Buses and Access

By: A.C.

I am sure that most of our readership is well aware of the issues surrounding the court case brought by Yorkshire man Tom Paulley against First Bus – which is headquartered in Aberdeen – regarding disabled spaces on buses, and whether that space should be protected in law.

I listened to a BBC Radio Scotland’s Morning Call yesterday. A disability activist from Inclusion Scotland was a guest on the programme and made a cogent and sensible argument that backed Tom Paulley.

Buses have not always been friendly for any person who is in a wheelchair, or is disabled and walking. Neither have they ever been friendly to buggy–carrying mothers who have weans in hand or at heel, along with five bags of shopping. There are different issues that arise from this dispute.

On whose behalf did First Bus fight the just argument of Mr Paulley? It seems to me that if the signs are there, the space is there and the bus ‘kneels down’ to allow the wheelchair user access, then what is the problem with the driver requiring a mother with her pram to do the decent thing and vacate the space? That space was fought for by disability activists over decades to achieve equality on transport, by getting legislation that has forced bus firms to re-arrange seating, provide safe spaces for wheelchair users and either have lifts, ramps or even a bus that “kneels” to kerb level. Buses that announce their stages, or ‘talking buses’ or those which announce the next stop in writing, are still rare. So equality for all people with disabilities is patchy.

The space is legislated for in transport Equality Legislation. I would venture that bus firms like as many paying passengers as possible on a bus, and taking out seats and leaving a big space to be occupied by the disabled, and now mothers with buggies is a bit of headache for the bean counters. It would appear that some, newer, buses have two spaces; one for the disabled and one for mothers and ‘buggies’.

Mothers used to have buggies that folded to the size of large umbrellas. Prams that did not fold were not allowed anyway, and in those ‘olden days’ mothers with prams walked everywhere.

Nowadays, these large prams are like Chinese puzzle boxes, and do not actually fold down. Some are much bigger in wheelbase than a wheelchair. So who created this problem? Do the bus company need a radical look at design of buses which sees the rear end of bus opening up to admit those with prams and wheelchairs, whilst others sit at the front? (Like some continental buses).

The argument can get problematic for those disabled children and babies, who have special wheelchairs which do not fold, but because they look like ordinary buggies, the mother and her disabled child can be refused entry to the bus, or as in Lothian, when a wheelchair user needs the space, they are given ticket to exit the bus and catch another free of charge.

I think yet another problem may lie with Bus Companies making sure the Unions’ PSV drivers do not have to intervene. I suppose in their eyes that solves the problem for the management and the Union, by allowing the driver to tell wheelchair users at a bus stop that the space is already full with a mother and buggy and she will not move. So they do not have to deal with aggressive couples, or mothers with buggies. They can instead shout out the door “wait for another bus” and then drive off, leaving a wheelchair user stranded at the bus stop. That is maybe an alternative in cities, but in the rest of the country a bus may not be along for hours, if not days.

Last week, a disabled Dundee man was sanctioned because he was late for his interview at the Jobcentre by ten minutes. He was a nightshift worker who had a daily six hour commute.

It seems to me, that requiring people to attend at Jobcentres with the threat of sanctions, whilst at the same time allowing the transport that takes them there to simply leave a wheelchair user on the pavement is very unfair.

It is time to legislate, and protect those spaces just like the blue badge scheme. Mothers who use oversize buggies for disabled children could be given some kind of blue badge ID to show the driver that the child is indeed disabled.

Legislation will strengthen the decent bus driver’s hand when instead of requesting that the space be made vacant, that request is a requirement backed by law.

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