A trio of disabled women are set to take legal action against a bus company after claiming that they have faced repeated discrimination by its drivers.
The legal action against Arriva North East (ANE) is being supported by Darlington Association on Disability (DAD), which is now looking for other disabled bus passengers across the country who may have been discriminated against by ANE’s parent company, Arriva.
Legal “letters of claim” were sent to Arriva this week on behalf of the three women, who are all wheelchair-users from Darlington and are taking action under the Equality Act.
Most of the complaints concern the refusal of drivers to ensure that the wheelchair spaces on their buses are clear of prams and pushchairs, when the spaces are needed by wheelchair-users.
Buses have failed to stop for the women when they have been waiting at a bus stop, while other drivers have refused to allow them onto their buses because pushchairs were occupying the wheelchair spaces.
Other drivers have made no attempt to ask parents to move their pushchairs, while some have verbally abused their disabled passengers. One of the three claimants was even told by a driver to lower the access ramp herself because he did not want to leave his seat.
Another 15 disabled people from across the north-east have already contacted DAD with their own complaints of discrimination by Arriva, following an article in a regional newspaper.
DAD hopes that other disabled people, including some of the 15, will join the legal action.
Jane Woodward, DAD’s equality and rights officer, said ANE’s response to repeated complaints about the attitude of its drivers had been “extremely negative”.
She said the company believed the wheelchair spaces were “first come first served”, and there was nothing their drivers could do if they were occupied by a parent who refused to move their pram or pushchair.
Arriva claims it is acting in line with discrimination law, and that its drivers would “never ever discriminate against disabled people”, she said.
Ruth Tully, a solicitor with Unity Law, which is representing the claimants in their case against Arriva, said: “We are keen to discover exactly how widespread this problem is, to understand how best to tackle it.
“Is it one or two rogue drivers, or is this an issue which goes to the heart of training and policy within Arriva?”
An ANE spokesman said that its drivers can ask a parent to move their pushchair from the wheelchair space “but we cannot demand that they do so”.
He added: “Some of the issues that they are presenting have been investigated in the past and have been responded to. Other allegations have never been reported to ourselves.
“We are waiting to see if the proposed legal action takes place and what kind of substance there is to the legal case.”
He said that ANE’s drivers “receive extensive training and guidance on how to assist and support customers who may need extra help in using our services”.
Any disabled person who has experienced problems with Arriva can contact DAD, tel: 01325 489999, textphone: 07624 818780, or email: [email protected]
25 August 2011