RAIL bosses have been challenged to spend a day on crutches or in a wheelchair trying to navigate Waverley station with heavy suitcases and get a taxi.
Edinburgh Eastern SNP MSP Ash Denham said Network Rail’s proposed new taxi rank in the New Street car park would do little to help passengers with disabilities.
In a debate at the Scottish Parliament – held after Nicola Sturgeon ordered ScotRail bosses to publish in full almost 250 steps being taken to improve the train network – she said: “The closure of the indoor taxi rank in 2014 led to increased worry and inaccessibility for those who struggle to travel.
“Passengers in any direction now face a time-consuming route through the station, going in and out of lifts in order to reach street level to get a taxi. As we all know, lifts can break down, which can cause extra delays.
“The proposed taxi rank will still require passengers with disabilities to navigate across the station and take a lift to New Street, and it will be only for pick-ups and not for drop-offs. The new scheme, as far as I can see, does not do much to change the current status and level of accessibility.
“I suggest that the executives at Network Rail spend even a day on crutches or in a wheelchair, with a couple of heavy suitcases, navigating through the station, getting on and off trains and going up to try to hail a taxi while waiting in the freezing cold. That might give them some perspective on the issue.”
She said she was convinced a solution could be found to make the station fit for the 21st century. “I call on Network Rail to be more creative, to find that solution and to make the investment so that all passengers can use the station with ease.”
The debate was sponsored by Lothians Conservative MSP Miles Briggs, who gathered thousands of signatures on a petition calling for taxis to be allowed back into the station. He told fellow MSPs Waverley used to offer one of the best drop-off and pick-up arrangements in the country.
“Blind and disabled people feel that they have been badly let down and that their independence has been totally undermined.” He said some decided to avoid the station altogether.
The south ramp from Waverley Bridge into the situation will no longer be available under plans for new platforms, but Mr Briggs urged Network Rail to consider allowing taxis to use the north ramp.
Robin Wickes, vice-chair of Edinburgh Access Panel, said it was very difficult for disabled people to get from anywhere on the periphery of the station to the platforms.
“We are disappointed the new rank will be for pick-up only and drop off will presumably continue to be at Calton Road, which is very isolated and bleak location and a considerable distance from the trains. We were hoping the rank could be set up in the station itself.”
Dennis Wilson, 67, from Gilmerton, who has been totally blind all his life, said being dropped off was the more difficult part of the journey for disabled people.
He said: “It’s a very difficult station. As a blind person you don’t want to be wandering around it yourself, even with a guide dog. Edinburgh had brilliant access – the taxi went into the station and you were right next to the assistance office.
“Now you are dumped – and that’s how it feels – at Calton Road. My wife and I had travel assistance organised but we were standing there for 25 minutes before someone arrived. We felt very vulnerable. Instead of becoming more accessible, it has become really inaccessible. I dread getting the train.”
NetworkRail said the one-way queuing system planned for the taxi rank meant it could not be used as a drop-off point as well. And it said the area at the foot of the north ramp could be quite congested, making it impractical to allow taxis to drop disabled passengers there.