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Sunday, 12 June 2011

Is public transport suitable for disabled people?

Welcome to my new followers, I am looking forward to some interaction from my followers as some already have. I have had an interesting weekend and some things I have heard through twitter has made me feel the need for another blog post. Some of the main topics being discussed include how disabled people are seen as 'benefit scroungers' and that of the experiences of disabled people and transport. I have spent time in previous posts speaking about how the media shows disabled people as benefit scroungers and so am not going to try and reinvent the wheel with that one. Instead I am going to discuss my experiences of public transport. I have mentioned this topic but not at great length and so feel it is appropriate to focus a whole post to this topic.

As previously mentioned I have been disabled from birth and so have experienced public transport in many different circumstances. When I was younger I was very reliant on being driven everywhere that I went. Many of the buses were inaccessible especially in my village and so did not have this option most of the time. At a young age there was the worry of getting taxis at night and so this wasn't really an option until a later age. Disabled people are given the opportunity to learn to drive when they are 16 years old because of the limited options that many disabled people experience and I am very grateful to be given the opportunity as it provided me independence I only dreamed of before I was driving. The option to drive so young was only made possible because of the Motability scheme, allowing many disabled people the opportunity for a level of independence. If this scheme was unavailable I would have never been able to drive so young and probably wouldn't be driving now making my opportunities to live a full life almost impossible under those circumstances.

The physical facilities for public transport has improved, many buses now have ramps or the option of level entrance and trains have ramps that can be put by the door, lifts at stations and even the tube system is becoming more accessible. Unfortunately even with the improvements made there are still many problems. The attitudes of staff and other passengers affects the accessibility of the public transport available. At one stage I decided to start using the bus service locally to get to work. I did this for many reasons, one of which was to limit some of the problems for my back when lifting my wheelchair in and out of the car. I did this for a couple of months, and there were times when it went well and I would even go so far as to say it was pleasurable. Unfortunately the times that were bad outweighed the good, which led to me deciding to go back to using my car on a daily basis and in turn putting strain on my back again. Each day I didn't know what I would find, sometimes I was nicely surprised being faced with a friendly bus driver and other passengers being helpful and friendly. On the days that I experienced bad journeys to and from work it was for a number of reasons. Some of the bus drivers attitudes towards me were poor, making me worry each time I saw it was specific drivers. They wouldn't be directly rude but they would react 'coldly' towards me, especially when the bus was busy. I also had some bad experiences with other passengers, in particular mothers with buggies which they weren't prepared to fold, keeping them in the space which is reserved for wheelchair users. Sometimes the driver would mention it and I was able to get on, but there were times when the bus driver quite obviously didn't care and so I was unable to get on the bus, having to wait for the next one. This made it difficult to use for work as I was time bound, to ensure I got to work in time I always left earlier than I perhaps needed to (this on it own would put people off) .

Train journeys are also something I choose not to do very often due to some of the difficulties that I have faced. This has meant that I have chose not to do certain activities because of this and so it has taken some of my independence away from me. For many years I would never use the train on my own because I was scared the process of special assistance would fail me, as it had many times before when I was with someone who was thankfully able to get someones attention if it was needed. Special assistance is put in place to prevent instances like this happening but sadly this system fails regularly for disabled people. Disabled people who require assistance are asked to ring at least 24 hours in advance, in return this should ensure that a disabled person and their needs are met fully unfortunately this rarely happens. I have found it is a lottery of train companies, some are much better than others. You can get on the train (usually after finding someone) but then you will get to your destination station and no one will be waiting for you! When you can't walk you can't get off the train to find someone and trains no longer have conductors. I have often thought that it would be simpler if Trains had a built in ramp on one carriage, similar to a bus, I have no doubt that the technology exists to do this it would just require someone to build it (I'm not holding my breath).

Despite this I have now got to the point, that my confidence has grown and I have now managed to go on the train independently (I have realised that if I am going to live my life then I need to bite the bullet even if it is challenging) and although I wouldn't say the process was completely smooth it was better than some of my earlier experiences and so although I wont do it very often by choice it has become more likely. This is the case for many situations of public transport, many of the changes that are needed are simple and more about the way I and other disabled people are treated rather than physical adaptation of equipment. Attitudes need to change with regards to this before anything really changes. It is societies problem as a whole not just the companies who run the transport systems (although this would be a good start).

I would like you to post comments with regards to this issue, sharing your experiences and starting a discussion as to what you think should be done to improve public transport for disabled people. The problems will continue to be problems until they are challenged. We need to work together for change. 


  1. People with pushchairs in the wheelchair space are the biggest problem. Some people refuse point blank to fold and get abusive. With manners we could both be on the bus. Having a baby is nothing like being disabled.

  2. Thanks for the frank and honest post, I hope you don't mind answering a few questions...

    What do you think is a bigger problem: lack of technology or infrastructure for people with disabilities, or the attitudes of staff and other passengers?

    Do you think that legislation in recent years (DDA etc.) has improved the public transport experience for people with disabilities in general? Has it left some disabilities behind?

  3. My condition causes pain, weakness and fatigue all over my body.

    My biggest difficulty with public transport is an infrastructure problem - I cannot get from my front door, up the hills and along the awful pavements, to the nearest bus stop, unless I were to use a mobility scooter (I'm ineligible for a powerchair) which I would then not be permitted to take on the buses (or trains) anyway.

    The same problem would frequently apply at the other end of the journey, too - how to get from the bus stop to my workplace/my friend's house/the shop/the pub/etc?

    It is not feasible to place a bus stop on every street of every town in the UK.

    It is not feasible to expect disabled people to simply "try harder" every time we need to go somewhere. Particularly with regard to jobs and interviews, we will be unable to perform adequately if we're dishevelled and exhausted just from the extra effort needed to turn up at all.

    Particularly while eligibility for powerchairs is so very restricted, I think we have to accept that some people just *need* provision to travel door-to-door or at least street-to-street, to enable them to participate in daily life.

    I travel by taxi and I think that legislation such as the DDA has helped to improve *that* experience a great deal.

    In short: I am much more bothered about having access to *some form of transport*, than I am about attempts to make *every* form of transport accessible.

  4. Thanks for your thoughtful blog post. Transport for All hears so many complaints like this, pushchairs ar a perennial issue! We campaign for change, hold local events, and encourage people to COMPLAIN when things go wrong! Sazzy, your point about getting to work is particularly pertinent, how does the government expect disabled people to get employment if we can't get there?

    We're free to join:

  5. The pushchair issue is a problem. I have been asked by mothers to move (I use a cane) so they can keep from folding on several occasions
    I am also plagued by passengers who don't think a cane merits a disabled seat, (after all I'm young and wear black so it must be a goth accessory)
    Drivers that don't get close enough to the curb to step off or claim that they cannot lower the bus (it's broken) are also a problem -one well meaning driver realized his error when he saw my dilemma as I stood in the doorway attempting to lower myself without injury, while I was halfway out the door he started the bus to pull closer, unfortunately, that off balance movement partially dislocated my hip

  6. I take on board what you say about pushchairs, really there should be somewhere to leave them! (I am in Liverpool, so have no recent experience of using buses in London. Nor in Liverpool as cannot access the bus routes I would want to use.)

    But when I was still healthy it was a constant battle on buses when my kids were small. I would often be battling to keep a 2 year old and a 4 year old upright while standing myself. Collapsing and dealing with a pushchair was very difficult, and not helped by the driver often driving off before I had stowed said push chair. At least there were big open luggage racks to stow it at the front of the bus back then. I don't know what the situation is now as am unable to use buses at all. But the difficulties Mums face are very akin to those that disabled people do when using public transport.

    When I was young I was expected to give up my seat to anyone adult and especially anyone disabled (eg with walking stick). It's time parents took some responsibility for their older children's attitude. The buses I was using that I speak about above were usually full of school children and university students, but they left me to flounder standing with two very young children, and often the bus drivers were just as unhelpful as you describe.

    Sorry meant to say more but they have just started drilling up the road outside - oh joy! - so brain now scrambled

  7. In response to all your comments, I am really pleased with everyone's input, it has been interesting to get other peoples views on this issue, as my opinion is just that and I am prepared to learn about others experiences.

    I have been made to feel like a second rate passenger at times through my experiences, especially by people who I appreciate may be doing it tough as well (for example mothers with children and a large number of items that they need) but I still don't feel this is any justification for the attitude towards myself and many other disabled people and the fact there is a limit on where I can get on a bus, just because a mother has got there first. If it was the other way round, they would have a choice to collapse the buggy if they so wish, I don't have this luxury, I cannot walk and so cannot get out of my wheelchair to collapse it.

    I have tried to see it from both sides and realise that some of the the issues found are nobodies fault and that we need to work together and respect each other if we are going to use 'public' transport. I feel that the attitudes towards disabled people is one of the biggest barriers towards us accessing public transport. If individuals respected each other equally then many of the hurtful problems we experienced would not occur. Having said that although technology has improved greatly over the past 20-30 years there is still a long way to go before many disabled people could use the infrastructure/technology that is available.

    I agree with Mary to a certain extent, that having access to some transport rather than every transport is okay, but I still feel there are many improvements that could be made quite easily but just are not being done, making it unnecessarily difficult.

    I sympathise with the anonymous person who commented because similar experiences have happened to me where people have meant well but unfortunately made the situation worse for me.

    I hope I have responded to the comments made and if I have missed anyone's ideas and comments I apologise for this.

  8. In answer, and put very simply ... no, it isn't suitable for people with disabilities. If I have to go out, I have had to use taxis for years now - which of course costs a fortune. (I don't have a car)

    Ironically though, even if the public transport here was somehow suitable (I'm in Liverpool), I wouldn't be able to use it anyway, because the pavements are so terrible in my area that you can't get from one place to another in a wheelchair. There are very very few ramps from the pavement down to the road, and there's no way at all for someone pushing themselves to get up and down to cross the roads ... and pretty much impossible even if someone is pushing you, because the curbs are generally quite high. So unless you could get to a bus/train without having to cross a road, you're basically stuffed.

    It's obviously not an isolated problem, since Mary also commented on this issue here.

  9. Kick-ass, girl! You rock!! Meet me in Heaven Above, dear, where WE can be free and I'll be your faithfull servant. God bless you. _thewarningsecondcoming.com_

  10. now i did project about disabled persons .can u plase share your experiences via this.

  11. thank you sazzyactivist to share with us, i really like it and i am appreciated your for such a great article about disable people, as you describe the article its informative and useful for me, i am glade to read your blog, keep it up

  12. Hi Sassy,

    Thank you for writing about what so many disabled people have had issues with: public transport.

    In response to your question, the answer is no. Public transport isn't accessible for people with disabilities, and I don't think all the blame can be placed on infrastructure or the way trams/trains/ buses were built.

    When I used to be in a wheelchair, whatever form of public transport I used, I would always get a lot of stares from people as if to say, "your wheelchair is in the way" or, "you're taking up a lot of space". Some people would offer to help but most would just glare. Even with my walker (which I currently use), I have had some instances where the train doors have almost closed before I have had the chance to get on!

    I think if conductors were more helpful, and people smiled a bit more instead of glaring, might make our experiences on public transport a bit more pleasant :).

  13. Hey, very nice site. I came across this on Google, and I am stoked that I did. I will definitely be coming back here more often. Wish I could add to the conversation and bring a bit more to the table, but am just taking in as much info as I can at the moment. Thanks for sharing.
    Travel Wheelchairs

    Keep Posting:)

  14. Hi Sazzyactivist,

    My name is Madison and I work for a company called Medstar Transportation, and our mission is to provided affordable and accessible transportation to the Pacific Northwest for those who are unable to drive due to different circumstances. It is our goal to make sure that the people who ride with us get to their destination safely and affordable. We are currently working in a technology to improve some of the problems you addressed to make transportation more accessible.

    If you had any time to spare, I was hoping that you could give me feedback in regards to our transportation application that we will be launching soon.

    Do you have any suggestions for us to help make transportation more accessible?

    Your contribution towards our project is greatly appreciated if you would like to help contribute towards this cause please email me at so we can have a conversation.

    Have a good day and look forward to hearing from you.


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