The Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland (MACS) is pleased to contribute to the consultation.
MACS is a statutory advisor to Scottish Ministers on all aspects of travel and mobility for disabled people.
We wish to focus our response on several specific aspects as set out below. A review of PSVAR is overdue: the regulations are now nearly a quarter of a century old. Aspirations for disabled people to have access to public transport have grown and technology has developed. Many transport strategies, in Scotland, the UK, regionally and locally emphasise the need for a system that works for everyone, not least Scotland’s National Transport Strategy 2: “Everyone in Scotland will share in the benefits of a modern and accessible transport system.”
There is also a need to ensure the availability, accessibility, and affordability of all public transport as we progress our journey to net zero through a just transition in transport that leaves no one behind.
However, many disabled people still cannot use buses at present. This can be because of factors outside the design of vehicles but the design and operation of buses themselves also fails to meet the needs of many disabled people. The innovation of the low floor bus was a game-changer in the 1990s but the concept of the accessible low floor bus was still new when the initial PSVAR regulations were prepared. The ‘greening’ of bus services to transition to low/zero emission vehicles provides an opportunity to address accessibility alongside environmental considerations.
As long ago as 2014, the National Travel Survey Disability and Transport factsheet showed that getting to the bus stop and getting on or off the bus were the biggest problems for disabled people who couldn’t use the bus.
Although the PSVAR apply only to vehicles, we would encourage a ‘person-centered’ approach that takes account of the fact that accessibility depends not only on vehicle design but on information about services, how they are operated, staff conduct, pedestrian and bus stop infrastructure, etcetera. As well as ensuring that buses are accessible, it is essential to make sure that people can get to and from the bus stop and can access any boarding devices such as ramp or lifts.
We are mindful that accessibility regulations (like any other regulations) can affect the economics of public transport provision, especially in areas where commercial viability is fragile (or absent). However, this must not be the prime consideration in regulating disability access, which is fundamental to the exercise of human rights.
We look forward to participating in further discussion about how to ensure that public transport and especially buses and coaches, are made to work better for disabled people.
Low floor vehicles have hugely improved the accessibility of buses for disabled people with reduced mobility and for wheelchair users. They have also improved the access to buses for many other people who value level boarding, notably parents with young children in buggies, tourists with luggage, etcetera. This is an excellent example of ‘inclusive design’ where designing for disabled people has wider social benefits.
However, this has also meant that there is now significant competition for wheelchair spaces on many buses, especially on busy urban routes where a single ‘wheelchair space’ is insufficient, causing unpredictability and anxiety for wheelchair users who may be unable to board if the one space is not available. For wheelchair users this scenario frequently disrupts/ends their journey by public transport.
We therefore want to see two spaces available for wheelchair users on such services. We are aware that some bus designs have this accessibility measure, but this should be the norm and not the exception.
At the same time, adequate access to ‘priority seating’ needs to be maintained near the entrance/exit for ambulant disabled and older people who have limited mobility.
It may not be necessary (or advisable) to stipulate this two-space provision on all registered bus services; in which case it will be necessary to carefully determine the threshold above which two spaces are needed.
Coaches are used on many rural routes registered as a local bus service in Scotland and frequently, they present significant access problems for disabled people. It is our understanding that ‘wheelchair lifts’ as defined in Schedule 1 of the PSVAR cannot be used by ambulant passengers. This means that access to high floor passenger spaces is extremely difficult - or impossible - for many people who have reduced mobility, difficulty walking or climbing steps. We would therefore like to see the PSVAR reviewed to ensure that any passenger (not only a wheelchair use) can access a lift to board and alight from a coach, should they need to do so.
Small vehicles (under 22 seats)
Again, it is common for small vehicles to be used on registered local bus services in many parts of rural Scotland. The PSVAR do not apply to these vehicles and as a result, they are inaccessible to many disabled people. This is not acceptable and smaller vehicles should be brought within the scope of a new PSVAR regime. It should be noted that there is a range of low floor small vehicles available on the market which was not the case when PSVAR were first prepared.
Demand Responsive Services and Community Transport
With growing interest in Mobility as a Service and other forms of Demand Responsive Transport, there needs to be a fresh approach to regulating the accessibility of these services, embracing the principle of ‘access for all’. This should also cover community transport services, many of which provide excellent accessible services and vehicles, but also includes many minibuses which have poor access.
Audio and visual announcements
The Public Service Vehicles (Accessible Information) Regulations 2023 will introduce a welcome enhancement of accessibility, especially for people who have visual and/or hearing impairments. These provisions should be integrated within an enhanced PSVAR regime, taking account of any evidence gained during their implementation.
Certain bus services (home to school and rail replacement) have repeatedly been granted exemptions from PSVAR (exemptions which currently expire in 2026). We want to see this end once and for all, so that these services comply with modern access standards.
This will not only make these services more inclusive; they also will reward operators who have invested in accessibility in good faith, and no longer provide a competitive advantage to operators who have sought to evade accessibility requirements.
At present, the private hire or charter of coaches is outside the scope of PSVAR. However, there is a close relationship between the private coach hire market and the public transport market in some parts of rural and island Scotland and the review should consider if intervention is required in the for-hire market, to ensure that the market for accessible public transport works more effectively.
Appendix: About the Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland
The Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland (MACS) is a statutory advisory non-departmental public body. Within the founding legislation, Scottish Ministers have defined the overall aim for MACS as follows:
“MACS will consider such matters relating to the needs of disabled persons in connection with transport as the Committee think appropriate and give advice to Scottish Ministers”.
MACS Strategic Remit is:
- To give Scottish Ministers advice on aspects of policy, legislation and practice affecting the travel needs of disabled people.
- To take account of the broad views and lived experiences of disabled people when giving advice.
- To encourage awareness amongst disabled people in Scotland of developments, which affects their mobility, choices and opportunities.
- To work closely with SG and ensure our work programme complements
the work being undertaken by the Inclusive Mobility and Transport Committee (IMTAC), the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), the Scottish Human Rights Commission, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and other organisations, voluntary and statutory.
- To promote the travel needs of disabled people with designers including transport planners and operators so that these are fully taken into account in the development of vehicles and infrastructure and delivery of services.
- To monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of our work against the above aims and objectives in improving travel opportunities for disabled people in Scotland.