The Right to Not Ride

11/9/15

Richmond – Kingston – Return

There are some trips I make quite regularly, and today was one of those, but each time something new seems to be thrown up. Usually, and this is one of the most annoying things about being a disabled traveller, these things are out of your control. Whether the cause is mechanical failure, a communication screw up or less frequently some unhelpful member of staff, the common factor is that there’s not one jot you can do about it, you just have to suck it up and adapt. It makes a pleasant change then to be able to own the event.

The bus for the first leg of my trip arrived full. It’s very rare that a bus has three buggies on board, but this one did. Clearly there was not enough space for them and me. As you may know the exact legal position on the use of the wheelchair space on buses is the subject of a legal case, but currently drivers should request in the strongest terms, that space is made for the wheelchair. TfL have taken a firmer approach and require that buggies make space for wheelchairs. This approach is backed up by Article 9 of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities which is explicit in giving disabled people equal access to transport, amongst other things, as non-disabled people. So, armed with the full right of access I took control of the situation and let the driver know I’d catch the next bus. It was a nice day, I’d already missed my train and wasn’t in a hurry, and I knew there would be another bus along before too long. It made me feel better that I knew three people’s day was improved because of something I did, even if they had no clue whatsoever. Having the right doesn’t mean you must exercise it.

Sure enough another, almost empty, bus turned up a little while later and I reached Richmond station without incident. Having missed the train I caught the alternative bus service to Kingston.

Most drivers are okay, but I do know that they are under incredible pressure to meet time deadlines imposed by TfL as part of the licence. This means that often journeys can be quite violent as far as breaking and accelerating go, but this driver was extremely considerate. As well as being very smooth he also very specifically waited for boarding passengers, especially the older ones or those with obvious mobility problems, to reach a seat and get settled before pulling away. I know this is what drivers are supposed to do, but it is shockingly rare. What really impressed me was the way he treated two sets of passengers. The first was a group of tourists trying to get to Richmond Park. Not only did he offer them advice as they boarded, but he remembered and called down the bus to them as we approached the stop. He also did the same thing for a woman looking for a Garden Centre tucked away in the back streets off the main bus route. Consideration, multitasking and a good memory is a combination I’m not at all sure you can teach.

The trip back was by train and was boring, except for the hot, fresh donuts, but that’s a different story.

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About Alan

I'm an Economist, Geek, Campaigner & wheelchair user who's been using all forms of public transport for 20+ years.
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