Jean Eveleigh, a member of Newham Transport Action Group, had had enough of being refused access to buses. Multiple complaints to TfL seemed to achieve very little, so TfA worked with Jean to arrange some face to face meetings with bus staff at her local garage.
Jean’s bus complaints
Jean Eveleigh, a wheelchair user who regularly travels on buses has been having particular difficulties with the 25 bus route run by company Tower Transit. She has regularly been refused access to the bus because drivers do not ask for pushchairs to be folded so that she can use the wheelchair space.
The last straw was in April when a driver refused her access to the bus and then shockingly let on a lady with a pushchair! Jean was so infuriated that she complained to TfL and also considered taking legal action against Tower Transit. Jean has previously raised many complaints with TfL about disability discrimination on buses. She felt unsatisfied with their responses. The replies stated that the driver involved had been identified, that he would undergo a disciplinary process and extra training, but the same incidents kept happening and the responses she received did not go far enough to address the issues.
TfA’s advocacy service
Jean contacted TfA for help. We contacted Tower Transit directly and arranged a meeting at the bus garage so that Jean could explain first-hand the problems she has had and find a way forward to resolve them. After further liaising with Tower Transit we arranged to invite other members of Newham Transport Action group so they could hear the experiences of a range of older and disabled people with different impairments.
TfA meets Tower Transit
On Monday 9th June, Jean (with her husband Mike who filmed the meeting), Val, Hazel and Jessica from TfA met Vince Dalzell, depot general manager and Stuart Thomas, deport operations manager from Tower Transit at the Lea Interchange bus depot in Leyton. We had a long discussion raising many issues including drivers not allowing older and disabled people enough time to sit down before the bus moves off, drivers not pulling close enough to the kerb or kneeling the bus. We talked about the priority seating and how we would like drivers to communicate better with the public to ask for the seats to be vacated if an older or disabled person boards the bus who would need the seat.
Jean spoke about the regular clashes between wheelchair users and buggy owners and how they should be able to share the space. She spoke about the frequency that the ramp fails on route and how drivers do not always try moving forward and trying the ramp again if it does not work properly the first time. Everyone felt that there needs to be improvements with the communication and respect from drivers to older and disabled people and should show more authority when supporting them to deal with members of the public.
Vince and Stuart from Tower Transit listened to our stories of discrimination and explained that all their drivers have now completed the new TfL disability equality training programme.
Meeting with bus drivers.
We all felt that the best way forward would be for drivers to meet with us to hear exactly how their behaviour affects the daily life of older and disabled people. That the reason why we arrange another meeting with Tower Transit. On the 25th June, Jean with her husband Mike, Hazel, Eutal and Jessica from TfA went back to Lea Interchange bus depot to meet with Tower Transit. We again met the depot general manager Vince Dalzell who took us up to the depot canteen.
Following on from our last meeting Jean with TfA’s help had designed and produced a leaflet (see below) giving tips to bus drivers when older and disabled people are boarding their bus. We were ready to hand out lots of our leaflets to bus drivers within the garage.
We were there for a couple of hours and all felt very positive afterwards. We had spoken to the customer service training manager, training manager, the union representative, the insurance manager and many bus drivers. We covered many issues in particular the problem faced by wheelchair users when they are ignored at bus stops or drivers do not ask for pushchairs to be folded to allow priority to the wheelchair space. It also helped us to hear from a driver’s perspective. We learnt that not all buses operate the same and for some models in the fleet you can’t deploy the wheelchair ramp if the bus is lowered and that on some you can. We talked about the importance of asking for buggies to be folded for the wheelchair space and although we are aware that currently buggy owners cannot be faced to move from the space that the important thing is that you have tried to do so by pressing the announcement or using the PA system. We stressed the need to radio to the bus behind to let them know a wheelchair user is waiting to get on.
We again discussed the priority seating and the reason why older and disabled people often go past them to the back of the bus. Jean explained that the seats at the back are higher up so easier to get on and off without having to bend so far. We reminded drivers that they need to wait a bit longer before driver off to make sure that older and disabled people are seated or holding on safely.
All the drivers we spoke to were very keen to improve communication with older and disabled passengers. We hope that they will pass on our tips to other drivers. Vince has agreed to print out more copies of our leaflet for other drivers to see it around the garage. He has also invited us back in a couple of months time to continue raising awareness of bus experiences for older and disabled people. We would like to go back with people with different impairments to cover a wider range of issues.
Jean was very pleased to have this opportunity to speak directly to bus drivers at Tower Transit. She’s looking forward to helping them in the future to make her journeys less stressful. She thanked TfA for organising the meetings at the garage and Tower Transit for welcoming her to raise her issues with them. She is now planning to take a notebook out with her and hopes that instead of recording complaints she will be recording examples of good driver behaviour.