Jamie Stone MP On Trains And Buses From The North
6th March 2019
Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces) 3:23 pm, 5th March 2019 speaking in the Regional Transport Committee in London.
Anyone who has recently used trains and buses can only agree with his statements and the letters he read out from the John O'Groat Journal.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. I shall be brief. The good news for the Minister is that, on the basis of what I am about to say, he can remind me that all I have said is the responsibility of the Scottish Government. However, I think I am duty-bound to raise the issues, partly on behalf of my constituents, but, secondarily and in a wider context, as a cautionary tale.
Some weeks ago, my wife and I had occasion to catch the ScotRail service from Inverness to Edinburgh. ScotRail has become something of a national sad and bad joke in Scotland. I think I speak for all Scottish Members when I say we are deeply critical of the appalling standard of service—to call it the standard of service that we enjoy would be to use the wrong verb. On that particular train, I happened to notice as we took our seats—by the way, seat reservation does not work on ScotRail for some reason—I noticed that the toilet was marked as out of order. I thought quickly, and I shall explain why in a moment, and went down the train to see whether the other one was working. I discovered that it was also out of order. There were only two toilets on the train, although it was embarking on a long journey.
I kind of threw my weight about, for which I apologise to hon. Members: I got hold of the guard and said, "Really, you cannot leave and go all the way from Inverness to Edinburgh with no toilets working." The staff were helpful and it is not them I blame, not one little bit. They got the toilet working. We hear about trolleys being cancelled, toilets not working and trains being cancelled. It is a shambles, and that is the cautionary tale for the UK Government. I hope to goodness that our letters to Nicola Sturgeon and Michael Matheson will have some effect. The best thing would be for the contract to be changed—got rid of.
My second point is about the Stagecoach X99 bus service and a letter that appeared in last week's John O'Groat Journal:
"I am temporarily disabled following a fall. Last week I took the...bus from Edinburgh with comfortable seats, hot drinks and snacks. There was a ‘new bus' from Inverness to Wick. It is the worst-designed vehicle ever. The entrance step did not lower. There were no grab-bars at the door to pull myself up, then a steep and narrow stair, impossible for me. Access to the driver was impeded and awkward. Other folk told me the upstairs seats are most uncomfortable.
For disabled people there were three cramped, narrow seats behind the driver. Access to the toilet was up the impossible stairs, then down again to the loo—and back again. It was too much for the third disabled passenger who soaked the velvet seat.
Stagecoach has a full fleet of these for the X99 service. All of our representatives... I dare you to take a trip on one. Then have them taken off the road.
Nancy Nicolson, Loch Street, Wick".
There is a letter in this week's issue, which I shall not read out in full, but it begins:
"I am in total agreement with Nancy Nicolson who wrote...that these so-called double-decker coaches are not designed for use on public service".
For Stagecoach, a company owned by Sir Brian Souter, to get a fundamental design so badly wrong, particularly for disabled people, appals me. I mentioned the train because my wife is disabled, and when I am not with her in the north of Scotland she has to take the bus, unless she can get a friend to drive her, to go to hospital appointments in Inverness, for example. When I think of her having to scale the stairs to get to the toilet—it is all very well, travelling on a long-distance coach in Europe, but in the highlands, when the bus goes around the twists and bends and up and down hills, it is not funny trying to negotiate that. I thank you for being patient with me, Ms Ryan, but I speak with some passion on the matter.