If you’ve clicked into this post, I’m guessing you have a fair idea of what it’s going to be about. A good deal of buses (particularly in the capital but not nearly enough in more rural areas where they’re needed most) have a space with no seats which was hard won by disabled rights campaigners. This space is meant specifically for wheelchair users. Much like the coveted disabled parking space, it has since been used as a convenient storage spot for luggage, scooters, and most of all – buggies!
The law as it stands…
Wheelchair users have priority use of the space
If someone other than another wheelchair user is using the space, they should vacate if a wheelchair user boards
If the person using the space refuses to move, the driver can ask them to move, but cannot compel them to
What many people don’t understand, or don’t realise, is that the bus companies didn’t just start putting these spaces in out of the goodness of their hearts. Way back in the 1990’s wheelchair users starting campaigning for access to public transport. It can still be very sketchy, but the bus spaces are a clear win for the disability community.
Then came the buggies. Now, back in the 1990’s when disabled rights activists were first campaigning for their right to use public transport, buggies were baby sized, or toddler sized. A simple structure in which to safely deposit and transport a baby or toddler. They were super easy to fold down, which was necessary, because there were no spaces to put a buggy. Fast forward to 2016 and the majority of buggies are built like tanks. 10 in 1 with car seat and cup holder and cappuccino maker. So it follows that it is more convenient for parents not to fold down their buggy. It’s easier to use the designated wheelchair space. I get that. As long as you are prepared to move should a wheelchair user board the bus.
My personal experience if this actually happening however, has been mixed. I have had a parent with buggy board at the front (wheelchair users have to board at the rear door, where there is a retractable ramp) and though I was at the stop first and the driver has seen me, he refused to let me on because the parent with buggy is using the wheelchair space. I have tried to board buses with buggies already in the space and been turned away. I have had parents simply refuse to move.
The world seems to believe that disabled people have all the time in the world, and letting 3-4 buses go by is no big deal. It’s not like we’ll miss our engagement. We don’t have the option to fold up our wheelchairs. We cannot climb steps or access the majority of tubes. Our single designated spot on the bus is the only thing we can access the majority of the time.
So what is my opinion? Of course I think wheelchair users should continue to have priority to a space on the bus that was created for them. I think parents should buy smaller buggies. I think people should stop trying to appropriate something that isn’t theirs and if they feel so inclined, campaign for new buses to have a spot for buggies as well as wheelchairs, as they do in Oxford
As a parent myself I say this need not be a debate with wheelchair users on one side having clear opinions that wheelchair spaces on buses should be kept free for wheelchair users. On the other many parents with buggies are saying it should be first come first served.
While I firmly believe the wheelchair space needs to be kept free for wheelchair users, I appreciate the need for setups like the one pictured above. I think it is a great move forward. Parents, if you are frustrated with public transport being set up the way it is, do something abut it! Write a letter to the bus company, your local MP or the transport secretary. Please don’t take your frustrations out on wheelchair users by making this ‘us and them’.
And if I can offer a piece of advice, it would be to buy a buggy that is a sensible size and actually folds down.
What are your thoughts on the use of wheelchair spaces on buses?