bus etiquette: disability vs parenting on the city 5

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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.