The government could start fining bus companies whose drivers fail to ensure that wheelchair-users can take advantage of the spaces put aside for them.
The proposal is part of a Department for Transport consultation paper on how to make bus travel in England “safer, more efficient and easier to use”.
Both the Department for Transport and its accessible transport advisers, the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), have received complaints about the issue from disabled passengers.
Many complaints focus on mothers who put their pushchairs or prams in the wheelchair space and refuse to move when a disabled person wants to board the bus.
Existing guidelines say drivers should make sure the space is clear if needed by a wheelchair-user, but the consultation paper suggests changing the law so bus operators can be fined if their drivers fail to enforce the rules.
Members of the Trailblazers network of young campaigners, run by the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, welcomed the proposal.
They called for tougher enforcement in their End of the Line report on accessible public transport last May.
But Tanvi Vyas, Trailblazers’ London ambassador, said they also wanted better awareness training for drivers.
Many of the Trailblazers who investigated public transport reported mothers refusing to fold their prams or pushchairs to allow them on board.
Vyas said: “It has happened to me. There have been a couple of prams and the parents have refused to fold the prams and I have had to wait for half an hour for another bus in the rain.”
But she said she was encouraged that new bus designs include more “flip-up” seats, allowing room for two or three wheelchairs or pushchairs per bus.
Dai Powell, chair of DPTAC, said: “Some passengers fail to understand that wheelchair-users can only travel in the wheelchair space.”
DPTAC believes other passengers should be allowed to use wheelchair spaces as long as priority is given to wheelchair-users.
Powell said that any enforcement of the spaces “would require careful consideration” but that raising passenger awareness was “essential”, as was “clear signage explaining that wheelchair-users have priority”, and training for bus drivers.
DPTAC will provide a detailed response after discussing the consultation paper with its members.
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We are committed to listening to bus passengers and putting their interests first.
“These proposals are about tackling operators who persistently neglect their responsibilities to provide wheelchair-users with the space they need.”
The consultation ends on 1 June.
11 March 2010