Bus Services Bill [HL]

Written evidence submitted by Martin Carr (BSB 12)

To whom it may concern,

1) For the past eighteen years I have been the full time carer for my mother. For over seventeen years of that time my mother has had to use a wheelchair to get about. Because of various Arthritis problems and suffering from Carpal Tunnel my mother hasn't been able to self-propel her wheelchair and I've have had to do it for her. The person pushing a wheelchair for someone else is known as the wheelchair attendant. Mom also can't use a powered wheelchair because so many kerbs are inaccessible. At the last count there were at least fifty inaccessible kerbs within a one mile radius of our house. I have informed the council but its budget doesn't stretch as far to many any improvements to these inaccessible kerbs.

2) Before her disability, my mother was always an active person and enjoyed going to as many places as she could. Her disability robbed mom of these pleasures, but I did as much as I could to take mom out to as often as I could and as often as the weather allowed. The only way I could take mom out over any great distance was by bus because I can't drive.

3) When we first attempted to use the bus we couldn't because they were inaccessible to wheelchair users (1999). Passengers with buggies also couldn't access buses unless they folded them and they did fold them. Then when buses became more accessible for wheelchair users, I started to take my mother out, via the bus, as often as I could.

4) Not long after the buses became wheelchair accessible we started to encounter a problem; passengers with buggies weren't folding them anymore and were being allowed access to buses with their unfolded buggies. Because bus operators and their drivers were allowing this to happen, wheelchair users were being denied access to the bus, even though there was a dedicated wheelchair space and a buggy zone on almost all buses in this part of the UK. What was happening was that drivers were cramming as many unfolded buggies on their buses and denying wheelchair users access. I have witnessed buses with six unfolded buggies on. Most of the time back then (around 2003) drivers would regularly allow four unfolded buggies access; two in the wheelchair space and two in the buggy zone.

5) This was very frustrating because wheelchair users had lobbied Parliament, chained themselves to buses and provided the government with petitions pleading for buses to be wheelchair accessible. Yet after doing all of this, other passengers were using the wheelchair space and wheelchair users, the very people doing absolutely everything they possibly could to gain that one space on a bus, were being left at bus stops because drivers were unwilling to ask anyone to move from the wheelchair space. This policy became known as "first come first served," meaning that drivers wouldn't ask any passenger to move for another, including asking passengers with unfolded buggies to move or fold the buggy for a wheelchair-using passenger tp acess the bus.

6) This went on for years until the Equality Act 2010. After that, in October 2010, bus drivers were required to ask any passenger using the wheelchair space to move, including passengers with unfolded buggies. This policy was known as "request, not require." What it meant was that drivers had to ask the passenger to move from the wheelchair space, but the passenger didn't have to move. As long as the driver asked the passenger to move then they were fulfilling their legal obligation. It's a bit like asking someone if they voluntarily wanted to pay income tax, the answer was going to be fairly obvious and the anewer was obvious, pas senders with unfolded buggies wouldnt move.

7) What was happening the vast majority of the time after the Equality Act came in was that drivers weren't asking passengers to move from the wheelchair space, they were leaving wheelchair users at the bus stop. Bus drivers weren't even pulling into the bus stop if they saw a wheelchair user there and a passenger was in the wheelchair space. In my vast experience of this situation, I can fully confirm and testify that bus drivers weren't even asking passengers to move from the wheelchair space, something they were required to do by law. They were getting away with it because bus operators seemed to be self-regulatory. It was like complaining to the fox because the fox had stolen chickens from you the previous night. The fox was going to continue to steal the chickens because no-one could do anything about it. The bus operators and their drivers were getting away with denying wheelchair users access to buses, even refusing to stop if a wheelchair user was at a bus stop and would continue to get away with it because no-one seemed to know what to do about it. My mother was left at bus stops numerous times without the driver even asking a passenger to vacate the wheelchair space. My mother was left at bus stops on numerous occasions because bus drivers wouldn't even pull into the stop in case they may have to ask a passenger to move from the wheelchair space. When I complained to the bus company I was just told the driver would be spoken to, but it continued to happen time after time. It became so bad that I stopped trying to gain access for mom in her wheelchair on buses and walked everywhere with mom in her wheelchair.

8) This went on for years until Mister Doug Paulley was brave enough to take a bus operator to court under the Equality Act. Mr Paulley was denied access to a bus because a mother with a 'sleeping baby' refused to move from the wheelchair space when the driver asked her, therefore leaving Mr Paulley at the bus stop in his wheelchair for a considerable amount of time. Mister Paulley missed connecting transport services because of being left at the bus stop and was late for an important meeting.

9) Mister Paulley's case went to court, the Court of Appeal and finally, after five years, the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled that bus companies were discriminating against wheelchair users by employing a first come first served policy and that bus drivers should do a lot more to gain wheelchair users access to buses. I'm sure you are aware of the ninety-two page Supreme Court ruling and I won't further take up your time going into every detail of it. Suffice to say, bus drivers are now required to do a lot more when pulling up to a bus stop when a wheelchair user requires access. It has become known as the " Paulley Principle."

10) The problem now is that bus drivers aren't doing more to encourage passengers to move from the wheelchair space when it is required by a wheelchair user. Many bus drivers, all over the UK are still employing the "first come first served" policy ruled discrimatory by the Supreme Court. Wheelchair users are still being left at bus stops because bus drivers are still not even asking passengers to move from the wheelchair space, wheelchair users are still being left at bus stops because bus drivers are driving past them without even stopping and they're getting away with it.

11) I implore you to make an Amendment to the Buses Bill making it mandatory for at least one space on every bus to be guaranteed for a wheelchair user; that a wheelchair user has absolute priority over that space and that any passenger will have to vacate that space when asked/told to do so. It would be easier if that space would be left vacant so that a wheelchair user wouldn't have to remind bus drivers of their legal obligation and it would ease the pressure on drivers not having to confront passengers using that space and asking them to move.

12) I want bus operators and their drivers alike to be prosecuted in criminal courts for disability discrimination. At the moment, wheelchair users being discriminated against have to bring their cases against the bus company through civil courts, costing them large amounts of money , money they can't afford, and this Is discouraging them from bringing such cases. I'm sure if bus operators and their drivers knew they would face criminal prosecution for their offences, then they would be far less willing to discriminate against wheelchair users.

13) Wheelchair users are amongst the most vulnerable people in society and are afforded little, if no protection under the law when attempting to go about their daily lives. Many wheelchair users want to and are able to work, but not being able to have good and equal access to public transport services, including buses, is greatly hindering their chances of this. Many wheelchair users feel like they're being ostracised by society, they feel like they're being treated like second-class citizens. They're being left feeling humiliated, embarrassed and degraded by all walks of society. Please make an Amendment to the Buses Bill and give wheelchair users back their dignity, the dignity they're being currently denied by society. The only people in society that are being left at bus stops, unless the bus is at full capacity, are wheelchair users. Passengers with buggies are afforded the option of folding the buggy if they want to travel on the bus. The choice is theirs. The wheelchair user isn't afforded any choice, they're just being left at bus stops.

March 2017


Prepared 15th March 2017