Scottish charities call for free rail travel for blind and partially sighted people and companions
Sight Scotland and Sight Scotland Veterans highlighted inconsistent approaches to rail travel concessions, which leads to confusion for passengers and rail staff
15 December 2022
Scottish sight loss charities have urged Members of the Scottish Parliament to support its Fair Rail Campaign.
The Fair Rail Campaign calls for a new national policy for free rail travel across Scotland for blind and partially sighted people and their companions.
Sight Scotland and Sight Scotland Veterans highlighted stories from people with sight loss who have concerns about inconsistency of rail travel concessions for their companion.
Currently there is no national policy of this nature for rail travel, which the charity suggests means “whether a visually impaired person and their companion can access free or discounted rail travel depends on which local authority they are resident in.”
Freedom of information requests made by the charity revealed that, while most local authorities and SPT offer free or discounted rail travel for blind and partially sighted people, only seven said they offered a discount to companions, and none offered free companion travel.
Feedback gathered by the charity revealed that public information around concessionary schemes and companion discounts is “misleading” and leads to confusion for both passengers and rail staff.
A debate on a policy of free rail travel for the companions of blind and partially sighted people was brought to the Scottish Parliament on 13 December, led by Graham Simpson, MSP for Central Scotland.
Simpson said a lack of national policy “is causing anguish for passengers and rail staff,” adding: “It’s clear to me that having a companion can ultimately make the difference of someone being able to make a journey or not at all.”
“I thank Sight Scotland and Sight Scotland Veterans for bringing this important issue to my attention and I will be urging members to back the calls for a national policy to take steps towards a more equitable and accessible rail network across Scotland for everyone who uses it.”
Speaking in Scottish Parliament, Simpson highlighted that, with the number of people in Scotland with sight loss set to rise to over 200,000 by 2030, “there is a real need for support.”
Watch a clip from the debate on Twitter.
Craig Spalding, chief executive of Sight Scotland and Sight Scotland Veterans, urged MSPs to back the campaign, calling it an opportunity to “create a rail network in Scotland which is inclusive and meets the needs of everyone in society.”
“For most people living with a visual impairment, public transport is the only means they have to make journeys around the country. Driving a car is no longer, or indeed has never been, an option so local transport networks and Scotland’s rail network play a crucial part in enabling independence in the community,” Spalding added. “Unfortunately, for many blind and partially sighted people, travelling without a companion is just not an option, and the cost to pay fares is too much.”
The personal impact
From West Lothian, Whitfield has a visual impairment and relies on public transport for herself and her young daughter. She explained: “I would rather take the train as the bus can be so unreliable, especially in the darker nights, which reduces what vision I do have even more.”
However, paying the fare for a companion would be too expensive. Whitfield said, “I can’t expect my sister or whoever is with me to pick up the cost. If we could get free companion travel on the trains like we have on the bus, it would make life so much easier.”
More details on the campaign can be found on the Sight Scotland website.
Pictured: Sight Scotland’s Fiona McCormick and Joe Tottenham, a Sight Scotland Veteran.