Transport for London (TfL) have launched a campaign to promote the rules about who has priority in the wheelchair space on buses.
New signs and posters will be displayed on buses and at bus shelters and guidance has been provided to bus drivers to help them deal with this issue. Transport for All welcomes this campaign as this territory dispute has long since been one of the major barriers in making London’s bus network being truly accessible for wheelchair users.
Although the vast majority of London’s buses (with the exception of the heritage routemasters) are accessible to wheelchair users, there is only one space on the bus where people using wheelchairs can safely travel. It is a common complaint of bus users that this space is often occupied, most usually by people with children or babies in buggies. Passengers are usually unwilling to vacate this area, even though they can fold up their buggy and sit safely somewere else with their child. Wheelchair users can then turn to the driver, who can often be reluctant to ask the peron with the buggy to move.
Over the last few years, Transport for All have consistantly raised this issue with Transport for London as it is without doubt the most common complaint we hear about bus access. Earlier this year, almost 100 transport activists occupied a bus outside Westminster during our Right to Ride meeting, when a passenger with a pushchair refused to vacate the wheelchair space.
In August, TfL released an updated version of The Big Red Book, TfL’s official guidelines for all bus drivers in London which included clearer instructions for drivers when they are faced with this issue. It states that:
“Wheelchair users are to be given access to the wheelchair space even if it is occupied by other passengers or buggies. Use the iBus automated announcement to make it clear that the wheelchair space is needed. If necessary, politely but firmly ask the buggy owners to move or fold their buggies to let the wheelchair user into the area as this is the only safe place for them to travel. Explain you will give them the time they need to do this and be patient and polite. Do not move off until they are re-positioned.
Sometimes it is possible for a wheelchair and an unfolded buggy to share the space. You should allow this provided the wheelchair user is in the correct position and the buggy does not block the gangway.’
Although this was clearly a step in the right direction, wheelchair users still find themselves up against unhelpful passengers or drivers reluctant to intervene.
Lee Savery, who uses an electric wheelchair and frequently uses buses said, “It happens on a daily basis. Mostly people are willing to move but not always. I have had arguments with passengers with buggies and drivers over the truth about priority, and usually I am not successful.
I have often been turned away from using the bus even when the child not seated in the buggy!
‘This results in wheelchair users being late for appointments, and having to add 20 minutes on to every journey, just in case it happens. Bus travel is so important to us, because most of the Underground is out of bounds“.
TfL have promised to promote this campaign until spring 2013. Hopefully making it clear to the public, and drivers, who has priority in this space, will make bus travel more reliable for all wheelchairs in London.