Wheelchair users ‘ignored by bus drivers’

A charity has spoken out about many disabled wheelchair users struggling to board buses and being left behind at bus stops.

The Leonard Cheshire Disability charity conducted a survey amongst 179 wheelchair users and found that most had said they had been either turned away when buses are busy, or had been refused a space on a bus.

It was found that two-thirds of the people surveyed had been denied access due to ramps not working, or were missing. It was also revealed that 61% were often faced with pushchairs occupying the wider spaces made for wheelchairs on a bus.

As well as experiencing accessibility problems, those surveyed also reported that they had suffered from intimidation and and rudeness from a driver, while nearly half had experienced the same from bus passengers. At least one in ten had difficulties every time they attempted to board a bus, while just over 40% said they experienced problems every other time they travelled by bus.

Wheelchair users are particularly prone to difficulties when trying to use bus services, especially as there is no law to say that bus companies must give wheelchair users the wide spaces on buses, or even insist that buggies and prams be moved to accommodate them.

As well as conducting the survey, Leonard Cheshire Disability also looked at the main bus companies in operation across the UK to assess their level of knowledge and provision in regard to disability issues. They looked at areas such as disability awareness training for drivers, the use of low-floor buses, checking conditions of carriage for mention of wheelchair users, and priority of use for wheelchair space.

Out of the bus companies studied, the results showed that Go Ahead and Stagecoach came out on top with each reaching a score of 17 out of a maximum 20 points. Arriva and First Bus came in at 14 points, and National Express scored just 10 out of 20.

In an interview, chief executive of Leonard Cheshire, Clare Pelham commented: “It’s great that we have regulations coming in the next year for single decker buses and 2017 for double decker buses to make them all properly accessible for wheelchair users.”

She also added: “For so many wheelchair users, the bus is their only way to get to work, to get to the doctor or simply get to the shops. It’s time that drivers get the training they need to do the right thing.”

One wheelchair user in London will welcome in the new regulations, as she reported her negative experiences to The Richmond and Twickenham Times in an attempt to highlight the difficulties experienced by disabled bus travellers every day across London.

21-year-old Clare Watson, who has a neurological condition that left her wheelchair-bound four years ago, stated that she felt humiliated on a daily basis by being denied access to buses by drivers who refuse to lower their ramps to allow her on board.

In her interview she commented: “It’s a horrible feeling when that happens – you feel worthless and everybody stares. It’s humiliating.”

Clare also stated that many drivers gave excuses for not letting her on such as buggies taking up the wheelchair space, or the ramps not working properly, despite there being a policy in place to check ramps before the buses leave the depot.

Let’s hope that the new regulations will make bus travel more accessible for wheelchair users, and that the necessary changes are actioned on sooner rather than later.

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