Yesterday I travelled to London by train, then across London by bus. This 3 buses there, and 3 buses back.
That's quite a lot of bus!
The journey out was uneventful.
The journey back was another story.
At the bus stop there was mum 1 with a buggy waiting next to me, for the same bus. We chatted a bit.
The first bus wasn't very full, and the wheels space was empty.
As she got on, she asked the driver to put the ramp down for me.
"No, sorry. We can't have a buggy and a wheelchair on the same bus."
"But we can both fit safely!"
"Nothing I can do. It's company policy."
Mum 1 started to get off the bus so I could get on, willing to stand in the cold for longer for my sake - but given that she had a young child, and I had ages before my train was due, I decided I'd wait for the next one.
The next bus to arrive already had a buggy on. Fortunately the driver didn't bat an eyelid, let down the ramp, the mum shifted the buggy so we shared the space quite happily.
I reached the next change-over point without problem.
The next bus arrived. I'd been communicating with mum 2 with a buggy through gestures (I'm not sure whether her English wasn't good, or she was hearing impaired, but either way: gestures worked) we were both awaiting the 29 bus, which was, at last, approaching, and fingers crossed we could both get on.
Mum 3 with a buggy was already on the bus. The ramp came down and as I went up, the driver checked which stop I wanted to get off. Being me, I couldn't remember! It was half an hour away and I'd planned to check my phone to remind myself once I was on the bus. I settled into my space without problem - the buggy was moved to let me in.
As we drove off I realised that I'd inadvertently left mum 2 at the stop. I felt bad. Disappointed for her, and hoping that she and her child wouldn't get too cold. I didn't hear anyone ask mum 3 if she could fold her buggy, nor asking mum 2 that same question.
3 minutes later at another stop, the driver popped back to where I was sat and checked which stop I was headed for. I'd worked it out by this time, so I could answer.
All was going well.
Until 10 minutes later he pops his head around my corner again "I'm really sorry. Our schedule has been changed and we have to terminate at Mornington Crescent -a few stops before you want to get off. Will you be OK from there?"
I checked the route of my next bus - it had a stop 20m from our terminating stop, so it was actually fine. But it was really nice - and reassuring - that he took the time to check I would be OK rather than just kicking me off. Looking back though I feel a bit strange. He treated me so well - as a disabled person I was clearly high priority - which is a big change from the second-rate treatment we often get (access to posh venues through the bin stores, being a speaker at an event where they forget to make the stage accessible, being treated as if asking for access is a nuisance etc), but at the same time we'd left mum 2 behind, and the same effort hadn't gone into finding a solution for her.
I was left thinking:
1. What really is the policy/procedure for carrying buggies and wheelchairs on London buses? Can they take more than one at once? The variation between drivers means the policy isn't clearly understood by them all. And if it really does only allows one buggy OR one wheelchair, it's a bit daft (I say this as a retired Environmental Health Officer, qualified to enforce health and safety in various places, as well as a wheelchair user.)
2. Being left at a bus stop because a small child is in your space sucks.
3. Leaving a small child out in the cold because you are in the space they need also sucks.
Yes, driver training might help, but I think perhaps what will help most is a pragmatic and practical policy based on 'how can we safely fit the maximum number of wheelchairs AND buggies onto our buses'. Not 'which takes priority', but 'how can we take everyone.'
Except at rush hour when the bus is fit to burst and people have to be left behind -wheels or not. Then, perhaps, the answer is more buses at that time of day.