Sunday, 5 February 2017

Using A Bus To Drive A Big Fat Wedge Between Us

Today I'm going to talk about buses again. Which you might think mundane because you able bodied folk can afford to take them for granted. There's absolutely no prospect of you being denied the opportunity to get on board a bus. Not unless you've just thrown up the evening's alcohol intake and it's all over your shirt. Yet for wheelchair users doubt about whether they'll be allowed to travel with the other Loser Cruiser passengers is the stark reality of the situation. I drive so I really only use buses when my intention is to drink enough alcohol that it ends up all over my shirt, but I have enough painful experience to know that when I see that 10A heading towards the bus stop it does not necessarily mean that my wait is over.

A bit of background. In January of this year a man called Doug Paulley took successful action against First Bus at the Supreme Court. He had been denied access to a bus in 2012 when a woman with a pushchair refused to move to accommodate him. The Supreme Court ruled that bus drivers need to do more to accommodate wheelchair users even if there are already people on board with pushchairs. None of which helped wheelchair user Kirsty Shepherd when she tried to get on a bus in Wakefield just five days after the Supreme Court ruling. In fact, this particular bus driver went that extra mile in his bid to avoid helping Kirsty on to the bus, and if he could humiliate and demonise her into the bargain then so much the better. Not only did the driver not ask anyone to move to accommodate Kirsty, he still refused to let her on to the bus even when the person with the pushchair voluntarily offered to move.

An argument ensued and this is where the lines get blurred. When I'm in this situation I tend to let the bus go. The 10A stops outside my local every 10 minutes so it's really not worth getting into a shouting match with a jobsworth driver who hasn't lived a day in my life and would cry himself to sleep at night if he had to. What-fucking-ever. Be the bigger man. Yet why should Kirsty take my view? She may have needed to be somewhere more important than The Running Horses and the bus she was trying to catch may have been less regular. None of which matters anyway. It's 2017. She ought to be able to ride a fucking bus when she wants or needs to for whatever purpose. Yet because she chose to argue her case instead of taking the hit and catching the next one which, remember, offered no guarantee of accommodating her either, the other passengers became restless. They started shouting at her to get the next bus because they had homes to go to. Note that they did not shout at the driver to just let her on. Why not? The woman in the accessible space had moved so there was room for Kirsty, yet she was vilified by the public. The same public we are repeatedly told are no longer prejudiced against anyone regardless of race, gender, DISABILITY, religion, sexual orientation, rugby league persuasion....all that. It's such horse shit. Prejudice is alive and well in 2017.

For a delicious encore, and after Kirsty had met with the same resistance from the driver's manager over the telephone, the driver refused to continue the journey and made everyone get off the bus!!! Now, you can imagine what happened to Kirsty's approval rating in a quick poll among those passengers. Yet they were directing their fury in the wrong place. I would have every sympathy with them in having to stand around in the cold on a freezing January night had they not chosen to make Kirsty the bad guy. Who knows...? Perhaps a little more support for Kirsty among the other passengers could have resulted in a quicker resolution for everyone.

What it tells us that you able bodied lot, instinctively and by your nature, still want to blame us for the fact that the law says you have to adapt. Relations between wheelchair users and single mums are at an all-time low and not just because of the behaviour of me and my mates on a Saturday night. There's only so much space on a bus for wheelchairs and pushchairs and instead of spending money to create more the government would rather drive a big fat wedge between bus passengers who use wheelchairs and pushchairs and those who don't, all the while boasting about what strides we have made in equality and diversity.

Arriva, the company which runs the bus, said that it had had 'extensive conversations with Ms Shepherd about the incident' and that it was 'investigating this as a matter of urgency'. In addition, it said that it was 'in the process of downloading the CCTV footage and speaking to those involved'. So, I can expect to never again be told by any Arriva driver that I can't board his bus, can I? And presumably this disability-hating Disciple Of The Alt Right bus driver will lose his job?

You'll forgive me if I remain sceptical.

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