An event was held in Stirling on 18 May 2018 to discuss the issue of transport in rural areas. The event brought together disabled people, transport providers and other stakeholders, including local councillors to discuss some of the issues affecting rural areas. There were 12 participants in total.
The event began with a presentation by Emma Scott from Disability Equality Scotland. Disability Equality Scotland are taking forward some of the actions from the Accessible Travel Framework. This includes engaging and consulting with disabled people on their experiences of using public transport. Disability Equality Scotland launched a national survey in May 2017, capturing the views of 200 disabled people on a number of issues. Transport in rural areas was highlighted as a common concern, and as such, Disability Equality Scotland launched a second, more focussed survey on this topic. Emma talked through the results of this survey, which had gathered the views of 113 disabled people on such things as the frequency of the service, the cost of travelling from a rural area, and also the accessibility of the service.
Some of the topline findings from the survey included:
- Hospitals were the most difficult to access from a rural area (83%)
- Two-thirds were not happy with the frequency of their rural bus service (66%)
- 64% of disabled respondents were dissatisfied with the cost of taxis in rural areas, and as such concessionary travel cards for use on the bus or in taxis were invaluable.
- Biggest barrier to using rural transport remained the accessibility of buses – need to be replaced with low level buses, not coaches.
- Impact on independent travel means that many disabled people do not travel alone or choose to use private cars rather than public transport.
Councillor Jim Thomson, Convener of the Environment and Health Committee of Stirling Council then gave a short presentation, introducing the project, launched by Stirling Council to introduce more buses to rural areas of Stirling. The project was launched in December 2017 and has been extended to August 2018.
Two group discussions took place, ensuring that disabled people and transport providers had the chance to talk together. Participants were asked to think about their own experiences of rural transport, including the cost, frequency, and accessibility of rural travel. Discussions were also to cover the impact that rural transport has on their ability to travel independently. Each group was also to think about what needs to change, and how disabled people could be involved in this process.
Some of the findings from the groups are discussed below.
Frequency of service
- Evening bus services can be temperamental, or non-existent in rural areas.
- Rural bus services are the first to be removed, if there is a shortage of drivers.
- Rural bus services have been cut due to a lack of demand; however, no consultation takes place about why demand is low.
- Disabled people will not use the service if it is not accessible.
“We need to be asking ‘why are you not travelling?’”
- This can have an impact on access to employment, with people struggling to use the current rural timetable for commuting.
“Rural transport has an impact on people who want to get to and from work at night, but there are no buses.”
- There is inconsistency between what transport providers think of as ‘accessible; and what disabled people see as accessible. There is an issue with current legislation, which dictates what providers must do in terms of access, but this is often out-of-date and doesn’t match the day-to-day needs of disabled people.
- There needs to be better connectivity between different modes of transport to ensure that passengers can make connections for onward travel.
- Connectivity is also required for people in rural areas to make appointments – one example given was for hospitals to consider travel timetables to give appointments at realistic times for those travelling from rural areas. Perhaps some joined up thinking between the hospital and the transport providers?
“Why book a slot at 9:30am if the bus cannot get patients there on time?”
- Information is not accessible for disabled people – this is especially true if something goes wrong on a journey, such as a change of platform or a cancelled service. Equally rural bus stops and stations do not benefit from electronic displays.
- There are also issues with broadband and mobile phone signal in rural areas, making the use of travel websites, such as Traveline to plan a journey more difficult.
- There should be more training for drivers in rural areas. This includes customer service training and specific training in disability awareness. One example was given about drivers not recognising the Thistle card, which disabled people can use to alert the driver about their needs.
“A bus driver ripped up my card as they thought it was fraud”
- The profession was described as ‘transient’, with providers taking on staff who may not have had previous experience in customer service. One participant suggested this was to ensure the service was kept operational.
“They’ll take anyone on as a driver just to keep the service running but they might not be trained in people skills, least of all disability skills.”
Community transport services/Dial-a-journey
- Dial-a-bus runs every three hours but only on certain routes and not at night. It was felt that this was “not designed around the user.”
- Providers of community transport reported that demand for their service has reduced in some areas, which they perceived to be due to a lack of disposable income to pay for the service.
- An example given is that disabled people in receipt of benefits are now financially worse off since moving to Universal Credit.
- Another barrier to the use of community transport is not being able to use a concessionary travel card on the service. A journey could start at £4.50.
- There was a suggestion that community transport services, and dial-a-journey could help cover the patient transport service, if there was more joined up thinking between the hospitals and the existing provision.
“It used to be very busy, but now it’s tailed off as they are too expensive to use. Customers are not doing the same thing; day centres are closing down, people do their shopping online and can’t afford to go out, so there is less demand on the service.”
- Accessible taxis are an issue in rural areas. In Stirling centre, disabled people told us the taxis were not accessible and more needs to be done to increase the number available.
- A lack of rural transport can impact on the ability of disabled and other older and vulnerable people able to leave the house for shopping, healthcare or socialising.
- We have an ageing population, therefore there should be more frequent and reasonably priced transport options allowing people to travel.
What needs to change?
- Transport providers should be more proactive in seeking the views of disabled people to improve their service.
- Disabled people should be involved from the start in the design and development of public transport, not trying to shoehorn accessibility features in afterwards.
- Legislation needs to change to be more in line with the day-to-day realities of disabled people.
- Disabled people should be included in designing and delivering training to transport providers and drivers. Disability Equality Scotland could help support this.
- Ensure rural areas have equal access to online information and journey planning websites to be able to travel independently.
- Dial-a-journey and other reactive community transport services are relied upon to “fill the gaps” when public transport services are cut or cancelled.
- Develop links with tourism in rural areas, which will lead to an increase in demand for public transport.
- Opportunities to use existing technology such as Google Maps, to map the usage of transport in rural areas.
- More ‘good practice’ examples featuring those who are doing ‘accessibility’ well. Disability Equality Scotland can help feature these on the Accessible Travel Hub.