Bus drivers refusing to allow wheelchair users onto buses where the wheelchair space is either unoccupied or occupied by people who can readily and reasonably move are committing a crime. They should be prosecuted, given a £500 fine and 3 penalty points. Then they should have the consequences for their employment consequent to being convicted of a crime they have perpetrated whilst working.
Here’s the ins and outs.
S24 of the Public Passenger Vehicle Act 1981 states that everybody must comply with regulations under that Act under pain of being tried “on summary conviction” i.e. in magistrates’ court (thus a criminal record), “a fine not exceeding level 2 on the standard scale” (£500) and, for bus drivers subject to the Act, “the conviction to be endorsed upon the licence“. On the Government’s list of endorsements, the only appropriate code seems to be M60 “Offences not covered by other codes (including offences relating to breach of requirements as to control of vehicle)” – 3 points lasting 4 years.
The “Conduct Regulations” are one set of those regulations. These are properly and snappily titled “The Public Service Vehicles (Conduct of Drivers, Inspectors, Conductors and Passengers)(Amendment) Regulations 2002“. Read the Conduct Regulations (PDF). Amongst other things, they say:
12.—(1) This regulation applies (subject to regulation 15(1) (duties requiring the proper functioning of equipment)) in relation to a driver and a conductor of a Schedule 1 vehicle.
(2) If there is an unoccupied wheelchair space on the vehicle, a driver and a conductor shall allow a wheelchair user to board if—
(a) the wheelchair is of a type or size that can be correctly and safely located in that wheelchair space, and
(b) in so doing, neither the maximum seating nor standing capacity of the vehicle would be exceeded.
(3) For the purpose of paragraph (2), a wheelchair space is occupied if—
(a) there is a wheelchair user in that space; or
(b) passengers or their effects are in that space and they or their effects cannot readily and reasonably vacate it by moving to another part of the vehicle.
(“A Schedule 1 vehicle” simply means a wheelchair accessible bus.)
So if you’re not allowed on a bus in your wheelchair, and the wheelchair space is either empty or there’s somebody in the space who can “readily and reasonbly” move to another bit of the bus, call the police and report the driver.
So: take a recent situation.
- Kirsty Shepherd, a wheelchair user from Wakefield, was refused access to a bus because there was a baby buggy in the buggy space.
- This bus had a separate buggy and wheelchair space: so the wheelchair space was free.
- The wheelchair space was empty.
- Kirsty quite rightly protested at not being allowed on, and insisted on speaking to the driver’s boss, so the driver phoned his boss on his mobile.
- The boss told Kirsty that Kirsty could catch the bus.
- The boss told the driver that Kirsty could catch the bus.
- The driver still refused.
- The boss told Kirsty, again, that she could catch the bus.
- The boss told the driver again to let Kirsty on.
- The driver still refused – then terminated the bus, telling everybody to get off.
- The driver told the other customers that Kirsty had terminated the bus.
- Everybody got off and most of the passengers shouted at Kirsty for being “selfish”.
- The driver shouted at Kirsty, accusing her of terminating the bus.
- Kirsty told the driver to put the bus back into service
- The bus drove off with all the passengers back on board. Even the mum with the pushchair in the pushchair space. But the wheelchair space was still empty – because Kirsty was still not allowed on.
- Kirsty, understandably very distraught, successfully caught the next bus, 40 minutes later. So did somebody else with a pushchair. They simply occupied the pushchair space and the wheelchair space respectively, without an issue, as Kirsty has done many times before.
On Monday (3 days ago) Arriva said they were “investigating this as a matter of urgency“. So I emailed Arriva pointing out that the driver had committed a criminal offence, and that
I expect you to act precisely as you would if a driver had conducted another criminal offence whilst on duty, for example drink driving or assaulting somebody. You are under a duty to report this matter for prosecution, or to place an information before the magistrates. You will also of course have to deal with any other matters, but refusal to allow a wheelchair user on board when the wheelchair space is free is a specific criminal offence in and of itself. I look forward to hearing that you have treated this criminal offence with the seriousness it deserves.
I got a read receipt for my email. So I know they got it.
Arriva have today issued an apology. Apparently, Arriva:
said there had been “a genuine misinterpretation” of company policy and that the company’s policy was complicated by the many different configurations of buses in the fleet.
A genuine misinterpretation?! The law couldn’t be clearer: if the wheelchair space is free the driver MUST allow a wheelchair user on. What’s more the driver’s boss told him, repeatedly, that he must allow Kirsty on in her wheelchair. If the driver believed this is company policy, that doesn’t say much for the driver! If the driver similarly believed company policy required him to break speed limits and to drive while drunk, would he do so? As to the supposed confusion over “different configurations“: what?!
So what are Arriva doing following their driver’s criminal behaviour whilst driving their bus?
- The company is to distribute new signs to “clarify the position regarding wheelchair access” to its bus fleet
- The company is also to issue a driver briefing as part of its disability awareness training
- The driver is going on his usually yearly update, that might cover disability awareness and wheelchairs
- The driver’s manager will have a word with him, just like he did during the incident
- The company said sorry to Kirsty.
- …That’s it.
NB: To her eternal credit, despite being absolutely humiliated by the driver’s treatment of her and him blaming her to other passengers, Kirsty went to the media and achieved widespread coverage. (She’s marvelous.) So this isn’t just how Arriva deal with drivers’ criminal behaviour, it’s how they do so under a publicity spotlight.
Arriva evidently don’t report, suspend or sack drivers who commit crimes whilst driving
So next time you’re on an Arriva bus, don’t complain if the driver verbally assaults someone, foments hatred among passengers leading to a likely breach of the peace, if he refuses somebody based purely on prejudice against their race then blames them for terminating the bus, shouts at them for no good reason, or whatever, because quite clearly Arriva expect and tolerate such illegal discrimination and hate crimes.
Other criminal offences
Drivers’ failures to do any of the following are also criminal offences under the Conduct Regulations, also meriting a £500 fine, 3 points and a criminal record:
||Deploy the ramp when a wheelchair user wants to get on or off
||Operate the kneeling mechanism when needed and on request
||Assist disabled people to get on or off the bus, if needed
||Carry a means of manually operating automatic ramps if they break
||Ensure wheelchair users can access and exit of the wheelchair space
||Ensure wheelchair users are in the space before continuing driving
I therefore urge wheelchair users to call the police if a driver fails to deploy the ramp on request (e.g. in response to the blue bell)
An interesting corollary: drivers are obliged to allow wheelchair users onto the bus if passengers or their effects are in the wheelchair space and they cannot readily and
reasonably vacate it by moving to another part of the bus, irrespective of whether or no those passengers actually move. Drivers are then obliged to make sure that any wheelchair user is correctly and safely positioned in a wheelchair space. Should the wheelchair user be unable to get access to said wheelchair space because said passengers refuse to move, an interesting stalemate should develop where the bus driver refuses to drive the bus until the non-disabled person vacates the space. As identified by Lord Toulson:
There is therefore an apparent tension in the regulation, because regulation 12(2) requires the driver to permit a wheelchair user to board if there is an unoccupied wheelchair space, which includes a space physically occupied by a person who could readily and reasonably move elsewhere, but for as long as that person remains in the wheelchair space the vehicle must not be driven.