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Success at the Stagecoach AGM

Blog by Marion Nisbet. This blog and its content reflect the views of the author only.

I attended the Stagecoach AGM in Perth on 28 th August as a representative of Transport for All. I arrived in good time, armed with my question and my usual determination to fight for equality & improved access for disabled people within our society.

The journey up was quiet and stress free. I registered & found Mike Harrison who is the secretary for the Scottish Accessible Transport Association and my comrade for the day. We successfully got registered and headed for the free tea & biscuits. A very pleasant man approached us and asked if we wanted to speak to the managers of each company regarding our issues as that may be better than asking the whole group. I replied it would be great if the managers wanted to come and speak to us after the AGM, but I was sent to ask these questions to all of the shareholders at the AGM, so that’s what I was planning to do.

The AGM was, as these things are, very dull. Eventually, the microphone came to me and I asked the following:

“Hello, my name is Marion Nisbet and I’m here on behalf of ShareAction, a shareholder in the company, and campaign group Transport for All.

“Firstly, I want to congratulate Stagecoach on having the strongest policy for wheelchair priority in the wheelchair bay on your buses. This really makes a difference to disabled people’s confidence to use your services – so thank you.

“My question is about assistance on your rail services for disabled customers. South West Trains, East Midlands Trains, Virgin Trains and Virgin Trains East coast all request that disabled people who want to travel and want assistance book 24hours ahead. Here in Scotland, Scotrail request that you book assistance four hours before your journey. And C2c is introducing turn-up-and-go assistance across all their rail services, so disabled people don’t have to book at all.

“Funnily enough, disabled people, like non-disabled people, don’t plan our lives 24 hours ahead! I go out with friends, and I don’t know exactly what time we’re going to get back. I go to a meeting, I don’t know if that meeting’s going to overrun. Requesting that disabled people book all our journeys 24hours ahead when everyone else can just turn up and get on the train is basically offering a two-tier system. I travel a lot with a friend who’s a wheelchair user, and a lot of the time, he turns up and the staff are really helpful and do everything they can to get him on that train. But sometimes he turns up at a station and has to have a ten minute debate with this person about getting onto a train – in that ten minutes, they could just have got the ramp! Other passengers aren’t asked to justify why they’re getting on a train, the reasons for their journey. It’s embarrassing and unfair.

“I think Stagecoach can do better. Putting your customers first means making travel convenient, not putting up barriers. I would like to ask if you will meet with Transport for All to discuss introducing turn-up-and-go on more of your rail services, so disabled passengers can use your trains on an equal basis with non-disabled people?”.

Result! They agreed to meet with Transport for All to discuss how they can improve access.

Then Mike put his question to the Board. He asked:

“Hello, my name is Mike Harrison, I’m Secretary of the Scottish Accessible Transport Association and I’m here on behalf of ShareAction; and campaign group Transport for All. I’d like to ask a question about Talking Buses. At the moment, Stagecoach do not fit audio-visual announcements on your buses as standard. Many of my colleagues at the Scottish Accessible Transport Association are visually impaired, and find it really frustrating not to be able to know when it’s their stop; and to always risk missing it and getting stranded in a totally unfamiliar place. Smartphone technology is not enough – lots of older and disabled people don’t have smartphones, and even if we do, we don’t want to have to expose ourselves to theft by having a smartphone out all the time.

“I’m glad that Stagecoach is working towards 100% wheelchair accessible but blind and visually impaired people shouldn’t be left behind. This technology costs just 1% of the overall cost of a new bus; and it benefits all passengers, including non-disabled people.

“It’s good to read in your report that you’re committed to improving the accessibility of your buses as part of living your values. Will you look at ensuring that your new buses are fitted with Talking Buses as standard?”

After eating my free lunch of soup & sandwiches along with Mike & the other shareholders. I mingled with the men in suits & got a selfie with Damien Henderson (the Scottish Affairs media manager for Virgin trains) and we had a wee blether, he is also happy to speak to Transport for All about improving access. He did say that if a person had to travel without booking ahead but got themselves to the station a wee bit early the staff are instructed to do everything possible to assist them to travel.

On my way out, I was delighted to meet a couple of fabulous women from The Centre for Inclusive Living (perth & Kinross) outside on their mobility scooters, collaring the men in suits & asking questions about access to local buses (Stagecoach is the main local provider of bus transport in Perth). So I wasn’t the only disabled person challenging Stagecoach on access!

I left the concert hall feeling like I had achieved something positive & not feeling like a scrounger or skiver. So thumb on nose to IDS & his cronies! Thanks to transport for all for giving me the opportunity to hopefully improve the dialogue between transport providers & the disabled community.