(Again, apologies for the formatting. I wrote this on my iPad and copied it over.)
The wheelchair vs buggy on the bus debate is continuing to roll on, with the Supreme Court ruling yet to be announced, more than two years after Doug Paulley opened his landmark case against a transport group for failing to ensure wheelchair users could use the spaces legally provided for them.
I’ve seen a lot of posts from parents this year on various platforms not only arguing
their rights, but equating them with those of the disabled people they are
keeping from accessing public transport, so I thought I would make an
annoying list of bullet points to round up my errant brain kittens on
this. Warning: will contain personal experience and also instances of
(All points assume that neither the parent nor child is themselves
disabled. If a disabled child in a wheelchair buggy is in the
wheelchair space, well, it’s a wheelchair space, and that is a
So important it doesn’t get a number: the bleat “You wanted equality
now you have equality” holds no water here. This is not equality, not
when a non-disabled person can sit anywhere in the bus (or indeed
stand if there are no seats) but a wheelchair user only has one
option. Not equality, but it is a small step towards equity.
1. The wheelchair space on the bus is the only place which a
wheelchair user – be it manual, transport or powered – can safely
travel. Most wheelchairs are too bulky to be able to go anywhere else
without blocking the aisle, even if they don’t move while the bus is
2. For most bus companies, the current rule for parents with buggies
is that they may use the wheelchair space if it is not needed by a
wheelchair user. This is clearly marked on signs in the wheelchair
3. According to the Big Red Book (the driver’s manual for TFL buses), upon trying
to board a wheelchair user when there is already a buggy in the space,
drivers are first supposed to play the automatic announcement and, if
this doesn’t work, then go and ask the parent to please fold the buggy
so that the wheelchair user can board.
4. The rules are apparently made to be broken: more often than not a
driver will shrug apologetically and say they have a buggy on board.
This kind of driver is unlikely to actively engage with the parent, so
I have to ask them to open the middle doors so I can speak to the
parent myself and plead with them to let me on. It’s not dignified,
but sometimes I can’t afford to wait for the next bus – hell,
sometimes this IS the next bus!
5. Obviously this doesn’t work all the time – it’s pretty much 50% in
my personal experience, and half the time I do board (size of
wheelchair space dependent), I have to slot in next to an unfolded
buggy, in an “illegal” position. It’s okay in my powerchair, if not painful due to people continually bumping into me, but
manual chairs are far more prone to tipping and this could be very
dangerous especially as UK buses don’t seem to have
6. If a buggy won’t fold at all, the driver is supposed to offer a
transfer ticket for the parent to board the next bus at no cost. I
have yet to hear a driver offer this to anyone.
7. Should a parent flat out refuse to vacate the space, fold the
buggy, or reposition themselves so that we can unsafely share the
space (massively compounded when two or more buggies are present), a
wheelchair user will be unable to board. However, there have been
numerous times where I have used a previously unoccupied wheelchair
space and the driver has allowed a buggy on board to block me in, or
block the aisle. Yes the buggy is (often) smaller than a wheelchair,
but it smacks of double standards.
8. The most controversial point… A baby is not a disability. Sorry.
Sure it’s inconvenient lugging a buggy around, but the right to co-opt
spaces that disabled people fought for doesn’t come with that
temporary impediment. It’s almost as if everyone has forgotten that
before disabled people literally chained their wheelchairs to buses in
protest for access, all buggies had to be folded before boarding
anyway. Years of access to a space created for disabled people has led
to entitlement and apathy. Why not join growing protests for TWO
accessible spaces on the bus, or start your own movement with other
parents? The benefits of disabled victories are not yours to reap with
9. A little bit of empathy goes a long way. I’ve let buses leave
without me, with buggies on board, knowing that there is another bus
not far behind. Similarly, I’ve had a mum with a baby get off a stop
early so I could board. I know there’s a striking juxtaposition
between this point and the last point. Consider point 8 aimed at those
who insist that their rights to have a giant unfoldable buggy trump
everyone else’s, and point 9 an ideal case of working stuff out in a
non ideal situation.
Rachel George said:
We dread the times where we have to use public transport, just because of this issue. One time, when in Manchester, we couldn’t board the first bus due to a buggy, nor the second. If we had not been able to get on the third bus I might just have collapsed into a sobbing ball. My son (full time wheelchair user)w as confused and didn’t understand why he couldn’t get on the bus.