Last November I had an article in the Evening News about the accessibility of Edinburgh’s new 100 seat buses. The key issue I raised was that, unlike much of Lothian Buses’ fleet, it was reported that these buses could not accommodate a buggy and wheelchair at the same time.
Following this, I met with Richard Hall (Lothian Buses MD) in December at the formal launch of these buses. We discussed the many benefits of them, and I was assured that both a buggy and wheelchair could fit in the bus within a “shared space”, but mum/dad would have to sit across the aisle – not ideal, but a reasonable compromise.
Since the buses became operational, however, I have been made aware of three key accessibility issues:
- A buggy and wheelchair cannot fit in the shared space together (there is even a petition on this).
- The luggage area is small, and many folded bugged don’t fit there.
- The middle exit door does not lower to the same extent as the front doors on other buses.
On Thursday, I went over these points in a constructive discussion with Lothian Buses. I also discussed their use of second hand buses from London as these also can’t accommodate a buggy and wheelchair together. During the discussion we agreed on a great deal – particularly environmental credentials of these buses and the excellent service Lothian Buses provides. However, they were unwilling to give any ground on the accessibility of these buses. They still say that the 100 seat buses can take a buggy and wheelchair, but now qualify that to say not every buggy will fit.
I made the point that the fundamental problem here is that Lothian Buses did not consult users as part of the design process for these buses. Although they don’t have to consult anyone, I think involving customers in the design of a service can only be a good thing. The Council actually has an “Active Travel Forum” which could have provided feedback. As good as these buses are, I think they could be better.
Since 2016 the city has been planning for an additional 47,000 people by 2024, and an additional 102,000 by 2039, taking the total population from 492,610 to 594,712 over the 25-year period from 2014 to 2039. The question is how we accommodate this growth, and it can’t be done by expecting everyone to drive around our capital – public transport has to be attractive and accessible. We have one of the UK’s best bus services, but it needs to improve. It needs to be world class, but these buses don’t quite meet that standard.