Wheelchair and mobility scooter users are still struggling to access disabled spaces on buses six months after the Supreme Court ruled they should be given priority over pushchairs, a charity has told BuzzFeed News.
"Sadly, being refused access to buses is still a daily occurrence for many disabled and older Londoners," Raphael Harfaux, a spokesperson for Transport for All, said.
"Our free advice line still hears many shocking cases of wheelchair users being denied access to the bus."
The case was brought by Leeds resident Doug Paulley, supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, after he was prevented from getting on a bus in 2012 because a mother with a sleeping child refused to move her pushchair from a space reserved for wheelchairs and buggies.
Despite the legal victory, Paulley told BuzzFeed News that the new ruling has not been followed. "I think it should be taken more seriously," he said. "If a driver fails to comply, then it should be considered gross misconduct."
"The problem, of course, was when bus companies started advertising buses as buggy friendly when they only had wheelchair space – so you've got 20 years of parents' expectations of being able to use that space to undo," he continued.
"It does put a lot of onus on drivers, who are expected to undo the damage done by bus companies. It's a difficult job, but it doesn't excuse it, because they are legally required to ask people to shift, and to instruct people to shift if they don't."
Wheelchair user Gwynneth Pedler told BuzzFeed News that she has seen some positive changes since the judgment. "But sadly this isn’t the case on every journey," she said.
"There’s still a long way to go until the problem is solved. It’s so hard to have to brace yourself for an argument every single time you catch the bus."
BuzzFeed News understands that Transport for London (TfL) is in the process of introducing a leaflet to drivers that includes a summary of the judgment and what it means for them.
TfL has also displayed posters in bus garages and sent details of the rulings through its bus staff intranets. It also plans to introduce two new pre-recorded iBus announcements to help ensure the verdict is enforced.
The announcements will state: "A customer needs the wheelchair priority area. Please make space."
If the customer does not move, a second message will say: "Customers are required to make space for a wheelchair user. This bus will wait while this happens."
Wheelchair user Nina Grant, who says she was refused access to a bus just two days after the ruling, told BuzzFeed News she is concerned about how effective the new iBus announcements will be.
Grant, who is an activist and blogger, said it shouldn't take new measures for people to leave the wheelchair space when needed, or for drivers to enforce the priority of wheelchair users.
"I'm concerned that audio announcements alone are easy to ignore compared to a driver's direct request," she said. "I'm also sceptical of the bus actually being held up while waiting for the space to be vacated, as drivers have a schedule to keep and this has been used against me before when I've tried to board."
Grant continued: "I will be interested to see if this second announcement and the supposed action will have any effect, but I sincerely hope it will."
Harfaux told BuzzFeed News that Transport for All welcomes the new initiative, which aims to get the message through to bus companies and drivers. However, he also said that although the new automated messages are a step forward, the charity wants to see TfL introduce a policy where bus drivers refuse to move the vehicle for a certain amount of time to encourage passengers to vacate the space.
"As well as strengthening their policies on wheelchair priority we want to see bus companies introduce larger wheelchair spaces and separate buggy spaces to ensure that disabled people can travel with confidence," he said.
"Some buses on TfL routes already have a space big enough to comfortably accommodate both a wheelchair and a buggy, so TfL has already shown that this is possible."
In a statement TfL’s director of bus service delivery and operations, Claire Mann, told BuzzFeed News it is essential that wheelchair users are given priority over buggies and that the Supreme Court ruling is complied with.
"All bus drivers have been comprehensively briefed following the Supreme Court ruling and have completed bespoke accessibility training," Mann said.
"We continue to work closely with Transport for All and implement their suggestions where possible."
Fiona Rutherford is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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