Discrimination from Stagecoach

Tonight I witnessed a shockingly casual act of discrimination against a man in a wheelchair from an employee of Stagecoach Warwickshire.

I was heading home from the University of Warwick campus, where I’d been to watch some fantastic live music. I arrived at a bus stop absolutely crammed with students and the odd academic – many intending to head to Leamington Spa for an evening out, others heading home from the night.

busesThis crowd caught the (slightly delayed) 22:50 bus – the last one due for an hour. Students pushed and shoved in order to ensure they wouldn’t be left standing in the cold wind and rain. This isn’t an unusual situation; the bus service is frequently abysmal during university term times. Passengers boarding at the Arts Centre bus stop can often expect to miss several buses due to overcrowding. This isn’t such a problem in the early evening when services are more frequent, but is unacceptable at a time of night when only one bus is running every hour.

One of the people waiting at the bus stop was a wheelchair user. A large number of individuals pushed in front of him, but eventually he found his way to the front of the queue – only to be turned away by a Stagecoach employee who was managing the flow of people onto the bus.

I witnessed the argument that took place as the man was turned away. The Stagecoach employee informed him quite firmly that he was not allowed on the bus. When pressed for an explanation, he stated that there was only one wheelchair space on the bus, and that this was already occupied by another wheelchair user.

The man and his friends pointed out that there was actually space for more than one wheelchair on the bus. They put several options to the Stagecoach employee. These included placing the second wheelchair alongside the first (upon later alighting the bus, I observed that there was clearly space for this), putting the wheelchair in the space normally reserved for pushchairs, or otherwise temporarily storing the chair whilst its owner moved to sit in one of the chairs set aside for disabled users.

The stagecoach employee rejected all of these suggestions. He insisted that this type of bus could only carry one wheelchair at a time, for insurance purposes. This was because the law requires that certain things should be present: e.g. a specific amount of space, a handrail etc. There was only enough of this for one wheelchair. The crux of his argument was that by taking the wheelchair user onto the bus, Stagecoach would be breaking the law, invalidating their insurance and endangering lives through overcrowding.

Eventually the wheelchair user and his friends left, quite understandably frustrated.

The Stagecoach employee then proceeded to let abled people onto the bus until it was completely rammed. The official limit for individuals standing (according to a nice big sign on the bus) was 17, in the case of no wheelchair and minimal baggage being present. I noted plenty of baggage, a wheelchair, 28 people standing and three people sitting on the stairs. The bus was quite clearly over capacity, and dangerously so.

The hypocrisy and ableism of the Stagecoach employee was utterly blatant. It was clearly more than his job’s worth to break a rule by asking some people to move around a little to allow a wheelchair onto the bus, potentially leaving a small number of abled individuals at the back of the queue unable to board. Instead he turned away a disabled man and his friends, choosing to break a whole load more rules by allowing abled individuals to cram on board.

There are also a couple of wider issues here. The first is that Stagecoach services between the University of Warwick and Leamington Spa are not fit for service.

It is not good enough that people at the main bus stop on a university campus are regularly left standing as already (over)full buses drive past.

It is not good enough to run one service an hour late at night when existing services do not have enough room for existing passengers (many of whom have bus passes, meaning that they have already paid for the service that is not being provided).

It is not good enough that Stagecoach buses have room for only one wheelchair, particularly given the above issues. If two people using a wheelchair happen to turn up to catch the same bus, then one of those people won’t be getting a bus. This is absolutely unacceptable.

The second issue is that legislation supposedly written to ensure that disabled individuals have fair access to public services is being used to actively discriminate against people. It takes a very special kind of ignorance and privilege to officiously cite equality laws when refusing someone a service on the grounds of physical difference. Of course, disabled activists have been writing about this kind of thing for years. But it’s about time more of us paid attention.

24 thoughts on “Discrimination from Stagecoach

  1. Let’s not generalise across all of Stagecoach here, I’ve seen absolutely bloody brilliant drivers ensure superb care of students in wheelchairs on their buses before, including the driver asking where they intended to alight so that he could ensure that people might block the door when he gets off would be aware and able to assist. Some even going further and moving the entire bus to allow the student on more easily.

    • Hi Dacia,

      I agree that all Stagecoach employees are not to blame. This is why in my post I specifically highlighted that a particular employee acted in an awful manner last night.

      I too have had the luck to meet some very good people who work for Stagecoach, including drivers who go out of their way to look after passengers.

      Unfortunately, Stagecoach Warwickshire has institutional issues (e.g. issues of timetabling) that undermines the essential decency of these people.

      • Well let’s be constructive, what can actually be done to improve the status quo? The bus route is reasonably profitable, but not so to afford new buses. There’s a 45 min gap to Uni at around 7pm and a 1 hour gap from Uni at 2250 (as stated.) The buses are almost entirely new and of very high quality, this set specifically having been used for the Olympic games.

        Whilst Stagecoach I found do run their buses generally effectively (few cancellations certainly), there appears to be a student opinion that they have a sense of duty to ensure that everyone can be transported, and this legal duty simply doesn’t exist. There’s plenty of empty buses to catch throughout the day, an alternative service (the 11), and at the end of the day, if you absolutely need to be on a bus, you can get on at the Gatehouse/Sports centre. (I’m not for a moment saying Stagecoach is a shining example, I’d say Nottingham City Transport are – they offer free taxis to passengers if the final bus of the day on a particular route is cancelled and there’s no other bus service to that bus stop. Now that’s good service!)

        This leads to the question, what can they reasonably do to improve matters? Drivers absolutely hate the late night routes, a significant amount of students are loud and horribly unpleasant (I’ve caught the U1 for over 2 years.), pretty much no-one would volunteer to drive loud students around, especially on club nights.

        I’ve seen people sick on the buses, screaming as loud as they can for the entire journey and pouring alcohol directly on the floor. How do you get extra staff to run an extended service with problems this severe?

        Yours, Dacia.

        • Nottingham City Transport offer a “shining example”?

          I’ve sat at a bus stop with a disabled person on a wheelchair and watched *five* NCT buses go by, one after the other, and refuse to let the wheelchair on.

          I’ve watched them pick up elderly people and people walking with sticks who show disabled passes, and immediately accelerate away as soon as they’ve shown their pass, knocking the person to the floor.

          As NCT are funded by the city council – and rewarded on promptness, rather than how happy customers are – the drivers have no incentive to behave better. I have travelled on the Trent Barton and Yourbus services in Nottingham and this almost never happens on their services.

          When complaints are made, unlike TB/YB they automatically assume that the passenger is lying and that the driver was behaving correctly.

          But back to this example of Warwick: I’m guessing you’re *not* a disabled person? You describe “bloody brilliant drivers” ensuring “superb care”; to me, it sounds like the absolute minimum they’d be required to do to ensure that disabled people could travel safely?

          “asking where they intended to alight so that he could ensure that people might block the door when he gets off would be aware and able to assist” isn’t necessary on most buses, as they normally have a special “stop” button for disabled people that allows them to signal the driver that the wheelchair needs to get off. The fact that the driver needs to ask indicates the bus isn’t designed or maintained properly.

          “moving the entire bus to allow the student on more easily” suggests that the driver did not by default drive up to the raised part of the curb? For many people – particularly if you’re using a powered wheelchair – it’s impossible to board the bus otherwise. That’s about the bare minimum I’d expect any driver to do to accommodate a wheelchair! Bus stops are normally specially designed to make it easy for bus drivers to do this. If “making sure the wheelchair can get on at all” is “superb service”, I’m not sure I understand where you are coming from…

          • 0) NCT: I’ve never seen a bus driver not wait when a passenger has asked “Could you wait for me to be seated before you move off please”. (seriously.)

            1) With regard to the disabled bay bus bell: The disabled stop button doesn’t mean all those people standing will move out your way. (Remember how the U1 is full of standing people?)

            2) With regard to relocating the bus: The bus stops at Warwick Uni aren’t big enough for all the buses to stop (surely you’ve noticed this?), as such buses have to stop outside of the marked bus areas, the occasion I am recalling is when the bus driver acknowledged that the individual in the wheelchair would not be able to manage to come from the kerb to the bus and forced everyone who had huddled around (remember how Warwick students are pretty much all ramming on when a bus arrives) to stand back whilst he relocated and allowed the student in the wheelchair to board.

            I honestly think one of the major problems with the U1 bus service isn’t Stagecoach, it’s the students. Polite queues are rarely seen, it always reduces to a massive huddle, people try and sneak on without paying, students are obnoxiously loud, and often unpleasant. I don’t know why anyone would want to drive the U1 route late at night.

        • Maybe not a legal duty, but what about a duty of customer service? Students are paying premium prices (£2.55 for a single – more than most return services in inner city areas, and over £200 for a student bus pass) and as Stagecoach have little competition, their service being by far the most direct route to and from Leamington, they can get away with charging pretty much anything they want, and providing a comparatively poor service. While student behaviour on buses late at night can be poor, perhaps some education/stricter enforcement of rules by bus drivers would be more productive than a shrug-your-shoulders what can we do attitude.

  2. Surely rather than ableism per se this is just normalisation of deviation — the employee doesn’t want to break the wheelchairs-in-the-designated-spot, one-per-bus rule because he’s not used to breaking it, and doesn’t know what does or doesn’t happen if he does — for example, surely he’s worrying that a two chairs, one restraint and some sharp braking will result in trouble, or that his rule-breaking will come to his superiors’ attention and lead to trouble for him.

    By contrast he’s used to breaking the max-17-standing rule — he knows what happens when 18 people stand (not much) and he knows from experience that nobody actually enforces the particular rule.

    If there were more disabled people, and so he was regularly cramming multiple chairs into the notionally one-person spot, I strongly suspect he’d be much more willing to help. At the very least I see no reason to suppose that his behaviour is motivated by the hatred or at least callous disregard implied by ableism, as opposed to these sorts of concerns.

  3. This is not unique to Stagecoach. Most buses across the UK will only allow one wheelchair user at a time to board. It is, as the driver said, for insurance purposes. I’ve been on a bus in Leeds that was barely full, but the presence of a wheelchair user already on the bus meant that the driver had to refuse entry to a second. Obviously, in a big city where buses are very frequent, this is not really an issue; the wheelchair user in question accepted the driver’s decision amicably. I can see why at Warwick University it would be a much more frustrating situation. However, placing blame on the driver (no matter how tactless he may have appeared) is not the way forward. Take issue with the unreliable and infrequent bus service, or, better yet, blame the lack of facilities for disabled students provided by the university. If a shuttle bus exists to ferry drunk students the 15 minute walk from the SU to Westwood, surely a similar service could exist to get disabled students home?

    • The point is that the law also applies to how many people are permitted on the bus. He chose to break the law for the sake of a few able bodied people and their luggage, while choosing to enforce it against a disabled person. He should have either gone to capacity or (I would say this is preferable!) gone over capacity *with* the wheelchair on board. They already stated that it was one that could actually be collapsed, so really the chair becomes just another piece of luggage.

  4. I’m afraid I agree with Chris – this bus driver was perfectly right to abide by the rules regarding one wheelchair per bus – the rules are there for a good reason. As a carer for a wheelchair user, I can say that there is no way you could safely accommodate two wheelchairs on one of those buses – and even if you could, there would be no turning space for the wheelchair user to get off the bus at the end of his/her journey.
    The fact is that two wheelchairs on a bus is an unusual situation, and therefore very conspicuous. If I was the driver, I would be rightly concerned that I would be getting myself into trouble if I allowed two wheelchairs on. Allowing more people to stand on the bus is much less likely to end in accidents or discipline, because most people are capable of standing perfectly well.

  5. I’ve noticed quite a few stagecoach buses with several push-chairs on them. Do they fall under the same rules – that is, does one push-chair equate to one wheelchair as far as space and insurance and all of that? And have you found out if the rules actually stated only 1 wheelchair user? Because I’m unsure if that’s true.

  6. Firstly, from a safety perspective, the representatives of Stagecoach must enforce the rules and conditions of travel. The vehicle, being fitted with a singular accommodation for a wheelchair, by its nature can safely transport a wheelchair user and further wheelchairs could therefore not be carried safely. Stagecoach have a legal duty to provide a space for a wheelchair and have therefore complied with their legal duty. With regard to pushchairs, the driver can refuse travel to those with pushchairs, if the bus already has pushchairs on or where the bus is reaching capacity, particularly where access along the aisle may be impeded.

    As the original poster had already boarded the bus and commenced their journey, they are not aware of the actions of Stagecoach post departure of said bus. The subsequent action was to arranged for another bus to take the remaining / waiting passengers to their destination. However, as this took approximately 15 minutes to arrive, the second wheelchair user chose to seek his own alternative transport.

    I would like to take an opportunity to point out that whilst you take joy in criticising the representatives of a service provider, you have failed to acknowledge the basic principles of managing the safety and welfare of the users and the legal ramifications of breaching the regulations imposed.

    It was noted that a number of passengers where seated on the steps. Did that count take any consideration of empty seats and passengers choosing to sit on steps in order to be close to friends.

    • I’ll reply to this properly later, but I feel your comment deserves a response so here’s an initial reaction.

      Firstly, it’s great to hear that another bus was arranged for passangers left behind. In my experience this doesn’t normally happen on this route, at least not at night. However, I did not hear the individual who was turned away being informed of this.

      Secondly, there were absolutely no empty spaces on the bus. The people sitting on the stairs were doing so because there was literally no room for them to stand anywhere else, let alone stand. The bus was quite clearly overcrowded, and I’m sure anyone else who was present on it would vouch for this.

      Finally, I wish to contest your claim that I “take joy” in criticising the representatives of a service provider. No, I do not. I am not joyous about what happened. I am furious. It was thoroughly unacceptable and the treatment of the individual in question left me feeling sick to my stomach. I wanted to go home and get some sleep before an early start on Friday morning. I gained no pleasure in instead spending ages writing a blog post in order to start a conversation about what happened.

  7. I have to admit i was slightly confused when I started to read this as most busses indeed have insurance policy of only 1 wheel chair user. (Push chairs do not fall under this as they don’t need hand rails and back rests etc. However the fact that the bus driver broke the insurance policy after refusing him is abysmal. It is perfectly legal for 2 or even 3 wheel chair users to use the same bus so long as extra wheel chairs are unused and stowed safely. The person in this case was perfectly willing to do that and it’s discusting that he was refused. I have a friend who is constantly writing to bus companies due to discrimination and I think that it’s just down right disrespectful for it to still be the case.

    • Are you contesting my claim that the vehicle was overloaded?

      I would argue that 28 people standing (several of those standing forward of the “do not stand forward of this sign” sign simply because there was physically no space ofr them elsewhere) three people seated on the stairs (due to actual aforemention lack of physical lack of space to stand) the presence of a wheelchair and every seat occupied constitutes overcrowding.

      • Did the actual numbers exceed the permissible for the bus, in terms of actual head count?

        I am contesting the fact that you are making judgemental accusations, without fully appreciating the situation many of the drivers of public services are put in, not knowing their own personal circumstances, accusing them of discrimination based on a simple fact that the representatives of the service can not permit 2 wheelchair users on one bus, particularly when the users are potentially wheelchair bound rather than mobility impaired and can therefore not leave the confines of their chairs. Perhaps you would have been better going to sleep and considering your accusations more appropriately as you became what you accused others of.

        • I am going to be blunt.

          Yes, the actual numbers significantly exceeded the number permissible for the bus. I feel I have already given the relevant information necessary to support this claim, and that your defensive attitude is leading you to intentionally ignore and/or disbelieve me. I have evidence for my accusation and will be making a formal complaint.

          I entirely understand that bus drivers are put under a great deal of pressure. I feel that the abysmal behaviour of many individuals on night buses (particularly students) must place a great deal of strain on drivers. I would welcome some kind of initiative to encourage students as a body of pepole to sort out their disgusting behaviour. However, this is not the issue in hand.

          Allowing one type of people to crowd onto a bus and not another is blatant discrimination. This is particularly the case as a great number of abled people were allowed onto the bus after the wheelchair user was turned away. As other commenters have noted, the person managing the flow of people onto the bus clearly had one set of rules for disabled people and another set for abled people.

          Does this mean he was wrong to turn away a wheelchair user? Not necessarily, if he were to also turn away others for the sake of safety. This is why I concluded my post by highlighting the wider issues with company policy as a more significant structural issue. I believe that the blame is with the management of Stagecoach, not with frontline staff as a body of people.

          Finally, I should clarify that I did not refer to a “bus driver” in the original post because it was not the bus driver who turned away the wheelchair user. I am not sure what the job role of the person in question actually was. Either way, he was working for Stagecoach, and was actively managing the flow of people onto the vehicle.

          I have no idea how aware (or otherwise) the bus driver was of what happened on this occasion, nor of his power or otherwise to intervene.

          I intend to make all of the above crystal clear on my formal complaint.

  8. Just a quick question…. I see from the picture illicited from the stagecoach website, that the Uni bus is a double deck. For the sake of this discussion, did you do a physical count of both decks or is the overcrowding based on your perception of the numbers on the lower deck.

    • There were no available seats on the upper deck. Several people attempted to get seats upstairs and then came down again. There were also no people standing on the upper deck. My count was of people standing on the lower deck.

      The buses pictured in the blog post are the ones on the route in question. During mornings and evenings these buses are incredibly overcrowded on a regular basis.

  9. The U1 is a very difficult service to operate seeing as there are so many students to transport. The issue with queuing is very bad as for every bus that has any chance of being full up then it becomes a mad free-for-all.

    I had the displeasure of using the same 22:50 bus on Tuesday evening where many 1st year students are on their way to the ‘Smack’ nightclub in Leamington. The bus was definitely overfull – I was upstairs and there were definitely 10 or so people standing up there. It was also the noisiest bus I’ve ever been on (blame the drunk, rowdy Freshers). Even the post-midnight NU1 journies are not normally that bad. I felt very sorry for the driver, and if I was in that position I would probably do the same thing as otherwise safety could become an issue (people do silly things when intoxicated).

    In terms of wheelchair users, I would think that they would be better off on the 11. So many U1 buses are full up that I think it would be easier for them just to use that bus. It does not get anywhere near as much overcrowding as the U1 between Leamington and campus. There is an 11 at about 23:20 so I would recommend using that. Hopefully there aren’t so many drunkards on there! At least the U1 can now take wheelchairs (it couldn’t before 2012), but there is definitely a rule saying that the bus can only take 1 wheelchair. There are similar issues in London, but mainly with pushchairs refusing to get out of the way, or drivers alllowing on more than 1 pushchair on buses which really aren’t suitable for that purpose (I think they have allowed more space on newer buses but it is still an issue).

    Did you contact Stagecoach about this?

  10. This is horrible. Thanks for writing about it. Stagecoach is awful in general – I remember being in school when Section 28 was being repealed and the founder of Stagecoach gave tons of cash to the group who wanted to keep it in place.

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