I got on the 109 bus at Kells. I was heading to Dublin. Being at home just once every two months means that’s how often I now rely on Bus Eireann to get me around.
I was now late for an appointment with my hairdressers in O’Connell St and the bus journey was taking ages, feeling like it was stopping at every gate along the route.
We reached Dunshaughlin, after what seemed like an age. I was sitting on the inside on the bottom of the double decker as we stopped and saw a number of people queuing, including a young guy, who was a wheelchair user.
Others got on the bus and paid their fare. It became apparent that the wheelchair user, who I’d say was in his late teens / early twenties, was accompanied by two girls.
‘Can you put the ramp down please?’ Asked the young guy, who looked quite cool, wearing a nice baseball hat.
‘We’ve no room for you’, says the driver despite there being many empty seats.
The bus driver left his seat, moving towards the door of the bus. ‘Have you booked a seat?’, he asked with a raised voice. ‘No’, said the young wheelchair user. ‘I didn’t know I had to’.
‘Can you get out of that thing?’ asked the driver. ‘No, I can’t, I need my chair’.
Then, the driver told the guy that he was supposed to book a wheelchair seat on the bus 24 hours beforehand. I’ll say that again. As a wheelchair user, you have to book your place on Bus Eireann a day before you need the bus. The young gent mentions that he normally drives himself and never has any problem using Dublin Bus.
After some discussion outside the bus, one of the guys friends walks onto the bus in front of him. The other behind him. Immediately, there’s a problem. It’s possible for the wheelchair user to get on the bus but they would have to remain in the aisle beside the driver because the coach seats downstairs are wider than regular double decker seats and there’s no room for a wheelchair.
The wheelchair user must rely on his companions, two girls of a similar age to him, to actually physically lift him from his chair into the seat.
One friend checks he’s OK, while the other dismantles his chair and puts it in the luggage hold.
He never complains, never moans, he just gets on with it.
As a national carrier, I can’t believe that Bus Eireann decided to add buses to their fleet that are not actually fully accessible 100% of the time. In a 2007 press release, they mention these coaches are “fully accessible”.
As it happens, when I was returning to Kells on the 2030 109 bus, some seats were removed to allow wheelchair access. I had never seen that before. Picture this, you’re a double decker in Dublin, you get on the bus and turn right. Then to your left is the stairs, to your right is a wheelchair space. This is the space where the seats were removed from. This space should always be available for those who actually need it.
None of us know what’s around the corner and if we were in a wheelchair, we, I, would like to be able to pop into town for the afternoon. Imagine having to constantly decide what you’re doing in 24 hours time. You can’t be late going and you then can’t be late for the return journey. You meet a friend, you can’t allow yourself to stay an extra few minutes for a chat. The one thing that’s taking away your freedom is the one thing that gives you freedom. Your wheelchair.
To the young gentleman wheelchair user, I’m sorry. I didn’t say anything to you as I didn’t want to embarrass you. I’m sorry you had to rely on your friends / sisters to lift you from your chair. You and your friends dealt with the situation with maturity and dignity. Bus Eireann, do something about your despicable rule.
Update 9 July 2015:
I had a call from Trevor in Customer Services today. They are investigating and I’ve asked to be kept updated with what is happening.
Trevor told me that he would firstly find out who the driver was and what model of bus was being used on the route. He did admit that he cringed as he read the post.