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Trapped on a bus for over an hour

Blog by TfA member Chris. This blog and its content reflect the views of the author only.

Transport for London (TfL) tells us that all its buses are wheelchair-accessible, but there are many buses with ramps which are either dangerously short and steep, or in terrible condition. There are also bus ramps with an insurmountable one-inch step where they join the bus. There are bus ramps which are hyper-sensitive and keep retracting whenever they touch the pavement. And then there are the bus ramps which are totally broken and don’t work at all.

So a wheelchair user in London will face a lot of very annoying problems with bus ramps, and it is quite untrue to say that every bus is wheelchair-accessible.

Recently I had my worst experience ever with a bus wheelchair ramp: I was trapped on a bus for well over an hour because a ramp broke down while I was onboard the bus.

I had successfully boarded a 131 bus at Wimbledon Station and I was settling down for a nice easy journey. Then I noticed a lot of bleeping, and realised that the driver was having difficulty getting the ramp to retract back into its housing.

Exasperated, the driver got out of the bus and gave the ramp a good kicking. This made things worse. It was now completely stuck, neither fully in nor fully out.

This meant that the entire bus was immobilised, because a bus cannot move if the ramp is not fully retracted into its housing. The driver had to take the bus out of service and ask all the passengers to get off.

Except me, of course. My electric wheelchair is heavy. I needed the ramp to get off, and the ramp was dead.

The driver phoned the garage, and summoned engineers to come and fix the ramp. He assured me that the engineers always carry a manual ramp for these situations. After half an hour an engineer came, gave the broken ramp a good kicking, realised he couldn’t fix it, and no, he didn’t have a manual ramp and I would not be able to leave the bus.

After I had spent well over an hour trapped on the bus, the driver had the brilliant idea of asking someone from Wimbledon Station to bring out one of their train ramps to let me leave the bus. A friendly station employee did, then, bring a ramp and I was set free. I wish the driver had had this idea an hour earlier.

Bus companies have a moral and a legal obligation to keep their buses in good working order. The company which runs the 131 service, London United, had failed on this occasion by letting a bus remain in service with a ramp that was badly maintained and not fit for purpose. In addition, this particular vehicle was not equipped with a crank-handle which might possibly have allowed the driver to deploy the ramp manually.

The engineers failed too. They knew there was a wheelchair user trapped on the bus, but they didn’t bring any means of getting me off the bus, such as a manual ramp. In fact when I asked the engineer whether they carry a manual ramp for just this sort of situation, he looked at me as if I had asked him whether they routinely carry an armadillo in their van.

I am angry and disgusted that bus companies, through their negligence, allow these situations to occur. There is a lot of work left to do before every London bus is wheelchair-accessible. Don’t hold your breath.