The disabled president of the Liberal Democrats has complained of her “outrageous” treatment by a conductor who refused to ask a young dad to move his child’s buggy from the wheelchair space on a near-empty London bus.
Baroness Brinton, a wheelchair-user, was told by the bus conductor on one of mayor Boris Johnson’s new Routemaster buses that she would have to wait for the next bus.
The disabled peer said the female conductor “refused to engage” with the young man in charge of the buggy.
Baroness Brinton (pictured) said: “The driver was turning round and calling ‘can you make space?’ but the guy just turned his back. It was quite bizarre.”
The incident took place as she tried to travel on bus route 24 from Euston station to an election meeting at the Liberal Democrats’ central London headquarters on Tuesday (28 April).
She was eventually left “very angry” on the pavement, with passengers waiting for other services who had witnessed the incident and were “frothing at the mouth” at the way she had been treated.
She was able to take a later bus, and when a passenger with a buggy boarded during the journey, they were both able to travel comfortably side-by-side in the wheelchair space, with the help of the conductor.
She said: “They were two completely opposite experiences and that is not on. It comes back to training. It’s all about the attitude.”
Baroness Brinton said the incident illustrates why her party has included a pledge in its manifesto to give wheelchair-users priority over children’s buggies on buses.
She said: “It is obvious that it is a major problem [if this happens]on a virtually empty bus. It was just outrageous.
“Just a week before polling day is not the best time to be delayed on the way to work.”
If her party is unable to secure enough influence to force government legislation on the issue, she pledged to try to secure debates in the next parliament, and attempt to bring forward a private member’s bill that would ensure wheelchair-users have priority use of the spaces on buses, and that accessible parking spaces for blue badge-holders can also be enforced.
Baroness Brinton said she had now received a “grovelling apology” from Transport for London, which had told her that both the driver and the conductor would receive fresh training from the bus operator Metroline.
But her experience mirrors that of disabled campaigner Doug Paulley, who is being backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in his legal bid against another bus company, First Bus, to ensure that wheelchair-users have priority in the use of dedicated wheelchair spaces over parents with pushchairs.
Paulley told DNS: “This just goes to show that sadly my experience is not uncommon and we very much need to achieve a binding judgment on the issue.”
Chris Fry, managing partner of Paulley’s lawyers, Unity Law, said: “Baroness Brinton’s experience illustrates exactly why we need a definitive legal ruling on this issue.
“It’s not acceptable that disabled people can only reply on the goodwill of non-disabled passengers to vacate wheelchair spaces.
“We need the Supreme Court to hear Doug’s case as soon as possible, so that bus drivers, passengers and wheelchair-users all know exactly who has priority over the space.”
Transport for London (TfL) said Metroline was investigating the incident.
Mike Weston, TfL’s director of buses, said in a statement: “I’m very sorry about Baroness Sal Brinton’s experience.
“Our guidance to bus drivers clearly states that wheelchair-users are to be given priority access to the dedicated space on our buses, even if it is occupied by a buggy or other passengers.
“Drivers are asked to use the on-board automated announcement system to make it clear when the wheelchair space is needed and, if necessary, to ask buggy-owners to share the space, move or fold their buggies.
“In a case where another passenger will not make space, the bus driver should explain the situation to the wheelchair-user.
“If the next bus is not already there, the driver is under instruction to contact his or her garage so that the next bus can be notified to pick up the wheelchair-user.”
A TfL spokesman later confirmed to DNS that if a passenger refused to move, a conductor or driver would not take any further action to clear the space, such as refusing to continue the journey until the buggy was moved.