An Unexpected Encounter With An Equality Champion

The accessibility of buses has been in the press a lot recently because of the High Court case about wheelchair spaces and how much responsibility bus companies have for ensuring that wheelchair users always have first claim on them, ahead of people with buggies.

Last month’s decision that bus drivers aren’t required to enforce these policies was deeply disappointing for many wheelchair users. In his ruling judge Lord Justice Underhill said the decision would mean that wheelchair users ‘Will occasionally be prevented by other passengers from using the wheelchair space on the bus.’

The reality, certainly in London, is that wheelchair spaces are in almost constant use by buggies. I frequently have to wait two or three times longer to get on a bus than a non-disabled person because the wheelchair space is occupied.

Today was wet – the rain drizzling down out of a cold, grey sky. I was waiting with Leftwing Idiot for a bus at the stop near the castle. As it approached we both put our arms out, clearly indicating to the driver that we wanted to get on.

The driver stopped and we waited by the back doors for him to put the ramp down. The bus was busy and there was a buggy in the wheelchair space – fortunately this was one of the rare buses where the space is big enough to comfortably accommodate both a wheelchair and a buggy. But the driver didn’t seem to appreciate this because the doors didn’t open and the ramp didn’t come down.

The driver didn’t communicate with us at all. He just let the waiting passengers get on and then shut the front doors ready to move off. At this moment a young man aged about thirteen arrived at the stop. He took in the situation for a moment and then knocked on the door. The driver opened it for him but before getting on the young man gestured towards me and said ‘Why aren’t you putting down the ramp? You need to put down the ramp.’ Then he got on. After a moment or two the driver lowered the ramp and let us on. The woman with the buggy made space for me, and we moved off.

I looked down the bus, anxious to say thank you to the young man. When I got his attention he took his headphones out and said ‘No worries’. He then clearly and confidently said ‘It’s not acceptable when they don’t let you on. I’ve seen them leave people sitting on the pavement before and it’s not right,’ adding ‘especially when there’s space.’ His clear sense of fairness and concern was evident in every word. I thanked him again, he put his headphones back on and we continued on our way.

Wheelchair users do not have equal access to buses and other public transport, and the injustice of this was clearly evident to this young man. It’s just a shame that his impressively articulated recognition of this is not reflected in the design of buses, High Court decisions, or the behaviour of some bus drivers.

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