Buchan Xpress coaches to have steps modified

From Monday, August 15, bus passengers across North Scotland will see changes to some of their service
From Monday, August 15, bus passengers across North Scotland will see changes to some of their service

Activist groups and politicians met with representatives from Stagecoach yesterday to discuss accessibility issues on the Buchan Xpress coaches.

Representatives from the bus company along with representatives from coach manufacturer Plaxton held two meetings in Aberdeen, the first with MP’s and MSP’s and the second with accessibility groups.

The meetings discussed a range of issues regarding the buses including the height of the steps to the seated area and wheelchair placement.

Arthur Cowie, of Scottish Accessible Transport Alliance, said that the buses were “definitely compatible” with current legislation but that changes would be made.

He said: “The manufacturer and operator have both agreed that they will go away adjust the height of the steps.”

There will also be adjustments made in regards to handrails, lighting and stop buttons.

Mr Cowie said that though the changes were a step in the right direction he believed they did not go far enough - but blamed the current accessibility and disability legislation.

He said:“Even though they have agreed to these changes I am not fully satisfied with them but there’s not much we can do.

“They need to get their act together and review the legislation.

“We really need the politicians to come to the table, for too long they have relied on groups like ours to confront the operators.”

However Mr Cowie said he would work with Stagecoach and Plaxton to “pursue a better service in the future.”

Disability campaigners Accessible Buses for Buchan (ABfB) delivered a petition at the meeting containing over 275 signatures to the Stagecoach Regional Director Robert Andrew.

Catriona Williams, ABfB campaign organiser, said: ““We’ve spent a few Saturday’s over the summer travelling across towns in Buchan, listening to people and getting signatures.

“We wanted Stagecoach to know these buses are a vital part of the local transport network that many disabled people, parents with small children and elderly people rely upon and it’s good to hear progress has been made.”

Jaime Szymkowiak, Disability Rights campaigner, said: “I’m pleased that Stagecoach accepted our petition and spent time talking us through design proposals that will improve access for some disabled people.

“Although accessibility will remain challenging for some, this is a huge leap forward.”

MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford and MSP Gillian Martin attended an earlier meeting with the operators and manufacturers and welcomed the progress made.

Gillian Martin, MSP for East Aberdeenshire, said: ““I’m encouraged to see that Stagecoach have taken on some of the comments on the new buses from our constituents, many of whom rely on the bus service as their only means of transport.

“What I would like to see is consultation with users and disability lobbying groups at the design stage in future, and I was glad to hear today that Stagecoach and the representatives from Plaxton acknowledged that this was something they would seriously consider.”

Dr Whiteford, MP for Banff & Buchan, said: “I very much welcome the significant movement from Stagecoach which represents real progress.

“I hope that feedback from bus users, once these improvement s are implemented, will be positive.”

Dr Whiteford also thanked Mintlaw councillor Jim Ingram for his campaigning on behalf of the bus users.

A spokeswoman for Stagecoach said: “We held positive meetings today with a range of stakeholders and we have offered to look into a number of potential modifications to the coaches, along with the vehicle manufacturer, in the coming months.

“Clearly, any matters related to legislation are for government and respective agencies at national or European level to address.”

A spokesman for Dr Whiteford’s office said that while the MP was looking into the legislation issues surrounding accessibility part of the problem was that Stagecoach were using coaches and not buses for the Buchan routes - with the class of vehicle having differing legislation.