‘All aboard’ — Unless you're in a wheelchair

20 November 2015

Wheelchair users are frequently facing problems getting on to buses in the UK, leaving many people stranded at bus stops, a leading disability charity has said.

A survey of 179 wheelchair users by Leonard Cheshire Disability found that over nine out of ten (92%) wheelchair users had been refused a space on a bus.

Two thirds of people said this was because buses had no ramps, or ramps that were not working.

The survey also found three in five (61%) people identified buggies in the wheelchair space as the biggest problem they faced.

This was way ahead of other problems faced by those using wheelchairs such as buses being too infrequent (18%) and the cost (5%).

Half of wheelchair users (50%) said they had experienced rudeness or intimidation from a bus driver, while nearly half of people (47%) had experienced rudeness or intimidation from other passengers.

Leonard Cheshire Disability also found that one in ten (9%) wheelchair users experiences problems every time they tried to get on a bus.

Two in five people (43%) reported that these problems happen at least every other time they get on the bus.

This is despite the law stating that reasonable adjustments should be made for wheelchair users when travelling on buses.

Wheelchair user Alan Benson 45, from Richmond, has muscular dystrophy which causes muscle weakness. He uses buses on a daily basis. Alan said:

‘Like anyone who depends on public transport, being able to rely on getting from A to B is really important to being a part of society.

‘Broken ramps, full buses and poorly trained drivers means not being able to work, or socialise, or access healthcare.

‘Being left on the roadside can leave me cold, wet and in pain, not only ruining that trip, but leaving me needing days to recover.’

Claire Creswick from Doncaster had a brain haemorrhage and a stroke at 36. She is paralysed on her right hand side and is a permanent wheelchair user. She said:

‘I became disabled suddenly, and it was really difficult. I didn’t have a car big enough for my wheelchair and had to rely on public transport.

‘I had a lot of problems on buses, sometimes drivers wouldn’t let me on, or they were rude to me which meant I often missed appointments.

‘After a while I just stopped doing things, such as shopping and seeing my friends because taking expensive taxis was not an option.

‘It was isolating and I felt completely cut off from the community. My husband and I had no option but to get a bigger car. It’s a stretch financially but there is no other way for me to get around.’

Leonard Cheshire Disability assessed each of the main bus companies operating in the UK and gave them a score out of 20 looking at criteria, including: disability awareness training for bus drivers; mention of wheelchair users in the conditions of carriage; use of low-floor buses; responses from disabled passengers to the Transport Focus Users Survey; and clear information on who has priority of the wheelchair space.

The results showed Go Ahead and Stagecoach were the best performing bus companies in the UK, each scoring 17 out of 20; First Bus and Arriva both scored 14; with National Express coming in last, with just 10 points.

Leonard Cheshire Disability is calling for greater disability awareness training for bus drivers and standardised travel information for disabled customers.

The charity also wants all bus companies to ensure wheelchair users have priority use of the wheelchair space in their Conditions of Carriage, and to take action to improve accessibility in the worst performing areas. 

Leonard Cheshire Disability chief executive Clare Pelham said:

‘It's great 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.

‘This will really help the two-thirds of those surveyed who literally could not get on the bus.

‘But there is so much more to access than ramps and lifts. Equally important is the support of the bus driver, so that drivers want to help disabled people to travel.

‘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.

‘Imagine being unable to go anywhere that you couldn't reach in your wheelchair. Yet half of those surveyed said that drivers were rude, intimidating or wouldn't stop the bus for them to get on.

‘It's time drivers get the training they need to do the right thing. Public transport is for ALL the public: that's the point.’

Under current regulation, all bus companies must make sure their single decker buses meet accessibility standards by 1 January 2016, and their double decker buses by 1 January 2017, including: 

  • wheelchair spaces
  • ramps and lifts onto buses
  • low floors
  • communication devices (a separate intercom for disabled passengers)

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