Protest highlights need for action on the buses


Disabled people converged on Westminster this week as part of a day of action to raise awareness of the barriers they face when travelling on London’s buses.

About 200 disabled and older people met at four rail stations in the capital before catching buses to Westminster, where they put questions to a panel of representatives from the transport industry at a packed meeting.

The event was organised by the accessible transport charity Transport for All (TfA), Age UK London and the Greater London Forum for Older People, as part of their On the Buses campaign.

A survey published this week for the campaign found that in more than 40 per cent of journeys, passengers were not given time to sit down before the bus drove off, while one in four buses failed to pull up tightly to the kerb.

A second survey found many examples of retractable ramps that were not working, and of people with buggies blocking the wheelchair space inside the bus but not being asked by the driver to move.

A new campaign report includes recommendations for Transport for London (TfL) – which is responsible for London’s transport system – to involve disabled and older people directly in improving training of bus drivers, to work faster to improve the accessibility of bus stops, and to improve ramp maintenance.

John Finnie, a wheelchair-user who has been keeping his own log of both good and bad practice on London’s buses for six years, told Disability News Service that of every 10 journeys he takes, the ramp will not work on about three buses.

And on about four journeys out of 10, parents will refuse to move their children’s buggies from the wheelchair space.

Liam Prospere, another disabled passenger who took part in the day of action, said he was “not happy” with the treatment he receives on London’s buses.

Often there are buggies blocking the wheelchair space, he said, and sometimes he cannot even board the bus. He added: “It happens all the time.”

Susan Wolfe, who has a hidden impairment, said her first bus journey after a major operation was particularly traumatic.

She said: “The bus driver got really angry when I wasn’t getting off the bus fast enough. He closed the door in my face even though I was clearly standing there. It shook my confidence for a long time.”

Lianna Etkind, campaigns and outreach co-ordinator for TfA, said: “Thousands of pounds have been invested in making buses physically accessible, yet the behaviour of a minority of bus drivers is still stopping older and disabled people from travelling.

“If London buses are to serve all Londoners, including older and disabled people, bus companies need to take accessibility much, much more seriously.”

A TfL spokesman said that ensuring its bus service was accessible to all Londoners was “a priority”, while London had “one of the most accessible bus fleets in the world and an excellent safety record”.

All its buses were now low-floor and wheelchair-accessible, while its drivers were “highly trained” and “required to check the ramp is working on their bus before they leave the garage”, he said.

He added: “Out of a sample size of roughly a quarter of the fleet, just 0.3 per cent of ramps were found to be defective – seven buses out of 2,200.”

He said: “We welcome the opportunity to discuss accessibility issues with all sectors of the community but as always we would advise any of our passengers who may experience any problems on our buses to contact customer services so that any issues can be investigated.”

8 September 2011