Weekly Poll – Bus Station Passenger Assistance (Week Beginning 6 December 2021)

Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue. For the week beginning 6 December 2021, we asked a question about Bus Station Passenger Assistance, a topic suggested by Transport Scotland.

Results

Question 1. Do you require passenger assistance when travelling to and from bus stations in Scotland? 

  • YES – 89% (139 respondents)
  • NO – 11% (18 respondents)

Question 2. If you have received passenger assistance at bus stations, was your request met?

  • YES – 4% (6 respondents)
  • NO – 96% (137 respondents)

Comments

We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.

Require Bus Station Passenger Assistance

The majority of respondents (89%) stated that they require passenger assistance when travelling to and from bus stations in Scotland. Examples of passenger assistance at bus stations include help with getting on and off the bus, luggage assistance, entering and leaving the bus station, directions to the correct bus stance, and assistance with onward journey planning from the bus station. Disabled people stated the forms of passenger assistance that they would find beneficial. 

“I often have problems getting on and off buses with steps and find it very difficult when people are behind me pushing to get off.”

“I require help to locate the correct stance to wait at, as well as assistance getting on the vehicle if there are steps.”

“Proper access to appropriate seating, assistance when travelling, passenger compliance with disability access and driver assistance in any problems.”

Attitudes and Awareness

From the respondents who had requested passenger assistance, 96% (137 respondents) indicated that their request was not met. Disabled people reflected on the challenges they experienced when asking transport staff for assistance. In some cases, transport staff did not appear to be appropriately trained in how to deal with requests.

“I felt I did not get the help I needed. There was nobody around to tell me which bus was going in which direction and there were no help points for contacts to use in my local bus station in Aberdeen city. I also found that none of the staff knew anything about what could help me. I needed to use my phone for help or asked other passengers or got advice from my support worker. What would have made it better is if Stagecoach buses had somebody who you could easily approach the same as in the train station who you knew were going to be able to assist you with your inquiry.”

“I have requested assistance well in advance and been told there would be an accessible vehicle available – but just about every time there is no accessible bus there, or the lift is broken, or the driver just looks in horror at the sight of your wheelchair.”

“I was helped by another passenger. I asked for assistance, but was ignored, with a shake of their head. If it wasn’t for that other passenger, I would have probably injured myself.”

“My requests were simple and straight forward simply requiring assistance on and off the vehicle, in and out of a seat and stowage of a lightweight folding wheelchair. I have been met with outright refusal justified by “it’s not my job”, “I do not have time, I have a schedule to meet” to brazen ignorance and even been told “there is no room on the bus, wait for the next one.”

There was recognition from some respondents who have had their requests for passenger assistance met. However, one respondent stated that the consistency of having the request met can depend on the time of day that they travel.

“Anytime I’ve asked for assistance staff have always helped me. The only thing is that the push buttons at each stance in Buchanan Bus Station when pressed it doesn’t work”

“Yes, I do require passenger assistance at bus stations. My needs have been met on several occasions, but it depends on the time of travel.”

Abuse and Mistreatment

Some respondents had received abuse from transport staff and members of the public, which led them on more than one occasion to get off the bus as they felt unsafe. It is essential that disabled people feel confident to travel on public transport and be free from abuse and mistreatment.

“I have mobility issues and I also have a disability that fluctuates. In other words, I can’t plan as I don’t know how I will be on any day. I am invisibly disabled. I have been shouted at by a driver and I have been shouted at by people who want to sit where I am. I’ve been almost interrogated by passengers as to why I think I should sit on a bus. I have on more than one occasion had to get off the bus as I felt unsafe.”

“It is a bit daunting sometimes when you know you can’t directly get in touch with drivers until the bus turns up and especially if there is a rush, you can feel like you’re wasting everyone else’s time just getting boarded never mind if there are actual problems. In my city, I once heard a driver make jokes as I was boarding to another driver or member of the public about wishing the wheelchair ramp would break! It really made me feel like a giant inconvenience and quite upset. I wish staff and other passengers would remember that they only have to deal with disabled passengers occasionally but for us, it is every journey.”

At Disability Equality Scotland, we have worked in partnership with Transport Scotland and transport providers to launch a National Hate Crime Charter. The purpose of the Charter is to encourage transport providers, members of the public and other services to support a zero-tolerance approach to hate crime on Scotland’s public transport network. More information about the Charter can be found on the Accessible Travel Hub: www.accessibletravel.scot/hate-crime

Inclusive Communication

Respondents highlighted the importance of ensuring that when travelling by bus, there is a commitment to communicate in an accessible manner that considers the principles of Inclusive Communication. This includes awareness of communicating in a manner which matches the strengths and preferences of each individual, as well as the availability of information in a range of accessible formats, including Easy Read, a format that uses simple, jargon-free language, shorter sentences and supporting image.

“I’ve not required passenger assistance and do note that many bus companies are more deaf aware. Some are even “deaf friendly”! However, there are huge mixed messages and results regarding face coverings and now distancing that reinforce “deaf disadvantage.”

“In Aberdeen, passenger bus assistance is very poor, and it is never available or correct when you need it. There are no Easy Read guides for traveling by bus or what to do when there is a problem with the bus. I find that it is not as well organised as other cities.”

Availability

For respondents who stated that their passenger assistance request was not met, this was also found to be as a result of a lack of transport staff available at bus stations.

“It has been easier to sort out problems if the stations are staffed but it’s not always possible to find someone who can spend the time to sort out problems.”

“The only assistance I have had was being told what stance to go to. I asked for help to get to the stance, but they don’t have staff to do that.”

“We’ve been to Buchanan Station a few times recently, including quite late and we’ve only seen cleaners about.”

“Where I live, the main bus station is Dundee, which isn’t fit for purpose for a disabled passenger and help is very difficult to find as staff are unavailable or too stressed to assist. There needs to be more staff available at this and other bus stations to enable safe travel for disabled people.”

In certain cases, when disabled people requested passenger assistance, the bus station staff stated that it is not a service that they provide. For two respondents in particular, staff suggested that passenger assistance must be provided by a carer or relative.

“I was told there wasn’t any passenger assistance at bus stations, and I should get a carer or relative to travel with me to help me if I needed it.”

“I asked but was informed that they didn’t provide assistance and I should get someone I know to help me.”

“I requested assistance but told it was not available. It wasn’t something they provided.”

“There is no way to request passenger assistance at smaller bus stations. You just have to show up in your wheelchair and hope for the best.”

“I sometimes need support at bus stations. Any time that I have tried booking assistance I have always been told that they don’t offer an assistance service.”

As a consequence of the lack of consistent passenger assistance at bus stations, some disabled people have opted to use alternative modes of transport.

“First Bus told me they don’t do passenger assistance other than dropping the ramp if the wheelchair space is available. I can’t book the wheelchair space either to guarantee the journey, so I’m forced to use a car or taxi.”

“I was told bus didn’t offer passenger assistance. I support the sustainable transport hierarchy but if the government are serious the need to invest in bus services and making them more accessible for disabled people. I am forced to use my car because bus services do not meet my needs and also because of the poor pavements and blocked pavements getting to bus stops.”

Bus Station Facilities

Some disabled people commented on the facilities that are available at bus stations. It is vital that there is meaningful engagement with disabled people and Access Panels to ensure that bus stations and the surrounding infrastructure are designed to be accessible and inclusive for all.

“The bus station at Dundee is not helpfully marked and there isn’t space for those with mobility issues to wait, especially for the long-distance buses. This has often put me off using the station and certain buses. The station doesn’t feel particularly disabled friendly.”

“No recent travel to/from bus stations. When I do, I could possibly need a quiet zone to help me to avoid/cope with panic or dissociative attacks as well as to help control my asthma.”

“I feel there is no quiet area if you need time to wait calmly before the bus.”

One respondent suggested that greater investment is needed in bus stop renewal and improvement.

“We need to do a programme of bus stop renewal and improvement and review the provision of bus shelters, ensuring we are always prioritising bus user needs.”

Ownership

Across Scotland, bus stations are managed by a mixture of local authorities, transport providers and regional transport partnerships. There was a call from some respondents for greater clarity regarding who is responsible for delivering passenger assistance at bus stations to help ensure there is a consistent approach across Scotland.

“The bus operators say the bus station is owned by the local council so it’s up to them to provide assistance. Local council says they have no money available to provide assistance staff.”

“It would be good to have quality public transport for everyone. Firstly, a partnership between the council and bus operators where each focus on what it can do, and what it does best i.e., the council is the roads authority. It would be good to ensure the roads (which includes pavements and footways) and bus stops meet bus users and operator’s needs, while the bus operator gets on with running services, that meets people’s needs, including accessibility.”

Other Modes of Transport

There was acknowledgment of more established forms of passenger assistance services that are available on different modes of transport. Bus station owners may gain useful insights as to what practical changes can be introduced to ensure bus stations are meeting the needs of disabled passengers.

“Bus services have a lot to learn from rail – where the assistance is nearly always good and reliable.”

“The rail service has partly got it right as there is a system available for forward notification of a disabled passengers needs so staff are there when needed!”

However, it was also recognised that passenger assistance services that are available on other modes of transport are still in need of improvement.

“I would say that even the assistance at airports leaves much to be desired.”

Conclusion

Despite the vast majority of disabled people stating they require passenger assistance at bus stations (89%), the results of the poll clearly demonstrate that requests are not being met (96%). Disabled people reflected on the attitudes and behaviours of transport staff, who often do not appear to be trained to offer suitable assistance. Abuse and mistreatment towards disabled people must not be tolerated, and any incidents that arise should be reported through the appropriate channels. Respondents believed there is also a lack of staff at bus stations to deal with passenger assistance requests. Some disabled people were explicitly told by staff that they do not offer passenger assistance and instead a carer or family member should provide this. Specific comments were shared about the facilities that are available at bus stations that would help to make bus travel more accessible and inclusive for disabled people. Greater clarity and consistency are needed with regards to ownership of bus stations and who is responsible for delivering passenger assistance. Shared learning can be gained from other modes of transport that have more established forms of passenger assistance in place.