In January Doug Paulley won his court case with First Bus Group in a case which has important consequences for disabled travellers. The result of the case means that bus drivers have to insist that a pushchair is moved out of the wheelchair space if it is required by a wheelchair user. If an able-bodied person refuses to move after the initial request the driver can refuse to move the bus until they comply.
Previously First Bus operated a “first come, first serve” policy but this was unfair. Even if a pushchair was occupying the space first, wheelchair users should take precedent, as we have nowhere else to go. Pushchairs can be folded up and easily put somewhere else, which is not possible for wheelchair users.
Ironically, one lady in a wheelchair encountered abuse whilst trying to board a bus outside the Supreme Court after watching Mr Paulley’s case. A pushchair was occupying the wheelchair space and the owner of it refused to move it. Then some of the other passengers started having a go at the lady because they were being held up, which is outrageous. You can read about the incident here.
There was yet another incident, reported by the BBC on 30 January, where a 34-year-old woman in a wheelchair was not allowed to board a bus in Wakefield. Even though the woman with the pushchair was willing to move the driver still wouldn’t let her on for some reason. He instead terminated the bus service and made it clear to everyone that it was the woman in the wheelchair’s fault. What an utter prick. Apparently the driver is now being investigated by Arriva so hopefully the guy will get fired.
My own Experiences of Discrimination on the Buses
I’ve experienced discrimination on the buses myself in the past, and after seeing the above cases I felt compelled to write about them.
I first started using buses regularly whilst I was studying for my masters at the University of Leicester. I would catch a bus at least two or three times a week to go from my accommodation 2 miles to the campus. The university had two bendy buses which would go from the student halls to the campus and back again at regular times every day.
These buses had an electric ramp which came out of a door in the middle of the bus when the driver pushed a button in the cab.
Now, unlike the cases I talked about above my experiences were not related to pushchairs occupying the wheelchair space. As it was a student bus service we didn’t tend to get many pushchairs on there. The problems I encountered related to the driver being rude and the ramp not working.
On a number of occasions I can remember the driver being rude to me or my carer when I was trying to get on the bus. One time in particular springs to mind. After my carer asked the driver to deploy the ramp he angrily said “Oh shit, why does it have to be me”. I reported the guy to Arriva and apparently they disciplined him and sent me vouchers, so at least that is something.
Another memorable occasion was when I was waiting for the bus for 45 minutes on a cold and rainy day. When it finally came, it stopped, and the driver appeared to be struggling to work the ramp for a few minutes. After failing to work the ramp he simply drove off without us and without even bothering to say a word to us. We had to wait another hour in the cold and rain for the next bus and we were fuming.
Unfortunately we didn’t get a ticket and I didn’t see the driver from that incident so we had nothing concrete to identify the driver with. Arriva just said that they couldn’t identify the driver, which is ridiculous as they would obviously have records of who was driving their buses at what time.
These are just two of the most memorable incidents, but there were others.
By far the most common occurrence was the ramp not working/getting stuck or the driver not knowing how to use the ramp.
The first year of my masters the ramp would get stuck at least once a week. So if I had just got on the bus and the ramp then got stuck it couldn’t go anywhere until an engineer came out to fix it. Everyone had to get off the bus. Everyone, that is apart from me, as the door was jammed shut. This happened on a number of occasions which you can imagine was very frustrating, especially if I had a lecture to get to.
Sometimes the ramp WAS working but the driver just didn’t know how to use it. It is ridiculous because all you have to do is press a button. Surely Arriva can train them to know how to do that, it’s not rocket science!
All these incidents were very common in the first year of my masters when I first began to use the buses at uni. In fact it was happening so often that I would be complaining to Arriva on a weekly basis. It didn’t seem to do anything though.
I became so fed up with Arriva that I even contacted a law firm and began legal proceedings against them. I wanted them to make sure that the ramps were working before they left the depot every day, and that ALL drivers were trained to use them. The case fizzled out because the CCTV couldn’t prove that the drivers didn’t know what they were doing. You couldn’t even see the drivers on CCTV and there was no sound, so it was no use whatsoever to me OR Arriva (even though they claimed it was).
To be fair by the time I left uni after two years these incidents became less common. Maybe Arriva was learning their lesson and training drivers better. At the beginning it honestly seemed like they had never encountered a wheelchair user on the buses before. If nothing else I like to think that my two years of using the buses at uni gave them valuable experience of dealing with wheelchair users.