‘Shameful’ - Limavady wheelchair user refused access onto Translink bus

A Limavady man who uses a wheelchair was left feeling “humiliated and embarrassed” after he was refused access onto a Translink bus.

Conor McGrotty was with twin brother Michael in Dungiven on Tuesday hoping to catch the 10.35 am ‘Goldline’ bus service to Belfast.

Conor McGrotty

Conor McGrotty

When Michael asked the bus driver for help to get Conor onto the bus, he said he was told that wasn’t possible because access for wheelchair users had to be pre-arranged a day before.

“The bus driver said he couldn’t help because the two seats in the space for the wheelchair hadn’t been taken out. I was embarrassed and humiliated,” said Conor, who explained it was the first time anything like this had ever happened to him.

“I don’t think it’s the bus driver’s fault, but I would say to Translink the two seats should always be out to accommodate wheelchair users.”

Translink say “all Metro and Ulsterbus vehicles are accessible to wheelchair users,” however, wheelchair users wishing to travel on other bus services e.g. Goldline have to call the company’s contact centre 24 hours before travel “so we can arrange for an accessible vehicle to be used on the route.”

Passengers with disability are not ‘add-ons’, but an important sector of the travelling public that rely heavily on buses to get them to their destinations. I will certainly be asking Translink to review this policy

John Dallat, SDLP MLA

Michael said he couldn’t believe what happened.

“I was shocked and confused. The bus driver said the bus is wheelchair friendly but you need to organise beforehand to get the two seats removed out at the garage. I was thinking, ‘you’re contradicting yourself because it’s not wheelchair friendly, is it?” said Michael.

“Then I got angry. It’s not fair. What if it’s a spur of the moment thing and you need the bus, but you can’t? It’s not acceptable. Conor should be able to get on a bus when he wants.”

SDLP MLA John Dallat described the incident as “shameful”, and called on Translink to review their policy.

Conor McGrotty with brother Michael and mum Bronagh.

Conor McGrotty with brother Michael and mum Bronagh.

Conor’s mum, Bronagh said she was gutted for her sons - who then had to drive to Belfast - because it meant Michael almost missed an important interview, and for Conor because “something had happened that didn’t need to happen in this day and age”.

“Conor felt humiliated. I just thought ‘this can’t happen and this has to be sorted’. We left them to Belfast one other time and they came home on the bus and that didn’t have to be pre-arranged, so why did this have to be pre-arranged?”

Bronagh added: “If the space is there for wheelchair users the seats should be out all the time and there would be no issue. I think it’s a disgrace.”

SDLP MLA John Dallat said it “underlines how much still needs to be done before people with physical disability can be sure they have equality” and he would be calling on Translink to review their policy”. He described the incident as “shameful”.

“This is not acceptable practice by a state-funded organisation that should be pioneering equality in public transport. Passengers with disability are not ‘add-ons’, but an important sector of the travelling public that rely heavily on buses to get them to their destinations. I will certainly be asking Translink to review this policy,” said Mr Dallat.

Orla McCann from Disability Action said while they recognise “in the current economic climate, Translink need to maximise passenger numbers and income from ticketing it should not be at the expense of accessibility to disabled passengers”.

“Translink requires that wheelchair users provide 24 hours notice of their intention to travel, this is so that they can remove seating from the designated wheelchair space – why are the seats there in the first place? Why should it be the case that a wheelchair user is not allowed to be spontaneous and say ‘it’s a nice day lets go somewhere?,” said Ms McCann.

“The Department for Regional Development is currently consulting on the Accessible Transport Strategy, which will decide the future of accessible transport services for disabled people across Northern Ireland to 2025, and Disability Action are concerned about the extent to which the Strategy focuses on solely public transport solutions. This is an example of where public transport services are not accessible to disabled people, especially those who live outside Belfast.”