The Blind (SVI) and bus travel
Untold challenges in every day life)
Today along with other blind (sorry Seriously Visually Impaired) colleagues I have been riding the buses and gathering evidence with regards to the lack of understanding bus companies, drivers and other employees have of the daily challenges we face.
We started the day from the center of Birmingham, which I had reached by using my local bus service, others used local trains but they were to all of us “familiar journeys” so were considered outside the scope of today’s challenge.
Why are we doing this? Well the EU passed a law requiring all bus drivers to have disability awareness training on an annual basis, OUR Government has elected to take the EU fudge option and differed the introduction of this regulation for the maximum 5 years, however, the Transport Minister has sated he will review that option later this year if there is evidence based complaints to overturn the desertion.
We had with the group a sighted guide who would operate and record what we encountered in an honest manner.
Our Journey started when we took the 900 service bus from Birmingham to Coventry, an express bus, but only as far as National Exhibition center and main line train station with connections to the Airport. which adjoin the railway station.
The first challenge was to find the bus stop we attended at the location provided by the journey planner but found 3 bus shelters, 2 bus stops each of which were used by multiple bus services, both those provided by the dominant carrier (National Express Bus) and its smaller rivals.
Our first challenge was locating the bus stop and boarding the service no 900 (express bus) which was a misleading sales term;
In Digbeth the footpath is very narrow there are 3 bus shelters, 2 bus stops and numerous (more than 10) buses that are designated to stop there.
I thought I was stood at the right spot with my bus hailer system clearly showing 900, that was until a member of the public sought confirmation of the bus I wished to catch and politely told me I was standing 40 feet from where I needed to be, he guided me to the right spot, and shortly afterwards the bus arrived, stopped virtually in front of me lowered the platform (nodding) so it was easier for me to board. The driver spoke confirmed the bus number and that it went to me desired destination, and that of course he would let me know when I was there.
A few stops later we had a crew driver no 1 was clearly heard updating the relief driver re my request.
The bus was noisy crowded and dirty (waste food and cans on the floor) but we arrived at the NEC after one “express” route along the bye pass otherwise we stopped at every shadow along the way.
There was no indication from our new driver to advise us of the fact we had arrived at our destination and we left the bus late (as others started to board) he confirmed we were at the NEC no apology for forgetting us and no real help in location our next bus service, only the words” somewhere over the other side, mate”
We crossed the road, like all blind, sorry SVI, people with great care and trepidation, finding our stop which was sonly serviced by 3 services easily.
A short time afterward a bus arrived 966 which were to take us (Express) to Solihull.
The driver spoke with a heavy eastern European accent; it took several attempts to establish that he driving a 966 bus but that it was operated by VIP services not National Express.
This not so express service took us all around housing estates where the roads I am told were too narrow for two cars to pass side, bye side, but we eventually arrived in a clean and differently configured bus which had seat belts (lap straps) for all seats in Solihull but again the driver failed to advise us of our arrival.
After a short food and comfort break ( we had been travelling more than 2 hours so far) we sought out the no 37 bus for our return to Birmingham. On this and only this occasion did our sighted observer/ guide cheat and direct us to the relevant stop as the bus(37) was due to leave.
An Inspector asked us to wait as they had some issues, and a few minutes later we were allowed to board, As I swiped my pass, I sought confirmation from the driver, as no greeting or route information had been offered, that it was a number 37 bus, I was stunned to hear him say “no it’s a 73” I question if its destination was Birmingham, he confirmed this but pointed out that a no 37 leaving from around the corner took half the time to get to Birmingham that he did.
We left and waited around the corner as it was we are told advertised that this was a bus every 5 minutes.
We were amongst the last to board and the driver responded to our questions re Birmingham as his destination and that it was a no 37, this information wasn’t offered to clearly SVI passengers.
Young people occupied the disabled seats and were in no mood to relinquish them this was our first encounter with a single decked bus and we all had issues locating the card reader, and again little or no help other then, “left a bit, right a bit, etc” was offered.
Shortly after leaving the bus stopped and we again encountered a change of crew, our observer noted that there was no interaction between drivers re the SVI passengers who were trying to get to Birmingham and need to be informed of their destination.
We left the bus early (Birmingham outdoor Market) and took the train home.
The service is reliable in that it turns up and transports the masses for a reasonable fare
- We marked many things and on a scale of 1-10 where 1 was poor there were numerous 0-4 scores recorded.
- Either the drivers are no disability aware or are too busy/ lazy to adhere to company policy on treating the disabled.
- The Government is complacent over disability training and it should as a matter of urgency impose not only the EU requirements but stronger (with teeth) regulations that really do empower the disabled to sue public transport, it would reduce mental health and other NHS costs caused by loneliness and isolation.
- Services advertised as express should be that and not stop at every shadow along the highway to drop or collect passengers. Speed and comfort are important to entice people onto the bus services and to retain them.
- That the removal of RTI systems from bus shelters accessed by the RNIB react system ensured we had time table and location information. The current totem poles offer real time text information and the service numbers of buses using that stop, all of which is useless for the SVI customer.
- The signs identifying the actual bus stop are too small and should be the size of one of the windows, to advertise whats on offer and to ensure that there is no doubt which stop one is waiting at.
Tomorrow its Oxfords turn, Thursday Stafford/ Stoke on Trent and Friday we are back in Birmingham
If you are interested in this work, and especially if you are a Bus Company executive, an MP or parish / local Councillor, please come and walk a mile ion MY shoes, understand the daily challenges we face and the clear and present danger we encounter when doing what most of you take for granted.