All aboard at National Express – next stop, wheelchair user rights!

By Susan Cook from Transport for All, member of the AGM Army

7 May 2015

I headed to the National Express AGM full of trepidation for what lay ahead and terrified of the chance of failure! However after an eventful start getting through the backstage route and taking a turn in the South Bank Centre  goods lift, I was happy to enter to a video about how they support veterans – fuel to my fire for when it was my turn to ask a question!

We all sat through the Director’s reports and then it was time to ask them for priority access on their services as wheelchair users. National Express is the only major bus company still running a “first come, first served” policy in their wheelchair bay. Except they don’t even call it a wheelchair bay: apparently it’s a “wheelchair/pushchair/mobility scooter bay”. This means that wheelchair users like me wishing to board are frequently refused entry when there’s a buggy in the wheelchair bay. We want every bus company to enforce a wheelchair priority policy so that drivers know they must ask buggy users to move and make space for disabled people to get on.

Using the amazing template from Transport for All, I ad-libbed some of my own experiences and quoted their own policy back to them. I started with a description of how it would be against their community policy to stop the veterans they’re trying to help, by not allowing them access to the buses they would wish to travel on! National Express say that safety is one of their key values: I pointed out that it is not safety conscious to stop wheelchairs from travelling in the wheelchair bay, or leaving them on the side of the road. And I spoke of my own experience seeing TEN buses go by and refuse to let me board, without a single driver asking a buggy user to make room.

To this, their Director and Chairman both agreed that they should work on it and we now just have to set a date to meet, and guarantee wheelchair priority in the bays on their buses. I also got an agreement by the Birmingham manager to let me visit their depot, meet some of the drivers and potentially sit in on their driver training to help them move forward.

Following on from this experience, I’m really looking forward to more efforts within the AGM Army in conjunction with ShareAction and Transport for All to improve access for people with disabilities on public transport.

Thanks Susan! Find out more about the AGM Army.

Transport for All is the organisation representing older and disabled transport users. We campaign for transport that disabled people can use with the same freedom and independence as everyone else.

Colette St-OngeAll aboard at National Express – next stop, wheelchair user rights!