Oxfordshire disabled woman unable to board buses

Karen Owers
Image caption Karen Owers said she relies on public transport to leave her village

A disabled woman in West Oxfordshire has said she may take legal action against her local bus company because she cannot always board its buses.

Karen Owers, 44, from Aston, needs a ramp for her electric wheelchair but RH Buses does not always supply one.

She said: "You never know if you're going to be lucky and be able to get on the bus or whether you're going to have to turn round to go home."

RH Buses has yet to comment despite several requests by the BBC.

Transport minister Norman Baker said some older buses were still being phased out.

He added: "It would be wonderful if all buses were fully accessible now but clearly that would be a major cost if it's a small bus company who are sometimes struggling.

"So there's got to be a balance struck to make sure we don't put so many burdens on companies so they end up being out of business."

He said 85% of buses were fully compliant with the Public Service Vehicles Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR) introduced in December 2000.

But disabilities campaigner Gwyneth Pedlar said her group Oxfordshire Unlimited had received complaints about the bus company before.

"I'm very distressed for Karen because it is an absolute right for all people to be able to get on a bus," she said.

'Failed obligations'

Karen Owers had a stroke two years ago and uses the bus to get to a weekly support group.

She said: "I'm not some old lady that stays at home. I like to get out and do a few things but I need to be able to rely on transport to do that.

"Sometimes you get there and if you're unlucky the bus driver says, 'Sorry love, I just haven't got the ramp today'.

"The bus drivers are really helpful. It's not their fault - if the ramp isn't on the bus there's not much they can do about it."

Judith Leach, a clinical negligence barrister at Withy King, has been advising Ms Owers on her rights.

She said the the bus company was failing in its obligations.

She added: "You cannot be in a position where you really don't know from one day to the next whether you can get on a bus or not depending on the goodwill of that company, or the driver, or a number of other factors."

Rodney Rose, cabinet member for transport at the Conservative-run Oxfordshire County Council, said it specified that all buses should be "low floor, easy access".

He added: "A lot of the so called wheelchairs have become Rolls Royce wheelchairs with lots of batteries and other things on, and they're just too heavy for most of the ramps that were designed five years ago.

"But if they aren't easy access the best thing that everybody can do is let us know."

The Equality Act 2010 states that disabled people have legal rights in regard to "access to goods, services and facilities including larger private clubs and land based transport services."

All buses must comply with the PSVAR by 1 January 2017.

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