Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Manners on public transport - who gives way to who?

I've been intrigued by the discussions about the Doug Paulley case in the UK news in the last few weeks.

In summary, Doug Paulley, in a wheelchair, wanted to board a bus with a designated wheelchair space.  A lady had parked her pram in the wheelchair space, and the baby was asleep.  The driver asked the lady to move the pram to allow the wheelchair user on to the bus, and she refused.  Mr Paulley sued the bus company for discriminating against wheelchair users, and won.  The bus company appealed, and won.  Bus companies are not legally obliged to move non-disabled people from wheelchair spaces.
Doug Paulley
Here's the story on the BBC news page
There was also hot debate about it on the Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2, and on their Facebook page here.

I just wonder where common decency and manners have gone, and how this ever ended up in the court in the first place.  

Doesn't common decency dictate that in any situation you give priority to somebody with a greater need than your own.  

I'm a parent with two small children.  Wherever we are, whether on the "priority seats" on the bus, or indeed any seat at a bus stop, on a bus, on the underground or wherever, I'm teaching my children that if somebody comes along who looks as though they need the seat more than we do, we shift.  That might be somebody with a disability, an elderly person, a mum with a baby or a pregnant person.  If they need the seat - they get the seat.  Equally, the other day we were queuing for the toilets at an event.  My three year old daughter wasn't desperate, but the four year old behind us in the queue clearly was, so we let her go first.  Isn't that just good manners?  Yes, we run the risk of grunted displeasure if the person we're offering a seat to doesn't consider themselves frail enough, or feels that we are pitying them in some way, but this is far outweighed by the grateful smiles from those who really do appreciate the seat and the gesture.

In this situation, it perhaps wasn't clear who had the greater need.  I've heard many arguments that the lady should have lifted the baby out and folded the buggy.  Some buggies really aren't that easy to fold - especially single handed, with a sleeping baby in one arm and when the buggy was perhaps well loaded with shopping and a change bag!  Either the lady with the sleeping baby was going to have to get off and wait for the next bus, or the man in the wheelchair was going to have to wait for the next bus.  One of them was going to be inconvenienced, and who knows how long the wait for the next bus could have been (this was Yorkshire, not London!)?  It seems to me that both parties in this situation had a need for that space on the bus, and rather than it going to court, one of them should have just accepted that in this situation there wasn't room for both of them, and backed down... isn't that what would have happened had there already been a wheelchair user in the space?  I completely understand that wheelchair users face many barriers all the time, and that many people do abuse the facilities that have been provided for disabled access, but sometimes other groups of people also face barriers, and are very grateful for those same facilities.  

Could some simple manners and communication not have resolved this more amicably?  Mothers with babies and disabled people both have accessibility needs, and should work together to lobby for better facilities and easier access for all, rather than arguing over the facilities that have been provided.

As a side note, I would also recommend baby-wearing to any mums-on-the-go.  If you wear your baby in a sling, then you can carry your shopping just like anybody else, and you won't have any issue using any public transport.  Plus you get a sneaky cuddle while you shop!  Most mums have a choice about whether they use a pram or pushchair, and whether they get one that folds easily or not.  Wheelchair users don't have the luxury of that choice.


  1. At last! Some common sense on this debate. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said - I think sometimes there are entitlement issues attached to certain people's complaints. But wouldn't the world be a nicer place if everyone just tried to get along and be nice to each other? It's not difficult to think outside of yourself and doesn't take Ban Ki Moon levels of negotiation to solve little everyday difficulties, surely?

    1. Thanks! I think courtesy has been forgotten sometimes.

  2. I agree with everything you say here. When Daniel was a baby, there weren't any buses with spaces for prams, I had to take him out, fold the pram and carry him. I thought it was a luxury to be able to wheel Eleanor on in her pram when she was a baby, these type of buses were a new thing. I think it all comes down to manners. Many a time I've given up my seat on a bus for someone less able even though a two or three year old has a seat but could so easily sit on their parent's knee to make a space.

    1. I agree. There are always people out there who do have manners though, and hopefully the message will catch on. I remember there being a huge rush and crush to get on a train at Paddington with no reservations. I was 8 months pregnant and by the time I got on the train all the seats were taken. About twenty people pretended they couldn't see me, and I was so relieved when somebody further into the carriage offered me their seat.