Transport for All and other accessible transport supporters stood outside Brixton bus garage in 2005 and waved the old Routemaster into the annals of history.
The old bus was iconic for sure, but for many disabled people it also was completely inaccessible. Its time in the Transport Museum was long due, and we welcomed the arrival of a bus fleet that is heralded as one of the most accessible in the world.
The revival of the Routemaster was an election pledge by Mayor Boris Johnson, and was initially met with some skepticism. Could the money have been spent on improving driver training standards or indeed ramp technology instead?
Nevertheless for many disabled and older Londoners, a chance to design a bus from scratch has proved to be an exciting prospect. From the start Transport for All has been keen to stress that if the bus was to be accessible then it must involve disabled and older bus users from the very beginning.
Whilst consultation has occurred with groups of disabled and older people (as well groups representing other interest groups like parents) being invited to discuss the design and view ‘mock ups’ of the new bus – it appears that the views and experiences of disabled travellers, in particular wheelchair users, have been left on the design table.
The wheelchair space whilst meeting official regulations that refer to the dimensions of a ‘reference wheelchair’ does not seem to be able to accommodate larger wheelchairs including electric ones. Manoeuvring skills of a paralympian basket ball player seem to be required to get yourself into the space. As shown by footage taken by Transport for All during a tour around the mock up shown on BBC London News.
This means that only those wheelchair users with the confidence and patience to get into the space will be able to use it. It also means that there is no prospect whatsoever of scooter users using the new bus. TfL has banned scooters from buses in London, Transport for All has lobbied for a number of years for this to be reviewed. With a growing pensioner population, more and older people are using scooters and TfA believes smaller scooters should be able to ride on buses.
A bus for everyone.
It is true that to design a bus to accommodate all sections of London’s diverse communities – is not an easy call. However it follows that when faced which such a task it is important to look at what currently exists, and then attempt to better it.
Any trip on London’s bus network will tell you that that there is a staggering array of differing bus designs and layouts. The new bus for London project needs to take the best designs – the ones that transport users say work for them – and incorporate it into the new Routemaster.
It is possible for a bus to have a wheelchair space that can be easily used by a wheelchair user (including an electric one) – and if needs be also accommodate a pushchair.
It is possible to have this wheelchair space, and also have seats at the front of the bus for those passengers who have other mobility impairments and/or who are elderly.
We know this because we are already using buses with designs and layouts like these in London.
“The New Bus for London is London’s opportunity to set a gold standard for accessibility. With the Olympics and Paralympics next year, TfL has the chance to show the world that London’s transport is open to all’, said Lianna Etkind, campaigns and outreach officer at Transport for All.
“The New Bus for London has some design features which are great for accessibility: a low floor; the i-bus system which announces destinations both visually and via audio, plenty of grab rails.
“But if the final design incorporates a wheelchair space of this size, it will be bad for disabled people, and bad for parents with pushchairs too. The New Bus for London could be taking the best of what’s out there already in terms of bus design: and there are some really accessible buses out there on the roads. If TfL instead just settle for the legal minimum for their wheelchair space, it would be a wasted opportunity“.
It is now the job for the Transport for London to really make the best of this opportunity and ensure that the new Routemaster lives up to its expectations. This is not just ‘Boris’s bus’, it will be used by all Londoners for a generation to come – we have to get it right.
Transport for All filmed wheelchair users trying to access the wheelchair space, which was included in a BBC London News feature. View the report here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-12329174