Wheelchairs and Public Transport

‘Wheelchair vs. Buggy’.

Have you seen that headline?

Recently, it’s been in many of the UK’s major news publications.

The topic? A wheelchair user’s right to a designated space on the bus, when a mum with a sleeping baby was using it for her pushchair.

It doesn’t matter whether you have a manual or electric wheelchair. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a folding wheelchair or a great big tank that you’d struggle to fit into a car. When you use a wheelchair, whatever the shape or size, you hope to be able to travel in comfort and convenience.

UK public transport options often fall short in both areas, for people with full mobility as well as for wheelchair users. Trains are often crowded and usually turn up late. Buses might not turn up at all. And, if you need extra space for your wheelchair, you’re fighting a losing battle.

Most wheelchair users already face their difficulties. Buses might have to ‘kneel’, with the driver manually pulling out the ramp. On trains, a folding ramp might need to be collected from the other side of the station. Then, everyone’s waiting around for you to find your space.

And what if your space is taken by someone else? If a few wheelchair users want to travel at once, they’re in for a difficult time. If someone without a wheelchair intends not to give up the space, what rights do you have to enforce it?

The court has ruled, after the First Bus saga involving wheelchair user Doug Paulley, that drivers should put their best effort into encouraging other passengers to move for a wheelchair user. But, they have no legal duty to force that movement to happen.

If you use public transport, your options are still relatively limited. Comfort and convenience might be pipe dreams, but what if you have no alternative?

Currently, staff on public transport have no obligation to make space for wheelchair users. Though, it’s arguably discriminatory of them not to.

Travelling with a wheelchair can be difficult in areas with many public transport options, but even more difficult when there are very few. Remote and rural areas can leave disabled people feeling particularly cut off, and it may affect their independence.

And, as an increasing number of people are being encouraged to use public transport, the trains and buses will only get busier. Where does this leave those who need a little extra space when they travel?

Mobility Smart is an online retailer stocking a wide range of products including mobility aids, new and second-hand wheelchairs, and a variety of wheelchair accessories.