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.