bus etiquette: disability vs parenting on the city 5


Since I am trying to take an internet-hiatus while finishing the great Kane-Ravenhill-Aristotle-tabloid-press-of-the-1990s-Book-of-Isaiah opus, have some real life questions. As I’ve written elsewhere (in Gaza & city 5, in fact), I take the City 5 bus from my Cowley Road home into the city centre, and sometimes I overhear interesting things. Overhearing things on the Cowley Road is actually one of my favourite pastimes. A nighttime perennial is the fighting, which is usually not-quite-distinct but seems to consist of fourteen men shouting COME ON THEN at each other in various iterations, occasionally interspersed with M*********** (counting the asterisks & mouthing the letters for accuracy there, a technique that used to lose me a lot of points in hangman…). Or there are the rugby/drinking songs. Or the occasional screaming, terrible rows that make me worry I’ll find a body in the morning. Or, now the nights are milder and there’s a breeze blowing East, the bells from Magdalen Tower making their way across the river.

Anyway, for the past few days, the buses have been inordinately bad. In terms of timing, that is – in terms of passengers, they’re always a bit variable, and there’s usually at least one drunken pervert, one misanthropist who wants nine hundred seats for themselves and their shopping, and (my least favourite), one steel-haired gentleman with pointy glasses and a sadistic tie, who seems to have come straight from the Third Reich and who invariably makes pointed and offensive remarks about other passengers, addressed to whichever minority of bus users he identifies as being Members of the Great British Middle Class and thus Likely Allies. I got into a shrieking row with one of these, last term. Overall, though, the buses are pretty good and the city 5 is property of Oxford Bus Company, more environmentally sound. On the other hand, they can only accommodate one pushchair/pram or wheelchair at a time, and this is the subject of my question.

Yesterday, a young able-bodied mother (looked a bit younger than me, but probably 17-23 allowing for my inability to age people) with a GLORIOUS BABY in a pram (possibly I enjoy taking the bus merely to squidge the chubby fists and play endless games of glasses-on glasses-off who’s-a-beautiful with darling little bundles of – god, I’m sorry, I’ll get a grip now). She was near the start of a mammoth Sunday queue of people boarding at Queen Street (actually a perfectly nice, if bus-choked street – since the remodelling, the nastiest thing about Bonn Square, adjoining, are the New Road Baptists..). She was white, blonde, tiny, and showed some sort of pass, asking for Blackbird Leys – not in feasible walking distance. She put the pram into the space, leaving the GLORIOUS BABY inside, as it was sleeping fatly and cutely.

About five minutes back in the queue was a man in a wheelchair, and his wife. He was probably in his late 40s/early 50s, greying, tanned; wife was similar. I have actually seen them before, and although not sure where they live, it’s further down the Cowley Road than me, so quite a distance. He had a tartan blanket over his knees and I’m not sure what his disability was, although there was a crutch stowed in the back of the wheelchair which suggests he had partial mobility some of the time. When they got to the bus door, the bus driver realised the situationa and said, sorry, mate, wheelchair space is full, have to wait for the next bus, be along in ten minutes etc etc. The couple looked nonplussed for a second, said oh right, right – though somewhat annoyed, understandably – but then, as they were backing out of the bus, the man glanced right, through the window, and saw the girl and her pram.

And went ballistic.

He was disabled, she wasn’t; she should have to get off for him, that was a space in which wheelchairs should clearly take priority over prams/pushchairs etc, she should fold her pram up, she could walk, he couldn’t etc. She didn’t want to fold the pram up (to be honest, it was a big old mean bugger of a pram and I suspect that it would have eaten her fingers) as it would wake the baby; the driver said the space was equally for pushchairs and wheelchairs, but after a minute the girl started to capitulate. At this point, however, things shifted abruptly – a young mixed-race guy just behind the couple in the queue attempted to intervene (whether to get them to stop holding things up, or harassing the girl, I’m not sure), and the wife said something so disgustingly racist that the driver threw them off the bus at once.

Now, this man is representative, mercifully, of neither disabled people or bus users in general; I have seen a similar exchange played out without the shouting and accusations in other permutations (space filled by wheelchair & wheelchair turned away / pushchair turns away pushchair / wheelchair turns away pram), although on Stagecoach, and had never considered there was anything to object to in it. In this particular case, of course, the woman’s language forfeited her right to travel, and so her husband couldn’t/didn’t travel either. But I’m wondering if there’s something I’ve missed. There’s no question that more people should give up their ‘normal’ bus seats to those less able to stand, or at least offer it as a courtesy. The pram/wheelchair space is a unique case, though; pram-pushers and wheelchair users usually have equal need of it in that, without the use of such a space, they are equally unable to travel. I think it should be a case of first come first served; I don’t see why a mum or dad with a pram/pushchair should have to give up the space to someone in a wheelchair, if they got there first – and vice versa. If the buggy can be very easily folded, a possible compromise can be found that way (in which case I think it behooves someone nearby to give up a seat/luggage space so that the moved parent can sit down and stow their stuff), but in the case of double buggies, huge amounts of shopping, sleeping babies/children, additional kids on laps, there’s no way they should be expected to move. But I’m open to the possibility that a) I’m wrong, and b) there’s a good reason why. So I wondered what people thought. So I procrastinated on the internet for a bit to ask you. Thoughts please, hive mind.

13 thoughts on “bus etiquette: disability vs parenting on the city 5”

  1. I’m inclined to think that waking the baby doesn’t matter much, and if the pram *can* be folded to allow the person with the wheelchair on as well, it should be. If the pram is on and actually *can’t* be folded, then I think it’s first come first served. But I don’t think the parent having lots of shopping/kid on lap/baby asleep is a terribly good reason for stopping the person with the wheelchair from boarding if the pram is genuinely foldable – I mean, a parent without a pram might have lots of shopping and an extra kid, but that alone wouldn’t be seen as an acceptable reason for taking up the wheelchair space and/or priority seats.

    Not that I’m the least bit objective – nor do I pretend to be.

    (Not that I take buses anyway.)


    1. The pram was one of those vicious elderly Silver Cross things that I don’t think can be folded (predates folding – I think you’d need a screwdriver to collapse it, at least my cousin’s pram did – also, since she was on her own, I don’t know who’d have held the baby while she did this. My understanding is that priority seats (your average Oxford Bus Company bus has 8 if there’s no wheelchair, 5 if the w’chair space contains wheelchair & companion) are available to anyone less able to stand (like on the tube) & fortunately I don’t think there’d ever be a situation where a person not able to stand through disability was unable to sit because of a parent/pregnant woman – usually, if the wheelchair spaces are the only spaces free on a bus, people stand.

      Of course, since the woman had bought her ticket, it would have been difficult to take her off the bus, and as far as I’m aware, they aren’t wheelchair spaces more than they are buggy spaces, for example. It’s worth noting that the wheelchair in question was a foldable hospital issue type wheelchair, and there were empty seats, so he could potentially have sat in one of those, and that there would have been two buses within the following quarter of an hour.

      Every time I get on a bus I do wonder if you’ll be right and there’ll be a bomb this time. I do think that a parent with a baby-in-arms and much shopping IS entitled to a priority seat, but only if no disabled person wants it, and if they do have to move, someone else should get up for the parent. Thank you for your comment, you’ve made me rethink my view a bit.


      1. “Every time I get on a bus I do wonder if you’ll be right and there’ll be a bomb this time.”

        I’m SO SORRY. Oh my God, that is a dreadful thing I have done to you.

        I don’t mean I think parents shouldn’t sit in priority seats if they’re not being used by PWD – obv. if they’re not in use, anyone can sit there. But I do think there’s a hierarchy of need: as you say, parent should move, *and* certainly someone else should give them a seat.


        1. I’m sure you’ll have done WORSE by the time we get back from Paris.

          Since I am no longer Pericles, shall I to you at some point this week and we can discuss?


  2. As far as I know, it’s first come first served and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a buggy or a wheelchair. I don’t think there is a different way it could work anyway: whoever got there first has already paid for the journey and has done nothing to be stripped of the right to travel. Obviously, it helps if it’s possible to fold the buggy, but if that’s not feasible, then whoever else would like the space will have to wait for the next bus.

    My experience from over here (the continent) is that most bus drivers don’t really care how many buggies there are on the bus. The interior layout is a bit different (at least two doors are standard, wheelchairs/buggies enter through the middle doors and the reserved space usually fits two buggies), but even so I’ve been on buses with five unfolded buggies on board. But then again, it’s much harder here to claim serious amounts of compensation in minor accidents such as falling over a buggy that’s parked in the aisle…


  3. Definitely first come, first served. The situation could be helped by people not riding with monster-buggies. Noemie and Ian used to have a lighter push-chair when they were going out, and a bigger, more comfortable one if they were just going to the park or to a friend’s house or something, that didn’t require using public transport. A sensible move. I’m all for, like, mothers and stuff, but sometimes I see these machines, complete with sun-roof, air conditioning and four-wheel drive, and wonder if it’s necessary.

    You’re one of the only writers I read who notices race, is clearly bothered/intrigued by it and avoids attaching significance to the *fact* of someone being green / purple / navy blue.


    1. re: your first paragraph — well, I partly agree. I absolutely hate those horrible double buggies that confine one child to fume/vomit/wheel level with only a view of its sibling’s arse through canvas, thus piling children on top of each other. I prefer either the wider double buggies (tho very impractical) or the facing-kid prams. Personally, I think DON’T HAVE A SECOND CHILD TIL YOUR SECOND CHILD IS OUT OF THE PUSHCHAIR STAGE, but then I am heartless. Looking at the girl, I’m not sure she had the socioeconomic options for two prams, or one of those fancy tiny new one. I am significantly more for mothers than you, I think, and given the choice would probably rather inconvenience other people than my child. OTOH, triple buggies for triplets are ridiculous. Also I hate it when you see some stupid cow with her sunglasses and a sunhat on, pushing her baby INTO THE SUN without using the PERFECTLY REASONABLE pram/pushchair hood, sunhat, or sunglasses. Like mothers who detox & consume only organic peas and happy fish, but give up and bung chicken nuggets in for the kids.

      re: your second paragraph, I’m not sure whether that’s meant as positive or shaming, oh dear.


  4. I suppose I think there is significance, but I’m not sure as yet what all the significances would be.


  5. I just stumbled upon your post while trying to clarify official bus company policy. I doubt you’re checking it anymore, but for the record I thought I’d add my two pence as a occasional wheelchair user:

    1) The spaces are clearly marked out as wheelchair spaces. If you choose to put an unfolded buggy in one fair enough, but it’s a bit like sitting in the priority seats – if someone elderly or disabled gets on you have to move. Similarly, if you’re in the wheelchair space and a wheechair wants to get on, you have to move. I’m sure there are plenty non pram users who would rather sit in the three seats my wheelchair takes up, but they have to move too because they are in the wheelchair space.

    2) Everyone should have a right to take the bus. They make no guarantees how comfortable you’ll be. Some people have to stand while others sit, sometimes we all have to listen to some horrible teenagers tinny music. Why should a baby’s right to ride the bus fast asleep trump my right to ride the bus at all?

    3) Some wheelies, like myself, can walk a few steps and could shift into another seat and fold the chair. However, most chairs, even when folded are too large to go in the luggage compartment and would still need the wheelchair space. They also weigh a lot (as they have to support an adult weight/size. If I were going to have to fold my chair, I’d have to have someone travelling with me. As an adult, I want to be able to lead an independent life and not have to take someone with me everytime I take the bus just in case. A baby really shouldn’t be traveling on their own and therefore probably has someone to help them. In the society I have chosen to live in, a fully grown adult, even if they have no use in their legs, has a right to an independent life and one that involves sufficient dignity they don’t have to go crawling around on the bus floor.

    4) Linked to my ability to walk short distances (in great pain), I get fed up enough of people inquiring why a nice young lass like me is in a chair. I know from experience that the torrent of questions is much worse if I get up and I really don’t want to go in to it when I just want to go home (you try talking about your personal health problems and how varying drug doses mean you can walk one week and not the next and no you don’t know when you’ll get any better and it probably isn’t that similar to Auntie Doris’ hip).

    5) And finally, which I guess links back to point one about it being designated as my space, it’s legally my space. The disability discrimination act makes it illegal to prevent access to good and services to disabled people. You cannot say the law is the law unless a pram happens to be on board. In fact, I would argue, that most pram-pushing mothers should be very grateful to us militant wheelies every time they are able to get on the bus and not fold up there prams, because if it wasn’t for us kicking up a fuss I really don’t think as many buses would have large open spaces where their could be plenty seats and certainly not a lot of money spent on knealing technology.

    So, in summary, wheelchair users should have priority because the spaces are legally ours, because they are clearly marked as such and because it’s a lot harder for me to fold myself up than it is told fold a pram up.

    I’d be glad to hear your thoughts,



    1. Mother of disabled children here. Actually many of these spaces are marked for both, at least in my experience, and most of them say priority – which isnt really a legal thing. But how are we to know whether or not herself or her children are not disabled themselves? mine do not have visable disabilities but are still chronically disabled. But even so- the right to travel should be equal to parents and disabled people in my opinion, so should therefore be first come first served. But if a parent is able to fold up a pram and move to a different seat then they should use common curtsey and do so.


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