Last month, Transport for All invited representatives from various bus companies to speak at our Pan London Mobility Forum. We asked them what they are doing to ensure that disabled and older people can travel with independence. Transport for London, Stagecoach in Oxfordshire and Brighton & Hove Bus & Coach Company & Metrobus accepted our invitation. First Group declined, explaining that they found inappropriate to come as a result of the ongoing court case with Doug Paulley, but stated that “Our policy with regards to wheelchair space remains, our drivers will continue to ask fellow passengers in the strongest polite terms to make way for those that need the space.”
Bus access is an important issue and our Helpline team receive lots of calls from disabled and older people struggling on buses. Common complaints include broken ramps; drivers refusing to implement wheelchair priority when the bay is occupied by a buggy user, drivers pulling away too quickly without giving time to sit down; or drivers not coming all the way up to the stop.
George Marcar, Driver Communications Manager at Transport for London, said that TfL understands issues better than before, but acknowledged that TfL used to play a very passive role and were at an impasse concerning issues between wheelchair users, buggy users and other passengers. That’s why they started a campaign in 2012 with posters displayed at bus stops encouraging passengers to make space to wheelchair users. They are now looking at ways to refresh this campaign.
He reminded that operators in London have to adhere to TfL’s rules, which clearly say that wheelchair users have priority over buggies in buses’ dedicated space.
Brighton & Hove Bus & Coach Company; Metrobus and Stagecoach buses in Oxfordshire have the same policy. Martin Sutton, Managing Director at Stagecoach explained that they believe in this rule despite the fact there have been suggestions about going too far and maybe relaxing the rule.
Bus driver training
TfL wanted to improve disability training and therefore put together a plan called “All Aboard” which was seen by 90% of the drivers. “This plan puts responsibility on doing the right thing” explained George Marcar: “There should be laws involved – but also education. If you tell somebody to do something by law, they will do it, but if the drivers do it because they really want to do it, it’s better.”
At Stagecoach in Oxfordshire, “drivers handle situations well, but there are always some who don’t” according to Martin Sutton. Their future efforts will be on a one day training course to think about how they can handle situations better when people refuse to vacate space.
Brighton & Hove Bus & Coach Company & Metrobus has a partnership with Guide Dogs. The objective is to organised practical training days to help drivers understand how to support disabled and older people. Victoria Garcia, Buses Accessibility Officer for Brighton and Hove Transport explained that they “blindfolded drivers asking them to try to board the bus and by this way help their understanding.”
Wheelchair taxi guarantee scheme
The representatives of Brighton & Hove Bus & Coach Company & Metrobus impressed our audience with some innovative ideas. Victoria Garcia explained that the company expect drivers to ask buggy users or other passengers to clear space for wheelchair users. But “if they refuse to move, we’ve introduced the wheelchair taxi guarantee scheme which pays for wheelchair users to go by taxi” explained Victoria. They produced a leaflet about it to inform passengers.
Another idea developed by Brighton & Hove Bus & Coach Company & Metrobus in order to improve access, is the Helping Hand Scheme. They issued a card (“bright yellow in order to be very visible”) to ensure that passengers who need extra assistance can get it. As Victoria Garcia mentioned, ”There are lots of hidden impairments which drivers must be aware of”. This card is accepted by Stagecoach, Lemon, Brighton & Hove buses and contains an emergency telephone number.
Why not design a bus where all passengers can use the space?
After this presentation, TfA’s members and participants had the opportunity to questions companies’ representatives. One of them asked by Sally O’Connor (Ealing) was “Why not design a bus where all users can use space?”. George Marcar answered by reminding people that Omnibus means in Latin ‘bus for all’. He explained that TfL try to improve bus design and satisfy as many users as possible. He added that “If we lose priority seats, it’s more difficult for those less able to stand. There’s a specification for four priority seats, we had set a minimum of eight. But when we have a wheelchair and a buggy, we lost two priority seats. Bus design keeps evolving. Hybrid/electric buses might release more space”.
We hope that Transport for London will not forget their Latin and will keep improving the access to buses. There are some great ideas out there developed by other companies, which could really help disabled and older people in London travelling with freedom and independence.