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The Scottish Government is working in partnership with the Department for Transport to improve access to Scotland’s rail network for everyone. That includes the £41 million access for all fund that is supporting the upgrading of 19 stations in Scotland to bring them up to the modern accessible standards that we expect.
The Scottish Government is committed to encouraging bus operators to meet the Public Service Vehicles Accessibility Regulations 2000 that require buses to be fully accessible. The Scottish Government also sponsors the Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland, which continues to promote the travel needs of disabled people directly with transport planners, operators and infrastructure providers.
I have been contacted by a number of constituents regarding the lack of wheelchair-accessible taxis in the Highlands and access to buses. The lack of taxis means that people who use wheelchairs cannot easily socialise together. In addition, buses can take only one wheelchair, but if the space is being used by parents with prams or pushchairs, a wheelchair user cannot get on the bus. The space can be used by only one wheelchair user or parent user at a time.
One of the issues that has been brought to me is the cost of changing to accessible taxis. What incentives can the Scottish Government give to taxi drivers to improve their vehicles to allow them to be accessible for wheelchair users?
Much of the regulation in relation to taxis is devolved to local government through the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 and subsequent amendments to that act. It is true to say that disability legislation with regard to buses and coaches is reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament. However, the member can write to me with the detail of her concerns. If there is any possibility of further assistance being offered, I am more than happy to look at that.
Does the minister agree that although the theory is often excellent, the practice can be a very different thing? Certainly as far as buses are concerned, I am finding in my constituency that people with disabilities sometimes have issues with getting on buses. The problem may be with how helpful the drivers wish to be, for example, or sometimes it is about other passengers not being willing to fold pushchairs. Would it be a good idea to ask operators and providers to run an awareness campaign for their staff and the general public about the needs of people with disabilities and their rights in relation to buses and trains?
I would be happy to incorporate that in the regular dialogue that we have with bus operators. However, it might be worth clarifying that we are going through a staged process. Since 31 December 2000, all new buses have had to be accessible. All single-decker buses must be accessible by 1 January 2016, all double-decker buses by 1 January 2017, and all coaches by 1 January 2020. The timetable was set out by Westminster, but if there are particular issues, especially in relation to the co-operation of drivers, I would be happy to incorporate them in the dialogue that we have with operators.
I hope that the minister is aware of the help us be spontaneous or HUBS campaign, which was launched by young members of Enable Scotland. They lodged a petition with Parliament about reducing the notice period for disabled passengers who wish to travel by train. What more can the minister do to make freedom of travel a reality, and assist disabled people to live independent lives?
Enable Scotland will meet Transport Scotland to discuss in further detail the issues that have been raised. However, it is worth acknowledging the fact that the Scottish Government, along with ScotRail, has already worked to ensure that we do not have the same notice period of 24 hours, which is the norm across the rest of the United Kingdom. That has now been reduced to four hours, but that can still be an issue for some people. The new franchise allows us to encourage bidders to come forward and say whether they can improve that even further. We are aware of the campaign; it is a very good campaign, and we will engage with those who are behind it.