses being used on local or scheduled services, must comply with the Public Service Vehicles Accessibility Regulations (2000) by 1 January 2017. These Regulations will extend to all double decker  buses and coaches by 1 January 2020.
  • The Public Service Vehicles (Conduct of Drivers, Inspectors, Conductors and Passengers) Regulations 1990 – Drivers and conductors have a duty to ensure the safety of passengers on board the vehicle. These regulations impose additional service standards, including duties on staff to help disabled people when boarding and alighting, and on passengers to behave in an acceptable way.
  •  Regulation (EU) No 181/2011  – European Union regulations that govern passenger rights on bus and coach journeys. Provisions relating to disabled passengers’ rights include:
  • The right not to be refused booking or carriage except in specific justified circumstances
  • Alternatives to be provided where carriage is not possible; disability awareness training requirements for staff
  • Rights and conditions of assistance provided at stations and on board vehicles; publicity of availability of assistance
  • Compensation for damage to mobility equipment; provision of accessible information about travel and passenger rights and complaints mechanisms.
  • The UK Government has exempted bus drivers from training requirements until 2018. In the UK the relevant Traffic Commissioner has the power to take steps to require that the Regulation is complied with. Further protections apply for passengers on coach services longer than 250km between EU Member States.

Engagement Groups

  • The Bus Stakeholder Group – Transport Scotland organised group which discusses bus policy, includes a representative from the Mobility and Access committee for Scotland and has accessibility as a standing item.  Chaired by Minister for Transport and Islands.

3. Rail

Train Operators

The Scotrail franchise is responsible for the majority of train services within Scotland. The current Scotrail franchise is operated by Abellio. Under the terms of the franchise, Scotrail must produce and annually revise a Disabled People’s Protection Policy (DPPP). Information on passenger assistance provided by Scotrail can be found on their website. For passenger assistance provided by other train operators, please visit our resources.

Transport Scotland have worked with Scotrail to improve rail accessibility. Improvements include:

  • Better wayfinding signage and new cross-modal customer information screens at key stations
  • Piloting the assist-Mi customer assistance mobile app at selected stations
  • Working with disabled people to develop a new mystery shopping and access audit service to transparently check service performance.

Transport Scotland also has a dedicated rail accessibility page on its website where information on adapting the rail network for use by disabled passengers is provided.

Accessible Trains

Progress is being made to improve the design and layout of trains for disabled and other passengers. Most trains serving Scotland will be refurbished to meet rail vehicle accessibility standards.

The class 380 trains introduced by ScotRail in 2011 were the first in Britain to comply with the new European standards for accessibility (TSI PRM). In 2017 Scotrail launched the Hitachi class 385 trains, which will improve accessibility and safety of rail travel for disabled passengers.

Rail Stations

Transport Scotland and the Department for Transport published out Design Standards for Accessible Railway Stations Code of Practice , which details the requirements for providing accessible rail services to disabled passengers.

The number of inaccessible stations has reduced significantly in recent years through a range of investments. For example, since 2006 some 19 stations have been made step-free through the £41m Access for All fund which is dedicated to improving access at stations and is implemented by Network Rail.

Engagement Groups

  • ScotRail Stakeholder Equality Group – Forming part of ScotRail’s governance structure, a group comprising disabled people and their representative organisations. Its remit is to assist ScotRail to deliver inclusive and accessibility policies for disabled people and those with reduced mobility as well as offer guidance to ScotRail on strategic matters relating to inclusion and accessibility
  • Scottish Rail Accessibility Forum – Transport Scotland organised group designed to exchange information about rail projects that impact directly on passengers and to ensure that disabled people’s vies are properly heard.

4. Community Transport

Community Transport services in Scotland are mainly provided by voluntary organisations for people who are unable to use conventional public transport services due to mobility difficulties or a lack of suitable public transport where they live. Community Transport can include local community minibuses, group hire, wheels to work mopeds and demand responsive services such as dial-a-bus, dial-a-ride and voluntary car schemes.

Most of the public sector funding for Community Transport organisations comes through local authorities. It also provides scope to improve the availability of local transport services depending on local needs.

Where community transport services do not fall into the legal regime applicable to bus travel, national minimum standards are provided both by the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 and various pieces of reserved legislation covering matters such as vehicle safety and driver training. The Community Transport Association in Scotland is supported financially by Transport Scotland to help Community Transport organisations in meeting these requirements and developing their service further.

5. Ferry

Ferry Accessibility

Minimum design standards for safe and accessible ships are set by EU law, as are minimum standards of service for all but the smallest passenger ferries. Among other things these passenger rights standards include rules about accessibility of information, mandatory assistance for disabled people provided notice is given, the drafting of quality standards for larger carriers and terminal operators, staff training and complaints procedures. The  Maritime and Coastguard Agency have a duty to make sure these rules are followed, with Transport Scotland having a role as a passenger rights complaints handling organisation.  Accessibility of ports and harbours is governed by the general provisions of the Equality Act 2010.

Ferry Operators

CalMac Ferries Ltd and Serco North Link Ferries are the major operators of ferry services in Scotland. CalMac Ferries Ltd has information about the accessibility and passenger assistance services which they offer on their website.  Serco North Link has a dedicated webpage describing the company’s accessibility policy and detailing how to use the on-board facilities provided for disabled passengers.

6. Taxi and Private Hire Cars

Taxis can use taxi ranks and be hailed in the street, while private hire cars must be pre-booked. The latest statistics report that there are over 24,000 taxis and private hire cars in Scotland with over 35,000 licensed drivers.

Local authorities are responsible for the creation, management and enforcement of their local taxi and private hire car licensing regime following the framework provided for in Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. Local authorities have wide discretion in applying a local regime that best meets the specific requirements of their local area and can take account of the views of customers, the trade, and their own legal advice. This includes the ability to set standards, including in respect of vehicle accessibility and driver disability awareness training. Consequently, different local authorities have different rules for their area.

7. Concessionary Travel

The Scottish Government is committed to providing concessionary travel for older and disabled people through the National Concessionary Free Bus Travel Scheme for Older and Disabled People. This provides access to free bus travel for eligible people on local and long distance scheduled bus journeys throughout Scotland at any time of day for any number of journeys. There are currently 1.3 million National Entitlement Card holders and research carried out on behalf of Transport Scotland showed that the scheme is giving users a greater sense of independence, encouraging use of public transport and increasing confidence in their own ability to travel. Disabled and visually impaired young people also cited greater independence and less reliance on others as a key benefit.

Local concessions can also be provided for disabled people. For example, recognising that disabled people use taxis and private hire vehicles more than non-disabled people, some local authorities choose to run taxicard schemes that subsidise a number of journeys for disabled people so as to make the journeys more affordable. This is entirely a matter for those local authorities, taking into account local needs. Local councils can choose whether to have a scheme, to have different eligibility criteria and subsidies and whether to add other elements (like rail concessions) to their schemes.

Legislation was passed on the 3 March 2021, which extend the existing National Concessionary Travel Scheme to eligible disabled children under the age of 5 years. This allows free bus travel for them and an accompanying companion. This is a positive step that will give around 4,000 eligible disabled children across Scotland access to the same benefits as those aged five and over, helping reduce household costs for some of our most vulnerable families.

8. Roads and Streets

The Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 governs the practice of roads authorities and others. Depending on the road, responsibility will usually lie with either the Scottish Ministers, the local authority or in some cases the Operating Company contracted to maintain the road. The Roads (Scotland) Act regulates obstructions on the road (although certain obstructions, like bins, are additionally covered by other pieces of legislation) and imposes certain duties relevant to accessibility.

Part IV of the Roads (Scotland) Act covers improvement and maintenance of roads and footways, placing obligations on the Roads Authority to provide footways, bridges or subways for pedestrians; and to clear roads and footways of snow and ice. These include:

  • Section 25 of the Act which says a roads authority shall provide, wherever it appears to them necessary or desirable for the safety or convenience of pedestrians so to do, proper and sufficient footways for public roads.
  • Section 34 of the Act which says a roads authority shall take such steps as they consider reasonable to prevent snow and ice endangering the safe passage of pedestrians and vehicles over public roads.
  • Section 120 of the Act specifically requires a roads authority, local authority or other person exercising a statutory power to execute works in a road to have regard to the needs of disabled people. This includes consideration of:
  • the particular needs of disabled people whose mobility may be impeded by road works
  • the needs of people with visual impairments in relation to temporary or permanent openings during road works
  • the impact on disabled people when placing bollards, signs and other permanent obstructions on the road
  • the provision of ramps at appropriate places between carriageways and footways

It is up to individual roads authorities how they discharge their responsibilities within the relevant legal context. Further rules apply to those carrying out road works, including a statutory code of practice that incorporates accessibility provisions.

Specifications in a range of documents govern the decisions roads authorities make about the standard of their infrastructure. These reflect professional interpretations of what the law requires, and include the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges. Some roads authorities set accessibility standards going beyond legal requirements.

9. Driving and Parking

Some disabled motorists will be entitled to a waiver from paying Vehicle Excise Duty from the UK Government, depending on the kinds of social security benefits the individual receives. Additionally, the Motability scheme enables disabled people to use the mobility component of Personal Independence Payment or Disability Living Allowance to lease a new car, scooter or powered wheelchair.

The blue badge scheme provides parking concessions for on-street parking, allowing badge holders to park close to where they need to go.  Transport Scotland is responsible for the legislation which sets out the framework while local authorities are responsible for administering the scheme and issuing badges to eligible applicants. A badge can be issued either without assessment, generally where an applicant receives a particular kind of social security benefit, or following assessment by a local authority. There were 231,827 badges on issue in Scotland at the end of March 2015.

Where someone has a blue badge and a car, they can ask the local authority for a space to be marked out for the use of a blue badge holder. Local authorities also have a duty to promote the proper use of disabled parking places and to ensure parking spaces for the use of disabled people are made legally enforceable by way of Traffic Regulation Orders, including by negotiating with landowners responsible for off-street parking places. Local authorities are held publicly accountable for discharging these duties by a public annual report compiled by Transport Scotland and detailing their performance over the previous year.

10. Air

The framework for regulation of accessibility on air services is set at EU level and includes a range of protections in respect of information and assistance for disabled people both at airports and on aircraft.

Regulation (EC) No 1107/2006, specifically concerns rights of disabled people and people with reduced mobility when travelling on commercial passenger air services (scheduled or non-scheduled). It makes provision as to initial and ongoing disability awareness training; passenger assistance at the airport (such as help to embark) and once on board (for example carrying assistance dogs) provided notice is given; the setting of quality standards by larger airlines; complaints handlings mechanisms of airlines and airports; and compensation arrangements for mobility equipment.

In the UK, this Regulation is implemented by the Civil Aviation (Access to Air Travel for Disabled Persons and Persons with Reduced Mobility) Regulations 2014 which designates the Civil Aviation Authority as the enforcement body and specifies further details of procedure to be followed when claiming compensation under the Regulation.

A code of practice on these regulations is set down by the Department for Transport and enforcement is undertaken by the Civil Aviation Authority in the UK, which handles individual complaints in certain circumstances.

11. Planning and Infrastructure

The planning system is used to make decisions about the future development and use of land in our towns, cities and countryside. It considers where development should happen, where it should not and how development affects its surroundings.

Scottish Planning Policy sets out national planning policies which reflect Scottish Ministers’ priorities for operation of the planning system and for the development and use of land. The SPP sits alongside the following Scottish Government planning policy documents:

  • the National Planning Framework which provides a statutory framework for Scotland’s long-term spatial development;
  • Creating Places, the policy statement on architecture and place;
  • Designing Streets, which is a policy statement putting street design at the centre of placemaking; and
  • Circulars which contain policy on the implementation of legislation or procedures.

Planning’s purpose is to create better places. Placemaking is a creative, collaborative process that includes design, development, renewal or regeneration of our urban or rural built environments. The outcome should be sustainable, well-designed places and homes which meet people’s needs.

Primary responsibility for the delivery of the planning service in Scotland lies with the 32 local authorities and the two national park authorities. They prepare development plans for their area.  Decisions on planning applications are made in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise.  While what may be a material consideration is very wide and depends on the context of each case, they may include the design of the proposed development and its relationship to its surroundings and legitimate public concern or support expressed on relevant planning matters.