During my recent Member’s debate in parliament on access to Waverley Station, I was pleased that MSPs from across the political spectrum recognised that the current drop-off and pick up arrangements are unacceptable. As I said in the debate, it is deeply regrettable that the popular and well-used taxi ranks within the station were removed in 2014 without any new systems being put in place. This meant Waverley went from being one of the most accessible stations for blind, disabled and infirm travellers anywhere in the UK to one of the least usable.
Network Rail recently announced plans for a new taxi rank in the New Street Car Park. But this plan doesn’t go nearly far enough in addressing the genuine concerns of disabled travellers. First of all, this new rank will be pick-up only so won’t address the challenge in being dropped off at the station. Secondly, the new pick-up rank is far away from most platforms and the central concourse of the station, meaning blind and disabled travellers will still have to struggle by using several lifts, escalators or stairs just to get to it. And thirdly, taxi companies themselves have serious misgivings about the location of the new rank. As Tony Kenmuir of Central Taxis has said, most taxis leaving New Street would have to drive around the perimeter of the station, racking up fares of up to £5, before they got anywhere. And with no drop-off point at New Street and taxis likely to face charges from Network Rail for using the new rank, are drivers really going to be willing to take their empty cabs into New Street when they could pick up able-bodied passengers who will presumably still stand outside in Market Street or other streets in the vicinity of the station?
It is important that Network Rail gets the site of any new taxi rank at Waverley right, not least as the current handicab service – which has to be booked weeks in advance – will in due course only be able to drop people off at Calton Road when the platforms are extended at the south ramp of the station which it currently uses for drop-off. I am calling on Network Rail to go back to the drawing board and look again at all options, including whether the north ramp could be used for pick-up and drop-off for disabled travellers.
The Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf, ultimately has responsibility here for ensuring equal access to travel services for all travellers in Scotland. He has accepted my challenge to come to Waverley with me, meet with disabled and blind constituents and see how hard it is for them to navigate their way in and out of the station. It is high time that the minister takes a lead, knocks heads together and ensures that Waverley is truly accessible for all those who want to use our railways.
Miles Briggs is a Conservative MSP for Lothian