You may recall last summer I made a video highlighting the difficulty that I had in getting between the village where I live and the local town in the electric wheelchair that I had been given by a relative. Following that video I was informed that a new wheelchair-accessible bus service would be starting up between the two places. Fantastic timing. However, since then, I have been quite seriously ill and unable to even go out in my wheelchair and I have been fortunate enough to have my father help drive me to medical appointments. Today I decided to take the new bus in to town for the first time since it started.
The new bus route 552 out of Evesham and it’s accompanying bus 553 which goes around the loop the other way are advertised as running low-floor wheelchair accessible buses on the timetables and when my wife spoke to Henshaws, the bus company the runs the service, she was assured of that fact.
Unfortunately this is what happened when I tried to board the bus today.
As you can see, it is in fact rather inaccessible for a person in a wheelchair.
The bus driver was very apologetic and tried to be helpful. She explained that the usual bus for that route was undergoing maintenance and that it had been substituted with an older bus for the day. She told us that the 553 which goes the other way around the loop was the usual accessible bus but would take a long time to arrive, and suggested that we could also try another bus that passes through the village, the 247 run by First Group. We decided to try the 247 but the bus stop for that service is actually at the top of the hill more than half a mile away. The 247 also does not use accessible buses all the time and so it was only a chance that I would be able to get on it.
Fortunately that bus was wheelchair-accessible. The bus driver helpfully told us that only his bus was accessible today and told us when we could get his bus back from the bus station. Here’s me on a wheelchair accessible bus for the first time.
So what should I take from all this? Well obviously things are improving. The introduction of a (normally) accessible bus service proves that people are making an effort, and hopefully by the target of 2015 all bus services will be accessible all of the time. However, at the moment travelling in a wheelchair is thoroughly unpredictable. If a bus needs maintenance, no one thinks anything of swapping in a bus that wheelchair users can’t get on. If there is someone in a wheelchair already on board the bus, then tough, there is no room for another one. Other people have told me about problems with getting people to move out of the wheelchair space on the bus, and in many areas the buses are decidedly not wheelchair accessible.
What is worrying about this is that with the proposed Personal Independence Payments under the Welfare Reform bill, it is assumed that because of accessibility laws there is no problem travelling as a disabled person now, and therefore disabled people do not need the extra money to help with travel that DLA provided. This is definitely not the case. Now that I receive DLA I have ordered a car through the Motability scheme and using that will get me to where I need to go reliably and on time, without the possibility of not being able to get my wheelchair into it one time out of ten, or suddenly having to wait for a different car. Clearly the world is not yet equal for disabled people and government ministers are deluded if they believe otherwise.