Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson has said it is important to highlight what has been branded by national disability campaigners as “humiliating” and “unacceptable” – the actions of a Kingston bus driver who drove away and left a teenage wheelchair user in the freezing cold. Melody Powell, 17, was left stranded at the bus stop outside Primark in Kingston after a 71 bus driver could not take the time to extend the wheelchair ramp a second time – after the first deployment left the ramp blocked by the bus stop itself. Melody, who was filming the wheelchair ramp to show her boyfriend in America, caught the whole shameful event on camera.
She posted it on Facebook and said: “A kind lady tried to explain to the driver but he simply shut the doors and drove off with my friend on the bus, leaving me alone and in the cold.” Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, paralympian and TfL board member, said: “I want the public transport system to be accessible by all. It’s important cases like this are highlighted in order to help everyone to understand why disabled people should have the same opportunity as everyone else.” Liz Sayce, CEO of Disability Rights UK, said: “In the past there were no ramps to get on to buses at all. Disabled people fought long and hard to change that – so now we do have more accessible buses.
“But what use is that if disabled people still can’t get on them? We also fought for a law that says companies must not put us at a disadvantage when we travel. “All disabled people want is to be able to travel like anyone else – so we can get to work, see family and friends, go shopping. It’s humiliating to leave people stranded at bus-stops and it is unacceptable in 21st century Britain.” Melody’s mother told the Surrey Comet she feared the experience on February 5, would stop her daughter using buses on her own again.
Ann Macfarlane, a wheelchair user and patron of Kingston Centre for Independent Living, said she had hundreds of problem free bus journeys but added “there’s always the odd one”. She said: “It’s freezing cold, I’ve sat at the bus stop and been denied getting on because it’s full of push chairs, it’s very serious as we don’t have the ability to keep ourselves warm. “It’s really important that she [Melody] doesn’t give up, that would be a shame.” Rosemary Frazer, campaigns manager at disability charity Scope, said: “Disabled people have to face this type of behaviour in all areas of their life. “Physical access to our transport network, shops, and leisure facilities is important, but it must be backed up by a change in staff attitudes to be effective.
“We are pleased to hear that Transport for London is taking this incident seriously and the bus operator is investigating. “They should challenge the driver’s attitude and ensure that all staff have disability awareness training to make sure this doesn’t happen again. “We hope that it doesn’t dent Melody’s confidence, and she continues to use public transport. “If we want to disabled people to live independently, get to work, school or college and be a part of their community they must be able to use public transport like everybody else.”
Transport for All director Faryal Velmi said: “What happened to Melody happens all over town every day in London unfortunately – there is still a massive issue. “What we need to happen is more and more people like Melody making a big deal about it, we need people to complain.” Tony Akers, TfL’s head of bus operations, said: “I am very sorry to learn of this passenger’s experience.
“We expect the highest of standards from bus drivers and in this case they were clearly not met. “We have spoken to the bus operator, London United, and they are investigating. “We take accessibility extremely seriously. London has the largest fully accessible bus network in the world, serving the entire Greater London area and running to key towns over the boundary into neighbouring counties. “The entire fleet of 8,900 buses are low-floor, wheelchair accessible and are fitted with ramps for ease of boarding.”