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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Disabled Access to Stagecoach Supertram in Sheffield

Something has bewildered me for some time. It's that normally, when I'm on a bus in Sheffield, if none of the Priority seats are free, other passengers usually offer me a seat when they see my walking stick or crutches. However, when I take the tram, this virtually never happens. I have no idea why tram passengers don't do this when bus passengers do.

Offering me a seat is immensely helpful. Standing up for any period of time, even short periods, causes me pain. Balancing on a moving vehicle with only one free hand, or no free hands (depending on whether I'm using one or two crutches) is really difficult, when my balance is already bad. And being able to sit down, even for a short journey, helps to delay the inevitable exhaustion, which means I can hopefully get a bit more done, wherever I'm going.

Since I had surgery a month ago, I have needed to sit down more. Standing up causes me much more pain, and even the slightest things tire me out.

So, this morning, I emailed Supertram about this, saying:
Dear Supertram,

I use the buses and trams regularly in Sheffield, and whenever I take a bus, if there are no free seats, I am nearly always offered a seat when someone sees that I am using crutches or a walking stick. However, when I take the tram, I am virtually never offered a seat.

I do not know why this is the case, but people on buses seem to have a lot more respect for the 'Please give up this seat if a disabled person needs it' type signs than they do on trams.

It makes my tram journeys very difficult and painful, and is putting me off using them at all.

I was wondering if there is anything you feel you could do to help with this situation. I am obviously aware that there are people with invisible disabilities who would have every right to keep their seat, but that cannot be the case for everybody who stays in the 'disabled priority' seats when there are disabled people clearly struggling with standing.

The first things that come to my mind in terms of what you can do, are awareness raising campaigns on the trams themselves, and more proactive action from the conductors in this area.

I would appreciate your thoughts on the situation,

The response I received was, frankly, awful. They are taking no responsibility for their role and show no acknowledgement at all of my concerns.

They say:
I was concerned to hear that you find it difficult to use the priority seating if another passenger is already there. In the first instance I would suggest that you politely asked the passenger if they would leave the seat to enable you to use it . I agree with your point that some passengers may have an invisable inpairement [sic] but the seats are clearly marked and there should be no problem in the majority of cases. Experience has shown that not all passengers who warrant the use of the priority seats wish to do so and although I would expect conductors to assist when requested they will not always do so automatically. I will pass on your comments re awareness training but feel that the best way to "educate" able bodied passengers to give up the seats is if they are asked to do so by other passengers.

It's a cop-out. I feel, more strongly than ever, that they need to look at the 'Priority seats for disabled people' signs and see that whatever they currently have up is not doing the job, as people are paying no attention. There are only a few available seats which don't involve going up steps, so these need to be seriously prioritised. In addition, training the ticket inspectors in assisting disabled passengers to find a seat could be an effective way of combating the problems.

Interestingly, I was sent the link to this government consultation on Improving Bus Passenger Services today, and learned that:
7.9 We are seeking views on further ways to ensure stricter enforcement of the duties of drivers, inspectors and conductors with regard to disabled people. Conduct Regulations set out the duties of drivers/ conductors of regulated public service vehicles with respect to passengers in wheelchairs and other disabled persons. DfT’s guidance specifies that passengers who are not disabled but are occupying the wheelchair space could be asked to move to allow a passenger in a wheelchair to board, provided that there is room for the passenger to move elsewhere on the bus and the seating and standing capacity will not be exceeded. Drivers are also required to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of their passengers.

7.10 The Public Service Vehicles Accessibility Regulations stipulate that there should be clear signage for the priority seat and the wheelchair space on the bus. The Department is committed to delivering transport that works for everyone. We have therefore been considering how enforcement of these regulations can be improved. Stricter compliance with the Conduct Regulations would go a long way in ensuring that the wheelchair space is available for a passenger in a wheelchair.

7.11 We therefore seek views on measures to ensure stricter compliance with the regulations in general, particularly on whether introduction of financial sanctions against operators who persistently breach any aspect of the regulations, would be useful.

Now, while this regulation is regarding buses, the trams in Sheffield provide a very similar service, and should take account of the current regulation and proposed changes. My safety is certainly compromised when I have to stand on their vehicles.

I don't know what steps to take next. I was hoping that a response from Stagecoach would be helpful and open to looking at improvements. However, their huge failure to take what I have requested into account has really disappointed me.


holizz said...

You shouldn't need to be doing this, but the next steps I'd advise, in no particular order are:
- Try to contact someone more senior at the tram company.
- Talk to the council.
- Talk to people with disabilities advocacy groups.
- Write to your local paper.

Good luck, and keep us updated on your progress.

incurable hippie said...

Thanks Holizz - all good ideas. And I'll definitely keep you informed.

Claire said...

(Commenting from phone, hope it works!)
First off, writing to or emailing the Star is a good plan. Re local advocacy groups, would recommend Inclusive Living Sheffield as someone to contact.

Second, I've been musing on why this is the case on trams when it isn't so much on buses. I think it might be caused by the way trams are set out- if you are on a bus, there is very little space to stand, and someone wobbling about and having trouble standing is very much in the face of the other passengers. On the tram, you're unlikely to be standing right in the eyeline of the people in the accessible seats, and out of sight= more likely out of mind. None of this excuses selfish people or the crap attitude of Supertram of course, but it is interesting to speculate on why people act as they do...

incurable hippie said...

Claire, cheers for the ILS idea, and I may well contact The Star. It'll all be next week I should think.