Wheelchair users say bus drivers are leaving them stranded at bus stops because they can’t be bothered to pick them up.
Sharon Barnes, a twice-silver-medal-winning disabled sports player from Queensbridge told The Hackney Post that bus drivers simply drive past when they see her wheelchair and those who do stop treat her as an inconvenience.
“Before the bus even reaches the stop the driver will roll his eyes. You get dirty looks and then they just drive off. They think if they leave me I’ll just get the next one” said Ms Barnes.
The 44-year-old has only been in a wheelchair since 2007 after she suffered a stroke after an operation to remove a blood clot in her knee. She says she had never realised just how difficult it was for disabled people to use public transport in Hackney until she returned to her home in Queensbridge just over a year ago.
Ms Barnes, who is cared for by her sister, began trying to get the 149 and 243 from near her flat on Kingsland Road last March but says she almost had to give up because it was so stressful.
“I don’t feel confident getting the bus any more. I just can’t face the attitudes. They just make me feel as though they can’t be bothered with me. I’ve never met a driver who’s polite.
“Some stop, but one time when I said I needed the ramp to be put down they drove away”, she said.
“I just want to know that I can get the bus without aggravation and that people won’t look at me in a bad way.”
Afraid of getting the bus, Ms Barnes, who now works as a disability sports trainer, has to take expensive taxis or rely on lifts from her sister.
She is not alone in finding drivers unaccommodating. Vince Gillespie, disability rights advocate for charity Choice in Hackney, said he has dealt with many clients who have been left sitting at bus stops.
“I’ve witnessed incidents where bus drivers have said the ramp isn’t working and just drive off. If they are running late they don’t want to bother,” he said.
“One time it was pouring with rain and the driver said the bus was full when there was a buggy which could have been folded. Wheelchair users are meant to have a priority over the space, but he just said he was full and drove off.”
Catherine Love, who works for Hackney charity Disability Backup, agreed it was a regular problem, she said: “Some Forum members have said that buses don’t stop for wheelchair users, and often people are left waiting at bus stops.
“Many people find the bus drivers to be rude and inconsiderate and find travelling on buses inaccessible.”
While bendy buses are the best for wheelchair access, Ms Love said the drivers often don’t use the ramps correctly meaning they can get stuck.
She also added: “Some new buses say “wheelchair coming on board” which can be embarrassing for a user and cause the whole bus to stare.”
Despite having no movement in her lower body, Ms Barnes is still very active and has proved determined in rebuilding her life since she became disabled.
Last year she played wheelchair badminton for England in the Four Nations tournament and returned home with two silver medals.
She says she has tried to complain to Transport for London, but because she didn’t have all the information about the bus they would not take her case further.
A TfL Spokesperson said: “We take the issue of accessibility very seriously. Unless their bus is full, drivers should always stop for passengers at bus stops, including those in wheelchairs.
“If passengers do have problems boarding a bus we would encourage them to contact London Buses Customer Services. We can then investigate the incident and can take steps to rectify any recurring problems with the bus operators involved.”
The spokesperson also said that all bus drivers complete disability awareness training within their first year and must complete five days’ training every five years.