Demonstrators demand ScotRail improve services for disabled people
DPAC and RMT call for more accessible trains and stations
Two organisations are pressuring ScotRail to come up with more accessibility assistance for disabled travelers.
The groups held demonstrations on the afternoon of 8 May at Glasgow’s Central Station and Queen Street Station to call for safety and accessibility in all aspects of ScotRail’s services.
A ScotRail employee who attended the rally and wished to remain anonymous told The New Normal why these numbers are so concerning.
“Disabled people have got to phone and tell them what trains they’re traveling on,” she said. “If they’re running late you might miss that train and that’s no life for them. So how is that making travel accessible for people with disabilities?”
She continued: “There is a ramp on every train, but if there’s no ticket examiner or conductor then obviously you can’t use it.”
The employee claims that a disabled woman in Livingston North had to use a taxi driver’s disabled ramp to help her from the train, as the station was unstaffed. “It was just luck that her wheelchair didn’t fall off, because [the ramp is] not designed…for that,” she said.
However, ScotRail disagrees with the numbers of unstaffed stations and driver-only trains reported by RMT.
David Lister, who chairs the ScotRail Alliance Stakeholder Equality Group, said: “This type of language from the RMT is deeply disappointing and in no way reflects the reality of what is happening on Scotland’s Railway. In the last four-week period alone we ran over 57,000 services and 99% of those had a second member of staff on board to look after our customers.”
He also addressed RMT’s claims of lack of accessibility for disabled persons.
“Over the past year our hard-working staff have carried out 78,000 pre-booked passenger assists, making sure that people who need a bit of help to travel receive it,” he said. “Not that this type of assistance needs to be pre-booked, of course.”
This is not the first instance where RMT and ScotRail have contradicted each other in the information they provide.
In the summer of 2016, RMT held a series of strikes against ScotRail to limit the expansion of driver-only operations (DOO). They stated that DOO puts sole responsibility on the driver of the train to open and close the doors, using only CCTV as clearance to see passengers are not in the way.
RMT considers this to be a safety risk, as there is no second person to physically observe that the train doors are clear. And, according to the ScotRail employee who spoke with us, the risk goes beyond just disabled people.
“There’s vulnerable people, women at night,” she said, adding: “What if there’s an attack or assault on the train? There’s a camera there, but a camera isn’t going to stop somebody from assaulting you. Disabled people [are] a factor, but there’s more to it.”
ScotRail refuted the RMT’s safety claims during the 2016 strikes, saying: “The RMT say we are planning on having driver-only trains. We are not. We will always schedule a second person on trains to serve our customers.
“They say it is about safety. It is not. Today, 59% of our customers travel on a train where the doors are safely opened and closed by the driver.”
Craig Johnston, RMT relief regional organiser north, told The New Normal that safety is a key aspect of the organisation’s dispute with ScotRail. He highlighted examples of issues that can arise in DOO trains.
“The first one was with an increase in anti-social behavior. A lot of people felt vulnerable, mainly young people,” he says. “Disabled [people] were also another group that felt vulnerable on the train, because there’s no one there to help them. Some of them couldn’t get on the train in the first place because there’s no one to help them on, and some of them…couldn’t get off at their destination station because there’s no one to help them off.”
Johnston noted that RMT considers its dispute over DOO trains to have been successful, as the policy extension was halted in Scotland.
However, he contends that 55% of trains in Scotland are still DOO, which has led to renewed focus on DOO trains and unstaffed stations – another situation RMT argues is more prevalent than ScotRail suggests.
“To the Scottish government and to Transport Scotland and to Abellio that operates ScotRail, we’re saying to them: You have to do better. We want a second person on every train, and if there’s going to be a second person on every train, we want to make sure that those people are safety and operationally qualified as well.”
“We want a better deal for ScotRail passengers and we want a safer, more customer-focused, more accessible railway guaranteed.”