An Open Letter To First Group Bristol

Dear FirstGroup Bristol,

I am writing this open letter to express my disappointment, frustration and utter disgust at my treatment yesterday (28/4/2014) whilst attempting to get the bus 90 home to Bedminster from the bus stop in Rupert Street.

I generally find being a young disabled person in Bristol really hard; in my experience it’s not the most easy city to negotiate and access in an electric wheelchair, so when I discovered I was eligible for a Diamond Travelcard to use on the bus to enable me to travel without fare around the city, imagine my excitement at being able to be more independent to a degree and do something that I personally think most able bodied people take for granted every day.
Sadly though, I find that while things might be getting better in terms of tolerance of disability, and access to make life easier to some areas of the city, in other areas I feel there is still a LONG way to go, and nowhere do I personally find this more apparent than in the attitude of the majority of your bus drivers. Your website states that: ‘We are making good progress towards ensuring our entire fleet is compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) in time for the deadlines set by the Government (Jan 1 2016 for single deck buses, and 1 Jan 2017 for double deck buses). We have already made significant progress in this respect.’ Yes, you are indeed making progress and that’s great, but what about when some of your drivers don’t allow a disabled passenger to make use of those facilities, as happened to me yesterday?

Between 2:00 – 2:30pm, myself and my carer encountered three buses. The first driver in question did stop and lower the floor of the bus for me to get on, but he still left too much of a gap between the entrance of the bus and the kerb for me to get in safely. When myself, my carer and a very kind gentleman and fellow passenger pointed this out to him and also stated the adapted higher kerb was a few metres down the road for me to get on with the bus floor as it was lowered, he just looked at us blankly and said: ‘You’ll have to get the next bus.’
After a 2nd went by which we weren’t able to get on because of buggies using the space (completely fair and understandable), a 3rd stopped out in the middle of the road waiting there for the two buses stationary at the stop to move on. My carer ran across to him to explain our situation and asked if he’d mind pulling over by the higher kerb as soon as he was able. I know he saw me waiting because he looked at me and I waved. The driver simply shrugged and drove off.
This isn’t the first time we’ve had issues – just one other memorable incident earlier this year included a driver who told me I actually needed a special licence as it would ‘teach me to drive properly’ and therefore I could use the bus. Never have I felt more patronised and insulted by such flippancy, even if it was intended as a joke.

It’s behaviour like this that really makes my blood boil; yes I have a disability, but I’m also twenty three years old and have a BA and an MA degree; my eyes and ears work fine and as such I can hear and see how I’m being treated, and except in the case of a minority of your drivers who are wonderful, it disappoints and disgusts me. I’m not saying they need to treat me like a queen and leap to my aid when they sit watching my carer and I struggle to get off the bus without so much as a: ‘are you alright there?’, or when they continue insist ‘you need to face the back with your brakes on’ after you say ‘Yes I’m aware of Health and Safety, but I physically can’t face rearways, the space is too small for me to turn around in’ for the umpteenth time, a little more empathy and consideration and courtesy wouldn’t go amiss and would be greatly appreciated. I was always raised to ‘treat others as I would like to be treated’, so my suggestion would be an improvement in your training of staff re Disability Awareness and a look at your policy, because quite frankly the attitude of a good majority of your drivers is appalling and I’m quite keen as it
stands never to get on one of your buses again. Nobody, able bodied or disabled like myself should have to stand for behaviour like this.

Yours sincerely,
Kerrie Nicholson

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7 thoughts on “An Open Letter To First Group Bristol

  1. Furious for you. And I don’t think it’s always acceptable that push chairs take up disabled space. More often than not they can be collapsed and stored. Inconvenient but possible. The drivers should be encouraging people to do that if someone needs the space for their wheelchair. There should be signs on the window informing parents that that is expected. Hope you can affect some change.

    • Many thanks Anna, hoping I can affect change and judging by the response this blog has had so far, so do many others. 🙂 I agree totally with you about the buggies, actually. In this case, though, they were much bulkier and a different style to the ones that are easy to collapse so then I don’t mind TOO much 😉 Signage on the outside would be a step in the right direction, but I think it comes down to the attitude of the drivers to encourage it as you say, and for the general public to be more receptive to it; in my experience they generally completely ignore what little signage there is already there!

  2. I myself have experienced such apathy from the bus drivers when travelling around Bristol with students that have additional needs. It seems things are not getting better. Is this at best down to lack of training or unfortunately people’s own personal attitudes?

  3. Have you tried using Bristol Dial-A-Ride?
    http://www.bristoldialaride.org.uk/dar.html

    They offer a fully accessible door to door service across Bristol-but only within the Bristol City Council boundary. You do have to become a member and pre-book your trips the day before but they accept your diamond pass and you can take an escort/carer on board too. I think more young disabled people in Bristol should know about it!

  4. I no longer live in Bristol but I too am furious for you too! I have a buggy and will always be willing to collapse it to allow someone in a wheelchair in the space instead as it does state the space is intended for wheelchairs (obviously I can understand if you have a small baby in a buggy it might be more difficult, it’s not just first group. The bus company where I live (stagecoach) have pretty poor customer service also! I hope they give you at least some sort of apology this kind of treatment is disgusting and unfair it’s 2014 for goodness sake (not that it should have been acceptable in the past)

  5. I just despair. Is it time for direct action? Could there be a small group, one with a camera, who join you for a day catching as many buses as possible and filming what happens? It would be great if others who use wheelchairs did the same. Is it possible to identify drivers? Name and shame. They are, after all, acting illegally.

  6. Hey all! Thanks for all the support, just a quick update: I have a meeting with the lady in charge of customer service at First on Monday 23rd, to try & resolve the situation. I’ll keep everybody posted!

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