Question: Are you aware of changes to public transport, including altered timetables and new social distancing measures for Passenger Assistance?
Yes – 12% (30 respondents) No – 88% (223 respondents)
Passenger Assistance is still being offered during the coronavirus outbreak, according to transport providers, but there has been a significant reduction in demand for this service. There are some restrictions and new measures in place to allow passengers to be assisted safely. This includes protective masks, gloves and apron for staff.
“Gloves are worn by assistance team and equipment is cleaned down after each use. Hand washing takes place on a regular basis.”
“It is fair to say that there are very few people requesting passenger assistance travelling except for those who work in key worker areas.”
However, our members tell a different story, with some being refused assistance, in that no physical contact, such as pushing of wheelchairs or arm-holding for visually impaired passengers would be available. In some cases passengers were advised to travel with a companion, as transport staff would be unable to assist them, or advised that disabled people should not be travelling at all.
“ScotRail at Waverley told me they could put down the ramps but couldn’t help me. Another passenger helped me up the ramp in my wheelchair for which I am grateful. Confusingly Queen Street staff helped me off and explained what they were doing to keep me safe and help. So angry and embarrassed at Waverley staff.”
“I had a terrible experience with Passenger Assist at Queen Street and they more or less told me I shouldn’t be travelling because I put them at risk. I still have to get to work. More inequalities and terrible attitude from ScotRail staff. They need disability awareness training or even basic customer service on how to speak to people!”
“Bus services has reduced, and I tried to book Passenger Assistance, but I was told that disabled people should not be travelling. I am so angry at this attitude.”
“I phoned the passenger assist number for ScotRail and they told me I would need someone to travel with me to push me on and off and they would supply the ramp. I can’t arrange that for every time I travel to work so have had to drive.”
Timetables and Frequency of Services
Cancelled or reduced services on public transport had a knock-on effect for vulnerable and disabled passengers, particularly those trying to take advantage of the dedicated shopping times. Without regular transport, many disabled people were unable to get to the shops on time. This problem is exacerbated by the difficulties in securing an online shopping delivery slot.
“My supermarket is doing an over 70’s hour from 09:00 to 10:00 but due to cancellation of school buses I cannot get there until 10:15 by which time there is huge queue outside the store. Customers must keep well apart inside the store, but by 10:15 the huge queues out in the street result in very close contact.”
“I have been unable to get a bus to the shops for basics as the bus service doesn’t seem to be running and I can’t get a home delivery slot.”
“I haven’t seen any notices but know from my neighbours and friends that not many buses are running and the buses to supermarkets have been withdrawn, which is unhelpful as I can’t get an online delivery.”
Lack of Information and Awareness
In general, disabled people felt that they were not being kept up to date with information about timetable changes or changes to the passenger assistance services.
Transport providers stated that they had used a variety of social media and their own websites to communicate these changes, while others said that because the situation was ever-changing in response to Government updates; information was not communicated widely, just to those calling to enquire about passenger assist.
“As the situation is very fluid and changing frequently, we are advising passengers as the requests come in.”
Disabled people reported that they were finding it difficult to access information on transport changes.
“Information on changes is not widely published.”
“I know timetables have been reduced but can’t find any information on Passenger Assistance.”
“I have seen information from the rail industry in England around continued accessibility measures but nothing about Scotland – the lack of information in Scotland is terrible.”
For those with concessionary travel cards, there is updated advice from Transport Scotland. Where someone has an essential need to travel, but has been unable to obtain a card due to the closure of the bureau who produce the National Entitlement Cards (bus passes), they can explain their circumstances to the driver, who will allow them to travel. Our members have reported that this information is not filtering through to drivers, who are refusing travel to some disabled people.
“Just had my bus pass denied today and the bus driver said that according to his machine I have 2 passes and have to find the other one. I only have 1 pass and the SPT card printing is cancelled for now so I can’t get a new card sent to me. But according to SPT site bus operators have been told to accept the cards of people during this time. It seems this advice is not getting to the bus drivers and inspectors.”
A strong view from our members was that community transport services have been operating, particularly in areas where other services have been suspended, such as rural areas. This has allowed disabled people to continue to access services or provide transport for key workers to get to their place of work.
“Most of the buses have been suspended where I live (rural Scotland) but the community transport team have stepped up and been brilliant. I don’t know what I would do without them. They are always there to help when I need it.”
“I am self-isolating and my community transport group have been a godsend. Bringing my food twice a week and they dropped of a green card for me to leave in the window and change to red or just take down if I needed help. They said the drivers would check the colour daily as they were passing and alert help if the green card wasn’t showing. I feel so humbled and looked after even though they can’t come into the house to chat. I will never be able to relay them for looking out for me as my family live too far away.”
“Community Transport Glasgow have been fantastic. I had concerns about getting to work (as a key worker) and I didn’t know what would happen regarding passenger assistance. Community Transport Glasgow have made sure I get to my work and home without any additional anxiety or stress.”
Some of our members still required medical appointments and were having to make alternative arrangements as their usual patient transport services were not operating for non-emergency bookings. For many people, accessible taxis are the only viable alternative to using public transport, but particularly during this time, when public transport services are reduced. This is costly for disabled people to sustain.
“I still need to go to hospital for some of my treatment. Ambulance won’t take me as they say they are not taking non-emergency bookings, I would need someone to help me go by bus but I can’t ask my friends or family due to social distancing rules and bus services seem to have changed though no one told me. I won’t be able to afford to keep getting taxis though the taxi that took me this week only charged me half the fare because of all this. A grateful gesture and sign that people are willing to help even at times when their livelihood is under threat.”
Access and Equality
There was a strong feeling among our members that disabled people are being treated unfairly and that decisions made to keep people safe during this pandemic are often detrimental to the health and wellbeing of disabled people.
“I think this has shown that disabled people don’t matter. This crisis is highlighting the level of inequality in our society and crisis just makes inequality worse.”
“I don’t know what to do and ScotRail are no help. I have been using my car instead of the train. They think disabled people don’t have essential jobs or need essential travel. We are just supposed to sit in the house until this is over. More evidence of blatant inequality.”
“Decision makers are issuing guidelines on how to keep the population safe, but people with disabilities are forgotten about in the name of pandemic. Equality can’t just be set aside because it’s inconvenient right now and it has been.”
“I think the general public are under the impression that wheelies either shouldn’t be out or that we are COVID positive. I have been getting some strange looks waiting for the bus to get to work or when going for groceries because I can’t get a home delivery slot.”
Disability Equality Scotland