Disabled access concern on new bus

A FAMILY claims that hundreds of thousands of pounds have been wasted on new double-decker buses that are unsuitable for wheelchair-bound passengers.The First bus group, which operates buses in Suffolk, has now pledged to investigate the problems and meet with the complainants.

By Richard Smith

A FAMILY claims that hundreds of thousands of pounds have been wasted on new double-decker buses that are unsuitable for wheelchair-bound passengers.

The First bus group, which operates buses in Suffolk, has now pledged to investigate the problems and meet with the complainants.

Thomas O'Brien, of Mayfields, Martlesham Heath, has been campaigning for years for the provision of buses that can be easily used by people in wheelchairs.


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But he says he was disappointed his complaints and lobbying had been ignored and now his 18-year-old son Luke cannot use the new buses on the Superoute 66 service into Ipswich.

Luke suffers from cerebellar ataxia and he is confined to an electric wheelchair. He was able to use the former single-decker buses with some difficulty to attend his course at Suffolk College and to watch Ipswich Town play.

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The buses had an electric access ramp. The new buses have a ramp that needs to be unfolded by the driver or a carer, and inside the vehicle there is not enough room for a wheelchair to manoeuvre.

Andrew Hunter, general manager (operations) for First, said: ''We have spoken to the manufacturers who have said our new buses meet the regulations as directed through the Disability Discrimination Act.

''The ramps are now manual because of the technical problems we experienced with the electronic ones. However, although the company does not discourage drivers from leaving their cab they are not obliged to on security and health and safety grounds. We have not experienced problems like this before on the new buses.''

Mr O'Brien said: ''I have often brought these issues to Suffolk County Council, First buses and our local elected representatives but despite this we find the buses recently purchased are even worse, and still my son cannot travel independently on the local bus service.

''Suffolk County Council has been quick to praise its(superoute 66) merits but it still remains unacceptable for independent disabled users.”

Luke has to take a taxi instead of a bus and he said: ''It is too hard to get on the bus so I do not use it. I slow people down and feel embarrassed. I am trying to get on and everybody is waiting there and looking at their watches.” A council spokeswoman said: ''All of these new buses comply with the Disability Discrimination Act. The county council subsidises community bus services and Dial-a-Ride for those who have difficulty travelling on public transport.''

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