Bearing Disability

Disability Bearing Transport

Public Transport: a blurred, moving train
Photo by Tommy Jepsen

The Problems with Public Transport

Personally, I try and avoid public transport if I can help it. You never know what you are going to get from one minute to the next. At least—you don’t if you live in the United Kingdom.

So far, I have travelled to Amsterdam and New York. I used their Public Transport without any issue. Both countries transport system are easy to use and they respect people who are actually disabled. It’s a shocker!

However, you only have to look at the news to know it is a completely different situation in this country. We are encouraged to NOT support the disabled.  It’s an ongoing issue and one I will come back to at a later date.

So what are the problems with Public Transport?

Priority Seating and Balance

When I went to New York and Amsterdam, I used their transport happily. The priority seats were always empty. Even if the normal seats had gone, people stood, leaving the priority empty and you knew which was which because of the colour of the seat.

Both countries I was able to get on the train, the tram or the subway without any issue. I was contented and happy that I could get around. Then I came back to the UK and avoided it like the plague again.

If you are disabled, you know what I am talking about but if you are not, imagine this scenario. Your disability affects your legs. You can’t balance, trip over your own feet as you step onto the bus and the driver starts to move before you pay. You struggle to stand.

Can’t imagine it?

Ok then, you’ve broken your leg. You’re on two crutches and you are waiting in line for a bus. You hobble onto the bus, crutches in hand and you scan the bus but there are no seats. The priority seats are all taken!

The bus begins to move, you scramble for your wallet to pay but you can barely stand and you still haven’t found a seat. You dump the money into the pay-box and take your ticket.

You hold both crutches in one hand and latch on to the pole. But you are struggling to balance because of your broken leg. You’re sliding left and right. You may occasionally hit your head on the pole but no one offers you a seat.

Instead, they just stare at you and then glance back down onto the phone.

Inconsiderate People

As you pass from stop to stop, people barge into you. They don’t apologise, they just grab the handrail or go upstairs. Finally, it’s your stop and you hobble off.

Bad experience, right? You’d have thought someone would have had the common decency to offer you a seat. They could see your crutches and your broken leg.

Only. I’m not in a cast. I don’t walk in crutches. But it is clear that my balance is unsteady.

This is why I avoid public transport in the UK. This is what I get every time I have tried to use the bus or the tube station. Sometimes on a train, if I could not reserve a seat!

woman sitting holding smartphone between two men and two women
Photo by on

Public Transport Anxiety

I never travel alone. Honestly, there have been times when I have been on the Tube on those few occasions I visit London. People see I am struggling to stand. See that my dad has to hold me close and tight so that I don’t fall. Yet they sit in those seats, not offering one.

I mean, I could ask for one but you never know how people are going to treat you once they learn you are disabled. It’s a scary task to actually say to someone: “excuse me, but do you mind if I have your seat?”

And it’s not just the tube station, the same happens on trams, trains, buses. You name it, it happens.

Transport Stories

I was at the airport once when a man challenged me about sitting in the priority seat area. He felt justified because I did not have a crutch or walking stick. I don’t mind being challenged but there is a way of going about it and this guy did it the wrong way. It was his tone that was the issue

It’s been on the news. Disabled people refused wheelchair spaces on the bus because a pushchair occupies the spot. One which can usually be folded up. Although the Supreme Court has ruled in favour of the disabled, the issues continue. Not long after the ruling, a bus driver refused Kirsty Shepard a spot.

I am sure there are still instances where a person in a wheelchair cannot get on the bus for one reason or another. There have been instances on other transport and recently too. The Comedian, Tanyalee Davis was recently humiliated on a train.

Davis was asked to move out of a provided wheelchair and accessibility spot to make way for a woman and her pushchair. The article was published on Tuesday, so not that long ago.

Trains Trams and Tubes

The issue isn’t just about the priority seats either. Each transport has it’s own disadvantages when you have a disability. Especially if one of those transports involve some form of a railway system.

Passengers in wheelchairs are frequently anxious about using this form of transport. Assistance is rarely available, regardless of whether the assistance was prebooked. Individuals are forced to miss their trains. Some people are left stranded on a train until help arrives, maybe at the next station.

This can lead to the individual missing their train or even being stranded on the train until someone gets them off, maybe at a station that was not their stop.

Ceri Smith, Policy Manager for the disability charity Scope, spoke on BBC Wiltshire in April and said that ‘1 in 5 disabled people who have booked assistance on a train only to find that there isn’t assistance to get off the train at their arrival station’. 

Scope, 2018

TV Broadcasts

Rip-off Britain showed one man using his footplate as a barrier between the door and the train so he could get off at his stop. The train driver tried to shut the door several times before he realised that a man was still aboard and could not get off (aired 27/06/2018).

It also stated that many trains now only operate with only the driver on shift. This makes it even harder for disabled people to get off if the assistance does not arrive.

Recently, Govia Thameslink Railway has been accused of discriminating by allegedly asking its staff that they should not help disabled passengers on a train if this is going to cause a delay. However, they have since reworded the policy, stating it could have been better expressed. The railway say that it offers assistance to all users, regardless of the delay.

Victorian train at Seven Valley railway

Victorian Infrastructor

I applaud Gloria Hunniford for her comment. She did not miss a beat when a railway spokesperson, Robert Nisbet stated that many of the railways infrastructure are Victorian :

That’s a great excuse. We’re now in the 21st century.   – Gloria Hunniford, Rip-off Britain.


However, Nisbet assures us that a half-billion investment is underway to make rail-travel step-free so wheelchair users don’t have to rely on assistance. Many companies offer a taxi to the nearest accessible station. But Taxi’s can be an issue on their own.


A friend of mine, Sophie,constantly struggles with taxis. She uses a wheelchair and quite often, she has noticed that the taxi driver will start the tariff before she is actually in the car. One time, this happened while I was in the taxi with her and I politely asked him to reset it before we began our journey. To be fair to the driver, he did.

On occasions when I haven’t been with Sophie on a journey, she has told me of instances where the driver will leave the tariff running as she is exiting the vehicle and the driver seems to unfold and refold the ramp slowly.

She has also been refused access to some taxis in the past—all with their own excuse. You can read more on Sophie‘s blog.  But Sophie isn’t alone with these taxi refusals.

An article on the BBC shows that a Disability Wales Campaign Group claims the same thing. A student at Stoke-on-Trent won a case at a trial after she was refused a taxi due to the driver believing her chair will topple over and mistakenly believing her to be drunk due to “slurred” speech. And BBC has an article about a Birmingham taxi driver who loses his licence after refusing to take someone with a guide dog.

These are just some stories in the press, but there are many more, both in the news and ones unheard.

Possible solutions


The priority seats one is not such an easy solution to fix so if anyone has any ideas, please put it in the comments.

As we have already seen, the supreme court has ruled that disabled people should have priority in disabled seats and parents with prams can be asked and be expected to move off the bus. However, it will be very hard to police.

The law has already started changing for taxi drivers, with a £1000 fine if they refuse a disabled person on any grounds that are not medical or deemed reasonable. They are also not allowed to charge more for taking anyone with a disability to their destination. Make sure they’re aware you know the law if it looks as if you’re going to have problems.

I like the idea of the step-free railway and hope to see that become a standard thing pretty soon in the future. It cannot come quickly enough.

Robert Nisbet mentioned a Passenger Assist scheme on Rip-Off Britain. The Scope representative says 4/5 disabled passengers have never heard of it. So the word needs to be spread. We as a community can do just that. Let people know they can have a conversation with the Passenger Assist Scheme.

Above all else, we need to change how we as a society see the disabled. Why does this happen in the UK but not in places like the Netherlands and New York?

New York Train Central

Thanks for Reading

What issues have you had or witnessed with public transport? Feel free to say in comments.


Enjoyed this post? Why not read Bearing Disability: Parking Barriers and Disabled Bays?


Leave a Reply

5 responses to “Disability Bearing Transport”

  1. The priority seating issue is just common decency – not so “common” in the UK these days going by this article. If there’s no one needing the priority seating, fine, but as soon as someone does need it, stand up and let them have the seat. People need to get woken up about this. They wouldn’t use a toilet for the disabled so why take up the priority seating?

    • Wings using the toilet for the disabled is another issue in the UK too :’) They combat this a little by having some of the toilets to require a key that the disabled person can buy. I have the key and love it when the toilets are on the scheme. I’m hoping more places get on it.

      The UK don’t respect the disabled unfortunately 🙁

  2. Our experience of using public transport in the UK is mixed as well.

    We booked assistance for Husband to travel to his sister in Wales which involve changing stations at Birmingham New Street – a very large station involving getting off and finding the right train. Both ways when he went, the support was not waiting for him at BMH even though we booked it in advance and he had to find someone and ask them to please take him to his platform. Even though I had specified when I asked for the assistance that he would need to a. be met on the platform and b. walk with him to his platform and stay with him until he had boarded the train in case there was a platform alteration as he wouldn’t be able to work out where to go if there was a platform change.

    Now that Husband has an official diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome we will make an application for a mobility travelcard once his PIP award comes through (eventually….). Husband’s friend is also on the spectrum and travelled with JAL to Japan and they let the airline know in advance and they couldn’t have been more helpful. When we go I will certainly book assistance to make the experience of long haul seem less overwhelming for him.

    • Yep. Other countries are so much more understanding and ready to help. My trip to New York with dad involved a change at Frankfurt. The staff were ready the second I got off the plane and I think the plane landed at a different gate but the staff was still there and ran us to the next gate.

      In the UK it is a totally different story. And as a Brummie, I apologise for the poor service of my city.

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