Richmond – Teddington – Return
WARNING – Contains language that some people might find offensive.
Others may just be offended that inaccessible buses continue to roam the streets of the capital.
It’s so easy to see bus drivers as a barrier to accessible transport rather than an enabler. Social media is full of stories of drivers who don’t stop, won’t let wheelchairs on or don’t ask buggies to move. I’ve certainly got my fair share of horror stories and war wounds, but it’s important to remember that there are lots of drivers out there who are every bit as engaged with the principle and practise of accessible travel as we are.
I don’t honestly remember much of the journey out. It was dull, damp, miserable and way too early in the morning. Nothing went wrong so it’s best forgotten.
The return journey is best forgotten for exactly the opposite reasons. Let me be clear. I don’t set out to break buses. Honestly I don’t. Much thought has gone into designing reliable, accessible buses and maintaining them in working order (Stop sniggering at the back!) There usually has to be a combination of things go wrong for a ramp to fail, and usually they fail in such a way that the bus keeps going even if I can’t get on. Usually it’s actually quite rare to really break a bus.
Other days it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.
The first sign of trouble was the bus only had one door. Only really old buses in London have one door.
All London buses have the ramp built in underneath the bus so that it slides out (hopefully) and back in again. Or so I thought. I was wrong. The second sign of trouble was that the ramp on this bus folded out.
As soon as it unfolded the third sign of trouble was glaringly obvious. I could see so much filth and debris in the mechanism that you could have grown a good crop of potatoes in there.
Optimistically I boarded the bus. The advantage with one door buses is that they have a wheelchair AND a buggy space. Luxuriating in the space to move I settled in for the journey. The driver retracted the ramp.
It didn’t close. He tried again. and again, and again. I lost track of how many times. “Sorry folks” said the driver stating the blindingly obvious “the ramp won’t close.”
People started to drift off the bus, or make sympathetic noises towards me. The driver gave up trying, stood on the pavement and called control.
“This piece of shit I’ve been assigned. It’s broken down. The ramp is stuck…(pause).. yes, I could force it, but then how would I get the gentleman in the wheelchair off again? ..(pause).. exactly. Now get someone out here quick, I’m blocking the worst bus stop ever”
He then came back and for the next ten minutes we had a fascinating conversation during which he was much too honest and frank. His opinions on both the accessibility of buses and the quality of drivers were ones that I could only agree with. Training, or lack of it is key. He also shared some crew room secrets about the testing (or not) of ramps before leaving the depot and management’s refusal to allow ramp testing when a driver takes over a bus en route.
After 15 minutes the next bus arrived. The driver came to find out what was going on, but before he even got to the door shared his opinion loudly with the world in general “Oh Christ, what a piece of junk”
Given that the bus stop was filled with a bus he generously pulled further down the road to let me on, after a little gentle persuasion from the first driver.
Of course, given the previous broken bus, every stop we came to had a queue of people waiting, including a buggy at one stop. The driver wasn’t going to let her on, but after I volunteered, loudly, she joined the bus and slipped in the space behind me. If drivers were more willing to be flexible, where there’s space, it would go a long way to reducing the buggy/wheelchair battle.
Just to cap the story, as we stopped to pick up passengers in Twickenham, the ‘piece of junk’ drove past, empty and I assume heading to the depot, do not pass go, do not collect £200.
Another one bites the dust? Here’s hoping.