Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from Pat Mathewson (DAT 96)

I am a wheelchair user and find taxis and public transport a nightmare so only use it when I have to. My husband is my carer and we have an adapted car with a ramp. When he is ill or the car is being fixed then we fall back onto public transport. This is very current for us because our car failed its latest MOT and we were without it for a week. During that time I tried the buses in Exeter knowing that it’s going to be a problem so my husband has to come with me. There is not enough space to manoeuvre an electric wheelchair into the designated wheelchair space because there is an orange pole in the way which only seems to be there because it has a bell on it. I haven’t got a scooter. It is an ordinary electric wheelchair and is not at all bulky. The bus drivers are nearly always impatient and grumpy. They are not allowed to help me because of health and safety and I can only get into the space with my husband pulling the wheelchair. The drivers insist that I reverse into the space as I have to sit facing the back of the bus. This means that the whole time I am trying to get into position I am facing an audience of people all in their rows of seats at the back of the bus. The only time I have been able to manoeuvre into and out of the space has been when the bus was empty. I therefore think that Stagecoach or whoever designed the buses must have tried the wheelchair manoeuvring with an empty bus and didn’t allow for other passengers being in the way (legs and knees).

I was told that a man with M.S. was having difficulty and the driver said, “Don’t take all day”. The passenger got out of his wheelchair and said, “You try it” to the driver.

Besides the inconvenience of it all there is the bad attitude of some of the drivers who obviously hate people with wheelchairs boarding their buses.

During this time without a car I got fed up with the buses but I had a vital appointment at the hospital which is only a short distance from my home. As I have a long term illness I knew that the day would be tiring so I booked a taxi the evening before. It arrived 10 minutes late making me late for my appointment. The driver was extremely grumpy because he had not been told that it was a wheelchair ride even though he was driving a wheelchair taxi. The MINIMUM charge was £9! And he said that I should have been told this on the phone. He offered no apology but kept saying that he would “have words” with the company when he got back. He said I should think myself lucky because a rival firm charged £12 as a call out fee. I was so disgusted with this treatment I wrote to my M.P. Ben Bradshaw.

I have sat in a taxi having had a bad day and just wanting to get home when a taxi driver told me that I should think myself lucky that I wasn’t blind!

I have tried the trains on the odd trip to London but when I booked a seat (which is more comfortable than sitting in a wheelchair for 3 hours) I found that it was double booked. I could not reach any other seats and the man in the seat protested that he was disabled too but he could walk further than me so he agreed to move.

London taxi drivers are more helpful than the ones in Exeter and I have mostly found them very accommodating and friendly.

I have been abroad with my wheelchair and found Perth in Western Australia to have the best transport and best attitude. We could learn some lessons from them! All the buses are free and easy to get onto to. The trains were also easy to get onto and with both there was plenty of room and no bad attitude! May be I should emigrate!

May 2013

Prepared 13th September 2013