Weekly Poll – Free Rail Travel (Week Beginning 9 May 2022)

Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue. For the week beginning 9 May 2022, we asked a question about Free Rail Travel.

Please note that this is a snapshot of the views of our membership and does not reflect a policy stance of Disability Equality Scotland. If you plan to reference the findings featured in this report, please contact us in advance so that we are aware of this.

Results

Question. Do you think rail travel should be free for disabled people who meet the criteria for free bus travel?

  • Yes 99% (472 respondents)
  • No 1% (3 respondents)

Comments

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

Free Rail Travel

The National Entitlement Card (NEC) is a smartcard scheme for travel concessions. The card gives young people under 22, over 60s and disabled people free bus travel in Scotland. On trains, if you have a Disabled Persons Railcard, you can save 1/3 off rail travel for you and a friend or travel companion. However, at present, there is no scheme that offers free travel on Scotland’s railway network.

There is a petition that is under consideration by the Scottish Parliament which is calling on the Scottish Government to provide free rail travel for disabled people who meet the requirements for free bus travel. An overwhelming 99% (472 respondents) support the petition.

Affordability

There was consensus amongst respondents that rail travel is not affordable, with some noting that this is still the case for disabled people that qualify for a discount.

“Even with 1/3rd off rail travel is still often unaffordable, although it is often the only accessible option available.”

“I have the 33% off card, yet rail fares are so expensive. I barely use the train to travel, yet, for me it is a better way to travel as it has more space and seats available.”

“Even with a discount, rail fares are still too expensive.”

“I feel that rail travel should be free for disabled people because it might be the only public transport available to some disabled people and it’s very expensive.”

Cost of Living

Respondents reflected on the additional factors that make rail travel unaffordable. Disabled people often face increased costs compared to non-disabled people, which has been exasperated by the rising cost of living. For example, disabled people are more likely to have higher energy needs as they may need heating on for health reasons or use electricity to power vital equipment. As well as increased costs, disabled people are less likely to be employed and earn less when they do work, therefore increasing their reliance on the welfare system. When taking into consideration these factors, disabled people are more likely to be living in poverty and will have less disposable income to cover the cost of rail travel.

“The cost of living is rising which means many disabled people are struggling to survive paying bills, ensuring their homes are heated and they are fed. Additionally to this they are expected to pay expensive prices to attend life changing appointments and they are often unable to be a functioning part of society because of financial demand. Free rail travel will not only eliminate stress such as organising travel and being able to afford travel, but it will also improve quality of life, ensure reliable transport, accessible transport, affordable transport and will allow disabled folk to attend essential appointments and be able to have a life. We all know benefits cover the bare minimum if that.”

“Rail travel is expensive and there are so many additional costs to living with a disability which are invisible to those without those considerations – especially where mobility is a challenge. Free rail travel would be helpful in reducing those barriers and is already available for some visually impaired people.”

“Many disabled people cannot afford to travel by train due to rising costs despite having a railcard which limits the ability to work and socialise.”

“Given the fact that disabled people are more likely to be in poverty and have fixed incomes a 1/3 off the already high prices of rail fares doesn’t come close to helping in making rail travel accessible. I would like to say that I think that free access to trains and buses should be extended outwith the young, old and disabled. People on Universal Credit or other means tested benefits should also be helped with accessing public transportation.”

Accessibility

A number of respondents believed that rail travel can be a more accessible mode of public transport for some disabled people compared to bus. Disabled people reflected on their experiences of needing extra space for mobility aids, assistance dogs and to help manage chronic pain. However, disabled people stated that despite trains offering more space and comfort compared to buses, they were not able to take advantage of this due to rail travel being unaffordable.

“A bus journey can cause someone more pain (the way they move can jerk a body), more anxiety and more discomfort than a train. They are also smaller and offer less space, meaning that a disabled person cannot move somewhere else that is more comfortable for them.”

“It always seems perverse that although the need for free travel for certain groups has been identified yet arbitrary restrictions are placed on options. In my experience buses are far less accessible than trains. Restricting travel to unsuitable forms just prevents disabled people from travelling.”

“As someone who feels every bump in the road, using the train helps avoid a lot of extra pain, as it’s smoother. Unfortunately, the price of the bus is only £1 or £2, thankfully for the National Entitlement Card, but a train is a lot more, even with a discount, it is still out of range for me. Because of this, I no longer can visit family and friends in different areas of Scotland, unless it’s by bus. To do this, is the devil and angel, do it and get pleasure from seeing everyone or doing it and being out of action for anything from a few days to a week or more. I like others, can only hope it will be free.”

“I have travelled both on the bus and by rail recently. Each having their ups and downs. I travelled from Dundee to Edinburgh yesterday and I was greatly appreciative of it being free and I also have a plus 1 for assistance. The bus on the return journey was scary to say the least. I had to negotiate some extremely steep and winding steps. I don’t know if I am up to using this again. The train journey I recently took from Dundee to London was so different. Completely stress free and the support from rail assistance was fantastic. Although you have to pay for the train service, I would rather use this and feel stress free. Unfortunately, this means less travel due to the expense. This cuts out both wonderful experiences and spending by a good amount of society.”

“I am autistic, and I hate using buses, only using them when I really have to, but I enjoy train rides so would be more likely to make more journeys. I get travel sickness from the smell, sound and movement on buses and find it uncomfortable to sit in one position in a cramped seat for any length of time, whereas on trains there is more room, I can get up if I need to, the sensory feeling is much nicer, and I can read a book.”

“As a guide dog owner I need to ensure the bus I travel on has sufficient space for my assistance dog to lie down comfortably during the journey and not all buses in my Council region (sometimes these are coaches, sometimes they are minibuses) offer such a facility so I cannot travel on them, especially when you factor in that a bus journey especially from/to rural locations takes longer than a train journey does.”

Accessible Toilets

It was noted by respondents that bus travel is not suitable for some disabled people as there is often no access to adequate toilet facilities. In comparison, there are toilets available on trains, and respondents believed that this further justifies making rail travel free for disabled people.

“There are accessible toilets on trains – none on long distance buses. As I can’t afford to travel by train and can’t use the toilets during longer bus journeys, I am forced to take the car. I would much rather travel by train but can’t afford it.”

“I have bowel cancer and could not last an entire journey without access to a suitable toilet so many journeys are already ruled out for me.”

“I am a wheelchair user who travels by train and occasionally by bus. The trains have toilets but the buses I use in town have no toilets. I have a NEC and still pay to travel by train. I would prefer to use a mode of transport that has wheelchair accessible toilets and I think the ScotRail service should offer the same free transport as the buses.”

“Some medium to long bus routes is a challenge for people using the toilet. On the train, most have spacious adequate toilet facilities.”

“I find train journeys much more comfortable than bus journeys and the ability to use an accessible toilet is undoubtedly a necessity.”

“Within the areas I frequently travel there are no loos on buses and long journeys cannot always be broken for a toilet break, leading to embarrassing and stressful situations which can be avoided when travelling by train. Being able to explore further without compromising safety, comfort would be amazing but train costs (even with a 1/3 off) prohibit this.”

Availability

Respondents reported that bus services can be infrequent and unreliable, which can make it difficult for disabled people to access key services in their communities.

“The buses where I live, even in a city, are infrequent, and can be unreliable. Therefore, it would be nice if the concessionary travel were extended to include trains.”

“I used the bus to travel to the next city for a voluntary position before the pandemic and the buses were only an hour apart. This meant a long wait if there were issues boarding (e.g., coach turned up instead of normal bus which wasn’t uncommon) or another wheelchair user already on board. Sometimes I’d even miss two in a row. This means either a long wait or paying a high price for a one-way train ticket which is difficult when income is low already.”

“I would fully support this petition because although I meet the qualification for free bus travel, I can’t use buses because most rural bus routes have been withdrawn and the few buses used in rural areas have toilets that are unsuitable for disabled people.”

“Lack of bus route coverage has caused no end of trouble to service users and often the individual has to arrange a taxi to the nearest station. Also, if they require wheelchair access it takes a pre-book of 24 hours. It’s very frustrating to have to plan your trips like army manoeuvres.”

“Bus services are either non-existent or inaccessible or unreliable. In a situation where I would be able to get a train it will cost £20 a time to go to a hospital appointment, but at least its reliable.”

Opportunities

Respondents believed that by extending free bus travel to rail, this would provide disabled people with greater opportunities to access employment, education, healthcare and social activities.

“Being able to use concessionary travel on train journeys would allow me to be able to afford to widen my job search area and potentially get employment. Trying to do this using public transport bus services isn’t possible due to journey times, timetables and routes.”

“Concessionary travel by rail would mean it would be affordable to use and I could widen my job search as rail routes connect me better and quicker. Just not affordable as is.”

“Door to door journeys are extremely difficult for so many disabled people. Rail transport can be so much more accessible and free travel would open up opportunities for work and leisure that would otherwise be out of reach.”

“I have to travel via public transport for work. I currently have the disabled adults rail card, but free access would help me save money and travel safely. I cannot get busses to my workplace with ease, but the train is very helpful and saving almost £30 a week would make a big difference to me and my family.”

“The Highlands are often considered as the same as the rest of Scotland but it can take over 2 hours to attend a doctors or hospital appointment, even pick up medication. Free rail travel must come into effect to ensure equality, inclusivity and better quality of life.”

“As I need to travel quite often to Edinburgh for hospital appointments and I live 30 miles away and a pensioner and disabled, rail travel is quite expensive.”

Reduce Car Use

In January 2022, Transport Scotland published a draft route map to achieve a 20% reduction in car kilometres by 2030. Respondents believed that introducing free rail travel for those that qualify for free bus travel would encourage more disabled people to reduce their car usage.

“Extending concessionary travel to rail would make such a difference to my ability to use public transport instead of my car. The car is currently expensive but still cheaper. If you want to reduce car kilometers and make public transport more affordable and accessible for disabled people, then please extend concessionary travel to include rail.”

“Concessionary travel by rail would be a game changer for me and mean I could get rid of my car.”

“As a disabled person I would love to travel more by train but can’t afford to. Extending concessionary travel to cover travel by train would make such a difference, reduce car use, shorten journey times and mean I didn’t need to plan my journey around knowing where the accessible toilets are. ScotRail also have the best assistance service to help disabled passengers.”

“As a disabled person, travelling by rail would be much more accessible and if affordable, make me more likely to switch to public transport and get rid of my car.”

Funding

Respondents questioned how extending concessionary travel to rail would be funded. Examples were also shared where free rail travel had been previously introduced.

“I do support this; however, I think that there will be a lot of opposition to this from across the political parties as train tickets cost a lot more than bus travel. While I would welcome this, and it would be a major benefit to me and help me to get out and about I think that if there is something done about this idea it will likely include restrictions such as within your local authority area such as Glasgow or it might be a case of it being limited to a certain number of miles from the card holders home e.g. 10 miles.”

“Maybe it could be restricted to routes that the buses don’t have accessible toilets on, because there is no such thing as a ‘free lunch’ – in other words, the Scottish Government would be paying for the rail fares.”

“A contribution would be considered ideally too. Fife residents contribute £1 fee, off peak times, for rail travel within Fife. Those with a Concessionary pass should contribute towards the rail fares due to costs involved – but a realistic fare – to travel anywhere in Scotland.”

“Back in the early 2010’s disabled card holders from West Lothian were able to get free bus and rail travel, but card holders from other LA’s only had free bus travel. Having the option of both free services will open up resource access across the country for many disabled people.”

“In Ireland people who get a free bus pass are entitled to travel free on the railway system too. In Troon we do not always have a good bus service so free travel on rail would be great please.”

Conclusion

An overwhelming 99% (472 respondents), believed that rail travel should be free for disabled people who meet the criteria for free bus travel. There was consensus amongst respondents that rail travel is unaffordable, which has been intensified by the rising cost of living. It was highlighted that rail travel can be more accessible for disabled people, as it can offer greater space, comfort and access to adequate toilet facilities compared to buses. In turn, this would provide disabled people with greater opportunities to access employment, education, healthcare and social activities. However, the current cost of rail travel means that many disabled people are unable to benefit from travelling by train. Respondents questioned how free rail travel can be funded, whilst also providing examples of where it has previously been introduced.