Scottish Ferry Services: Ferries Plan (2013-2022)

CHAPTER 6 - Accessibility


1. The Scottish Government's commitment to equality and inclusiveness extends to our entire transport network, including our ferries. While, at present, there are some gaps in provision for passengers with disabilities, this chapter describes our work to ensure that Scotland's ferry services become more accessible to all passengers.

2. While we recognise that accessibility is a particular issue for those with a disability of any nature or those with a mobility problem, as defined under the Equality Act 2010, it is also a challenge for other groups such as passengers with small children and people travelling with luggage.

3. The Equality Act, including the public sector duty, consolidated previous legislation dealing with discrimination. Additional regulation will be provided for from 18 December 2012 when EU Regulation 1177/2010 comes into force. This covers the rights of passengers when travelling by sea and inland waterways and it will give disabled people and those with reduced mobility the same opportunities to travel by water as exists in the rail and aviation sectors across the EU.

4. We recognise the importance of ongoing consultation with appropriate disability groups. In Chapter 5 of this document we discuss plans to carry out further work to consider how best to deliver wider consultation mechanisms. In taking this work forward, we will consider how best to include representatives from bodies with an interest in ensuring accessibility is improved. Those being consulted with will also be responsible for monitoring the impact of any changes being introduced.

Implementing Accessibility Recommendations

5. To complement the relevant legislation and regulations the Scottish Government will use the procurement process to address accessibility issues on our ferries. Since the publication of the Draft Ferries Plan in December 2011 the Scottish Government has engaged in a major ferries procurement exercise. This was for our subsidised ferry services to the Northern Isles. The competition documents set out what was expected of the new operator in how they consider those passengers with accessibility issues.

6. Now that a new contract is in place, the Northern Isles operator, Serco NorthLink is required to take into account the needs of disabled people when providing information, timetable and booking reservation systems. They must allow time for intermodal transfers where timetable variations are being proposed and must also take account of the guidance on travel issued by key bodies. The contract includes a detailed Accessibility Plan setting out the operator's responsibilities in terms of: staff training; information dissemination; and proposals around vessel and port facilities. It also sets out how the operator will take account of passengers with accessibility difficulties when there is disruption to facilities or services. In addition, an Accessibility Transport Group is to be established providing a forum for those with accessibility needs.

7. Serco NorthLink's detailed Accessibility Proposal can be found at Schedule 3 (page 38) of their contract which is available through the following link to the Transport Scotland website.

8. Our next major ferry procurement - for the Clyde and Hebrides services - is due to begin in 2014. We will build on what has been achieved in the Northern Isles contract and seek to ensure improved provision for those with particular accessibility needs. Accessibility issues have been taken fully into consideration when designing the new Stornoway-Ullapool vessel. CMAL have also met with disability group representatives to discuss the design and their requirements and this dialogue will continue throughout the build. All public areas will be accessible.

Accessibility Improvement Fund

9. We said in our Draft Ferries Plan that we intended to set up an Accessibility Improvement Fund and would provide further details of how this would be resourced and managed in the Final Ferries Plan.

10. We have asked Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) to set up and administer the Fund on our behalf. This will ensure that the Fund is administered competently, transparently and in line with Government finance rules. The Fund will be a ring fenced and will not be used by CMAL for any other purpose.

11. However, we want decisions on how the money is spent to be taken by a wider group that is able to consider proposals from operators of vessels and harbours and make decisions on priorities, taking into account availability of funds. We therefore propose to set up a Fund Management Group drawn from experts in their field, including representatives of the Mobility Access Committee for Scotland.

12. We believe that ferry and port operators should meet the regulatory standards set for accessibility. But, as we said in the Draft Ferries Plan, we want operators to go further and the Fund will be there to support that. The Fund will, therefore, only normally be used for activities that go beyond regulatory requirements. Supported activities could include for example:

  • training in disability awareness and providing customer service to people with reduced mobility;
  • improvements to communications and signage including provision of Visual Display Units for people with impaired hearing, information/wayfinding schemes for people with visual impairments, induction loops at service counters
  • retrofitting or adaptation of existing ships and port facilities to improve the ease and safety of embarkation and disembarkation for people with reduced mobility. This could include the installation or improvement of ramps, elevators and lifts
  • retrofitting or adaptation of existing ships and port facilities to improve the ease of movement of people with reduced mobility around the vessel or port such as the installation or improvement of handrails, adaptation of corridors, passageways, doors, lounge accommodation and washrooms,
  • provision of assistance telephones (or other forms of assistance) at unmanned ports and slipways;
  • facilities for assistance dogs at terminal buildings and on ships
  • provision of left luggage facilities on board and on-shore.

13. Many of these improvements will be of benefit to all users not only those with reduced mobility. They will also enable ferry and port operators to provide a better quality of service which can be expected to generate commercial returns. It is therefore appropriate for contributions from the Fund to be matched by contributions from the operator; the expectation is that contribution from the Fund will not exceed 50% of total costs although the Management Group will have discretion to go further in certain cases for example if a small operator with limited resources has a proposal with significant benefits.

14. The Fund will be supported by grant from the Scottish Government. The exact sum will be set as part of the annual Scottish Government Budget there is no provision in the 2013-14 Budget so the aim is to have the Fund up and running by April 2014. The Fund will be open to contributions from others including operators. The Management Group and the Fund administrator (CMAL) will also be encouraged to seek other contributions for the Fund; applicants will also be encouraged to seek other funding partners for particular projects.

15. The operation of the Fund will be reviewed after 2 years. Once the process of funding projects is established we can look again at the arrangements for the management and administration of the Fund. For example, it may be appropriate to consider setting up a charitable Trust to govern and administer the Fund.

Accessibility Information System

16. In 2010, at the same time as we published the Scottish Ferries consultation document, CMAL published an Accessibility report setting the legislation and guidance in place at that time for vessels, ports and harbours. This is available on the Ferries Review webpage. The report also recommended the introduction of an 'Information System' to indicate the degree of accessibility for each harbour, ferry or route. The Northern Isles operator, Serco NorthLink, are to put an Accessibility Information System in place.

17. Transport Scotland will specify in future ferry tenders for publicly-funded services that operators must put in place a system that improves the level of accessibility information. This information must be presented in a consistent and an easily accessible format. We have written to all ferry operators and harbour authorities to encourage them to put in place a similar system to that used by publicly-funded ferry services. Equally, we will seek to ensure, that all local authorities, independent trust ports and private owners of vessels and ports and harbour facilities are aware of their obligations with regard to passenger accessibility.

Summary of Way Forward

18. Our plans are summarised below:

  • We will build on what has been achieved in the Northern Isles tender when tendering the next CHFS contract;
  • We will continue to put plans in place for an Accessibility Improvement Fund and will arrange to review the operation of the fund after 2 years; and
  • We will specify in future ferry tenders for subsidised ferry services that operators must put in place an Accessibility Information System.