by David Allison, council candidate for Barrhead, Liboside and Uplawmoor
Following on from the public meeting about increasing the number of accessible taxis in East Renfrewshire that was held on Tuesday 28th February, I had the pleasure of speaking with Michael McEwan, chair of East Renfrewshire Disability Action to see if there was anything the East Ren Greens could do to support this campaign.
While the conversations that were being had on that evening sounded promising to my ears, there was some real frustration in the room – perhaps this isn’t surprising, when you take account of the fact that Michael estimates that he’s been campaigning on this issue for six years now, since before East Renfrewshire Disability Action even existed!
If the council is going to put £10,000 towards increasing the number of accessible taxis in the area then this is surely to be encouraged, though at present this funding has yet to be confirmed. According to East Renfrewshire Disability Action‘s campaign website, out of roughly 500 taxis serving the East Renfrewshire area, only one is wheelchair accessible. This lack of availability has forced some wheelchair user in East Ren to rely on taxis from Glasgow or Paisley, which makes this mode of transport more expensive for a wheelchair user than it would be for myself, as East Renfrewshire Disability Action also point out:
Using the Glasgow taxis did involve a much higher cost than local taxis – £15.00 one way – which is financially disadvantages to wheelchair residents of East Renfrewshire, especially as many of them are on Benefits and can ill afford a total bill of £30.00 or more.
It’s worth noting here that there are already various other costs and difficulties involved in travelling for those with disabilities – some people may not be able to use any form of transport without a guide, and legislation is coming into effect later this year to combat the issue of some taxi drivers refusing to stop for wheelchair users or charging extra for their services.
While I’ve not seen a detailed breakdown of how far £10,000 would go towards addressing these issues in East Renfrewshire, I think it’s reasonable to say that it won’t be enough to solve the problem. It’s a worthwhile start, but the cost of fitting and maintaining ramps for wheelchair access, the requirements for driver training, and the fact that it may be necessary to incentivise drivers to purchase taxis suitable for transporting wheelchair users plus their friends and family members mean that this funding isn’t likely to be enough to satisfactorily resolve this situation.
If elected, my fellow Scottish Green Party candidate Laura Stevens and I will work to ensure that wheelchair users are able to go about their daily business as easily as possible – without being charged extra for the right to do so!
Given the scale of the problem, as outlined above, this will involve making the case for further funding to help increase the availability of accessible taxis in East Renfrewshire. It will also inevitably link in to our campaigns to improve the public transport links in the area, although it should also be noted that there are several good reasons why taxis may be the better option for some people – those with energy sapping conditions which worsen during the day may struggle to meet job or social commitments via public transport, so accessible taxis are an essential if we’re serious about helping them to live their lives.
What the East Renfrewshire Disability Action‘s passionate and informed activism also highlights is why the theme of the Green local election campaign – Power In Your Hands – is not just relevant but necessary. What has come through very clearly to me here whether I’ve been reading about this situation in the Barrhead News, sitting in a public meeting, or talking about it in private, is the sense that what was being said has been said before but that nothing has changed.
Greens want to improve the relationship between the council and those it exists to serve.
To quote Michael in that Barrhead News piece:
“If [East Renfrewshire Council] had done the consultation about five or six years ago, they wouldn’t be in this position.
“When the new people get selected to the licensing committee after the council elections in May, somebody will have to update them on the whole situation.
“It’s going to be a big roundabout. You’re just going to come up against the same problems again.
“I’m quite happy that it’s open to the public but I don’t know why the council has waited so long.”
During my conversation with Michael, he noted that Freedom Of Information requests showed that East Renfrewshire was in the bottom three areas in Scotland on this matter. Given the severity of this issue – and given that Michael spoke warmly about many of the councillors and other local politicians he has dealt with in relation to this matter – it’s staggering to think that so little progress has been made here.
Greens are committed to changing this. We want to be part of a council that puts power in your hands, a council that doesn’t just listen to what’s been said but also remembers and does what it can to act on what’s been said.
This won’t be easy but that doesn’t mean we should give up on the idea – quite the opposite in fact.
It means making sure that promise of £10,000 is remembered AND that it’s just a starting point and not the end.
It means looking into what can be done with certain other ideas which seemed to have been raised before – providing training on how to assist disabled passengers, or assistance for drivers looking to bid for council contracts – without diminishing that £10,000 in the process.
It means making it a bit easier for people to live their lives – and given how long and hard people like Michael have been working to achieve this, can any of us hold back from doing what we can here?
We can make history in East Renfrewshire in May 2017. Help us elect the area’s first Green councillors!