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12 disabled and older Londoners share their story for their right to ride on buses – FULL STORIES

Doug Paulley’s case vs First bus for his right to ride on buses (Read our full article) is not an isolated one. Here are 12 stories from Londoners using wheelchair and mobility scooters. This remind us that every day, hundreds of disabled and older Londoners who use a wheelchair or a mobility scooter are struggling to access buses, just because the wheelchair priority space is already occupied. This is on top of other access issues such as broken ramps.

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“Every time I try to board a bus, I feel stressed because I have to be ready for an argument with the driver and/or other passengers”.

Jeff Harvey (TfA Trustee) – Camden

Picture of jeffI’m Jeff Harvey; I use a power wheelchair to get around. I support Doug Paulley’s case unreservedly. Similar occurrences are unfortunately quite common in London.

I have missed trains, missed events, been late to work meetings and classes when I was a student, and had 3 buses in a row refuse to allow me to board because the space was occupied. I now take the train whenever I can, even if it takes more time. Every time I try to board a bus, I feel stressed because I have to be ready for an argument with the driver and/or other passengers, ready to try to raise my voice enough to be heard from the pavement and get my mobile phone camera ready to take photos of the registration plate if I need to make a complaint. I am always checking which bus comes after the one I want in case I can’t get on, or if another bus which takes longer comes before, I wonder, should I take that one, just because I can see the wheelchair space is empty.

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“I often have to wait for several buses. Add in broken ramps and I am lucky to get on a bus maybe one in five times”

Anne Novis MBE (TfA Member) – Lewisham

Picture of anne I have experienced several issues as an electric wheelchair user trying to access buses.

I live in Lee, SE London. It has become so stressful I try to avoid them if at all possible.

Misuse of wheelchair area - No driver has ever told a parent to move and make room for me as wheelchair user. I ask and offer to help with shopping etc. but no one moves meaning I often have to wait for several buses, add in broken ramps and I am lucky to get on a bus maybe one in five times.

I have experienced abuse on buses by parents, onlookers, teenagers; the driver does not help, stop the bus or call the police. Being targeted because I am disabled is a disability hate crime but seems like no driver has any understanding of this.

Overall it leads to such stressful journeys from outset. I get so anxious, knowing it will take more time than it should to get anywhere and expect abuse. No one should feel like this.

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“As you appreciate, babies can be carried, children can walk, pushchairs can be folded but wheelchair users have no other option. Thus, pushchairs should be folded if the wheelchair space is needed by a wheelchair user because it is the only safe place for us to travel on the bus”

Youcef Bey-Zekkoub (TfA Member) – Lambeth

Picture of youcef My name is Youcef Bey-Zekkoub and I am a wheelchair user. I am also a father to three beautiful children, and love to travel with them around London. But using buses is often challenging for me as I often struggle to access the wheelchair priority space, which is often occupied by buggy users. As a father, I am obviously very happy to share the wheelchair space with a pram. As you appreciate, babies can be carried, children can walk, pushchairs can be folded but wheelchair users have no other option. Thus, pushchairs should be folded if the wheelchair space is needed by a wheelchair user because it is the only safe place for us to travel on the bus. I have noticed that when drivers do what they are told in their training and ask for the wheelchair space to be cleared, passengers cooperate and fold their prams. However when drivers fail to intervene, this is where problems arise and I have been assaulted twice as a result. I have the right to travel on buses with my kids like everyone else.

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“I cannot be sure that I will be able to board a bus when it comes along . It makes bus travel both stressful and upsetting”

Christopher Stapleton (TfA Member) – Wandsworth

Picture of chris As a wheelchair user I am heavily dependent on buses to get around London – most of the journeys I do are impossible on the Tube, because so few Tube stations have step-free access.

Very often, when I want to board a bus, there is a baby buggy – sometimes there are two – blocking the wheelchair space. Although the bus driver’s manual The Big Red Book prescribes a set procedure for drivers to follow when buggies are blocking the wheelchair space, very few drivers follow this procedure, which is: to acknowledge the wheelchair user; broadcast an automated message saying the wheelchair space is needed and must be cleared; ask anyone obstructing the wheelchair space to clear the space.

In reality a bus driver will usually tell me that the wheelchair space is occupied by a baby buggy and then just drive off without carrying out any of the above procedure.

It makes bus travel both stressful and upsetting. I cannot be sure that I will be able to board a bus when it comes along, and I often end up having a disagreeable argument with a driver who refuses to follow the correct procedure.

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“This is the latest incident but I have suffered many others over the years including verbal abuse”

Gwynneth Pedler (TfA Member) – Southwark

Picture of gwynnethMy name is Gwynneth Pedler and I am an activist, campaigner and member of TFA.

The problem with the wheelchair space from the beginning was that everyone took ownership of it and bus companies did nothing to enforce priority for wheelchair users. Every bus company could have, if it had wanted to, put the priority for wheelchairs in their conditions of carriage but instead took the view that it was easier to let passengers fight their own battles; as we know, wheelchairs lost out. Not only did we lose out we suffered abuse from owners of push chairs. At last some bus companies are trying to do something about it following the Doug Paulley case but it is still not foolproof. Last week I went to get on a number 3 route bus. The bus stopped but the driver didn’t deploy the ramp so I approached him to ask for the ramp. He opened the door and I was faced with three large unfolded pushchairs and aggressive owners who shouted at me saying they had paid their fare so weren’t going to get off. It is not a case of getting off but folding their pushchairs. The driver just shut the doors and drove off. This has given those three owners and all the passengers the message that wheelchairs do not have priority on TfL buses, which is not true. The driver did not do his job properly; he has the option of asking them to fold their chairs or press a button in his cab that broadcasts a message saying “there is a wheelchair coming aboard please vacate the wheelchair space“; he did neither. This is the latest incident but I have suffered many others over the years including verbal abuse.

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“The issue has actually never really been about a parent’s willingness to move the buggy, it is about government’s failure years ago to insist that buses should have two spaces, as many do, one clearly designated a wheelchair space, the other a buggy space”.

Mark Wilson

Picture of markMy name is Mark Wilson. I am a powerchair user, early retired after a 35 year career in frontline operational management. I independently use public transport, buses mainly, almost every day in NW England and several days a month in London.

I have been left at bus stops many, many times because there was a parent with a child’s buggy using the wheelchair space and they would not move, and the driver felt unable to ask them, let alone compel them, to move. On average I cannot board a bus due to this buggy effect on one in nine journeys, which is a big number if you consider I might use the bus for four journeys in one day.

The impact is actually very obvious, very tangible. I have been left in torrential downpour, with no cover as a driver reluctantly tells me that the “double buggy” can’t be folded. I have twice in the last three months been late to appointments and once missed my train. But there is another, less obvious impact. To “allow for” the impact of not being able to board a bus due to the wheelchair space being occupied by buggy(s) I now nearly always have to set out up to 30 minutes early just to account for not being able to board the first bus, and hoping that the next bus (often 15-30 mins afterwards) has the space free.

I travel all over the country using trains and buses.

I feel sorry for bus drivers, they are now in an even worse no win situation.....do they delay everyone’s journey to remonstrate with the buggy user who will not, or cannot, fold the buggy ? Do they risk unpleasant nasty conflict and anger... or worse ? In my area the drivers are almost always excellent but daunted by the whole ‘asking the buggy person to move’ thing and the pressures are huge. The doubts now about the law, hopefully resolved in our favour on the 15th, have made everything tougher but there are lots of positives to using public transport as a powerchair user, even though it remains somewhat fraught at times!

The issue has actually never really been about a parent’s willingness to move the buggy, it is about government’s failure years ago to insist that buses should have two spaces, as many do, one clearly designated a wheelchair space, the other a buggy space. This lack of design foresight creates the problem, as on routes where longer, larger, buses operate they are often vehicles with two spaces....on such routes the incidence of not being able to board a bus drops from around one in nine journeys to one 30 which is a huge difference.

Few can really understand that feeling of being left behind as the bus leaves....others have got on past you....many look on sympathetically, some tut tut, but few if any intervene. At best it’s an embarrassing and uncomfortable...and sometimes very wet....experience. At worst, it’s degrading.

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“If there is already a pushchair on the bus when I board […] I find this very awkward – as I am a parent myself I know it’s a pain to have to wake a sleeping child to do this[…]I think the problem can easily be resolved by adding more folding seats around the wheelchair area so both wheelchair and buggies can use a flexible space”.

Marina Grant - Barnet

Picture of marina I am 49 years old, I was born with a condition called Arthrogryposis which affects most of my joints and muscles. I wear full-length callipers and can walk short distances but also use a manual and electric wheelchair. I work full time as a manager for the NHS and drive a car in the week but tend to use my wheelchairs for trips and dog walking at weekends. I have two grown up children.

Unfortunately, I have not had good experiences when trying to use the bus with my electric wheelchair. The space allocated for wheelchair users is not always big enough for an electric chair to manoeuvre and reverse in to, especially when there is sometimes a pole in the way on older buses. Therefore, I am often unable to position the chair reverse facing as it is requested.

This once happened on a bus trip to Hampstead Heath with my husband…. We had taken the bus from Mill Hill and it wasn’t until we got to Camden when a mother with a double pushchair wanted to board our bus that problems arose. The mother spotted I was in the wheelchair space and was very gracious about and said it wasn’t a problem she would get the next available bus.

As she got off the driver, who hadn’t noticed before, realised that I wasn’t rear facing and said if I didn’t turn my chair around that he would refuse to take the bus any further. The bus was full of passengers and my husband tried to explain that the space was not wide enough to physically turn my chair around to the rear facing position. The driver was not accepting this and still refused to move the bus, eventually ALL the passengers got off – most were really shocked about the driver’s attitude and many apologised to me as they were leaving, saying that I shouldn’t be treated in that way. My husband tried to reason with the driver but he still refused to move so we got off also and caught the next bus – the driver of the next bus was told by the other passengers what had happened and was shocked at our treatment and had no problem with my wheelchair.

That was the worst, and most unpleasant, experience but I have had other journeys where a parent (with pushchair) kept prodding me for several minutes in the arm and asking me to move so he could fit in his child’s pushchair where there clearly wasn’t space for both of us and there was nowhere for me to move, this was after the driver had already asked him to take the child out of the buggy.

If there is already a pushchair on the bus when I board (even if the parents offer to take the child out so I can park my wheelchair) I find this very awkward, as I am a parent myself I know it’s a pain to have to wake up a sleeping child to do this.

In conclusion - I do not enjoy using the bus with my wheelchair and mostly find it quite stressful, I think the problem can easily be resolved by adding more folding seats around the wheelchair area so both wheelchair and buggies can use a flexible space. The drivers also need to be advised that there is not always enough room to reverse an electric wheelchair into the space provided unless they redesign the buses!

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“Each time I had a problem on buses I used to complain to TfL, but it didn’t seem to change anything and it happens so often I don’t bother any more”.

Alan Benson (TfA Trustee) – Richmond upon Thames

London has one of the most accessible bus fleets in the country, yet it is still a lottery whether I will get to where I’m going! Every week I’m stymied by ramps that are broken or too steep, drivers who don’t stop or worse, don’t let me off, and by parents with buggies who are unwilling to free up the wheelchair space. Despite these problems more and more wheelchairs and scooters are using buses, competing for the one available space.

Each time I had a problem on buses I used to complain to TfL, but it didn’t seem to change anything and it happens so often I don’t bother anymore.

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“In each case the bus driver pulled away before I could challenge them. In each case, I ended up being late arriving at my meeting. Very embarrassing”.

Fiona Carey

Picture of fionaI’m 55, and have used a wheelchair for about 5 years.

I often go to London for meetings, by rail, and then use the bus service as my default method of transport for getting round London. Mostly, the bus service works well for me.

I have used it dozens of times, and have encountered problems only a couple of times, when drivers have indicated that they ’couldn’t deploy the ramp because a pushchair is in the wheelchair space.’ In each case they pulled away before I could challenge them. In each case, I ended up being late arriving at my meeting. Very embarrassing.

Usually, pushchair owners are very proactive in making space.

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Click here to read the three other stories.