Mr John O’Keefe,
Chief Planning and Resources Officer,
New Primary School Competition,
London Borough of Redbridge,
225-259 High Road,
Ilford, IG1 1NY
or email email@example.com
RE: New Primary School for Barkingside
As a resident of the London Borough of Redbridge I would like to register my support for for the Council’s bid to provide a much needed community primary school on the site of the current Ilford Jewish Primary School.
A community school would provide the best opportunity for promoting cohesiveness and inclusiveness as well as high levels of educational attainment. The Local Authority are best placed to educate and support children and young people to live and work in a ethically, culturally and socially diverse borough such as Redbridge.
I believe a non-denominational Local Authority maintained school will help maintain excellent relationships between the diverse groups within the borough and provide the best opportunities for local children to realise their full potential.
CARTBUS; the CAMPAIGN for ACCESSIBLE and RELIABLE TRANSPORT, (BUSES)
c/o Max Reid: email: firstname.lastname@example.org
NB: This letter may seem to be written to wheelchair users.
It isn't. At one time or another it concerns all bus passengers.
Please stay with it and all will become clear…...
BUT FIRST, PLEASE ALLOW ME TO INTRODUCE MYSELF
My name is Max Reid. I am in my early seventies and live in Ilford, East London. I have a spinal cord disease and use a manual wheelchair. I love my work as a street musician, and commute to work in Central London by train and bus. The trains are fairly good, but I often have difficulties with the bus service.
This is ironic, because according to Transport for London (TfL)'s publications, "every bus in service should have a working ramp leading to a "dedicated" *** wheelchair space. These buses are operated by highly trained drivers with a special qualification which ensures that wheelers are at no disadvantage to ambulant passengers". This is not out of the goodness of their hearts - TfL has a legal obligation to do so under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
But it would appear that TfL and I do not inhabit the same planet.
Because my experience over more than eight years is that of problems, problems, and yet more problems. Either ramps don't work, or are too steep to negotiate without help, or in one spectacular case, practically hanging off; a wheelchair space that can need a three or more point turn to access, (irritating on a fairly empty bus - especially if the driver hasn't waited to see me settled before moving off - and almost impossible when people are standing in the area). Moreover, that space is for wheelchair users (under the DDA), but is often occupied by baby buggies, whose owners may flatly refuse to fold them when I get on the bus, despite the notices which tell them very clearly that they might be asked to fold them.
The driver's attitude is then crucial. It can range from refusing even to ask the owner to fold the buggy, to agreeing that although he can't make them clear the space for the wheelchair, the bus won't be going anywhere until they do. There is a maximum size to wheelchairs that are permitted on a bus, yet there isn't a similar restriction on the size of baby buggies, and some are longer than the average wheelchair. Furthermore, I have never heard of any large person being refused entry to a bus, even if he does take up most of a double seat.
*** 'Dedicated' in my computer's dictionary means "exclusively allocated to or intended for a particular service or purpose".
Because there are so many different bus operators, each using different makes of buses , a wheeler can expect particular difficulties on different routes. The size and position of the wheelchair space varies greatly, and so does the angle of the ramp to the pavement. Bendybuses specialise in unreliable ramps which don't retract, (meaning everyone has to get off and wait for the next bus), and across the bus companies the standard of ramp maintenance varies, and so does the level to which drivers are trained to be aware of wheelers' needs. If things get so bad that you have to identify the bus and the driver in order to complain to TfL, there is no uniformity as to where you can find the number plates, the fleet number, or the running order of the bus; nor whether the driver has to wear his number visibly.
The wheelchair space on at least one modern bus, the Enviro400, is totally inadequate. In fact only one bus that I have used, (a single decker on route 296), has what I consider adequate space, ie. a space large enough to accommodate two wheelchairs.
"TWO WHEELCHAIRS!", I hear them cough and splutter at TfL. "What will those cripples be demanding next?"
Well. Here's a novel concept for you TfL guys. Sometimes, a wheeler may have a friend, even another member of his family, who also uses a wheelchair; and they might like to go out somewhere together and both travel in the same bus - as I believe ambulant passengers expect to do.
I have been told that should I be so presumptuous as to carry a bag - as real people (ie. not the disabled) often do when they go shopping or to work - I should not expect to carry it on the back of my chair. (And where else, please, can I carry it, and still propel myself?). Instead, I should take it off before trying to access the wheelchair space. And put it where? ... In front of me; where it takes up exactly the same amount of space overall? ... Beside me; blocking the aisle in breach of Health and Safety? ... Or maybe in the luggage compartment at the front of the bus? Fine - except that I can't get my chair through the aisle.
And the whole procedure in reverse when I want to get off.
The ramps are meant to be tested every morning before buses leave the garage and whenever a different driver takes over the bus. If they are faulty, the bus is meant to be taken out of service. Sometimes the 'test' is in fact an electronic test to see if the circuit is in order, which by no means indicates that the ramp will actually work at a real live pavement.
It is the job of local authorities to ensure that bus bays are kept clear of parked cars. But TfL specifies the length of the bay, and the bus companies are responsible for those drivers who can't be bothered to pull into the kerb at the stop, but insist on taking me to the next stop. Incidentally, I have recently learned that a bus 'stop' extends for the length of any bay, however far that is.
YOU MAY NOT BE A WHEELCHAIR USER, SO WHY SHOULD YOU BE INTERESTED IN ALL THIS?
Because if I am fed up with TfL's totally inadequate response to my complaints, you might well be dissatisfied if you ever have cause to complain.
For more than six years I have been telephoning and writing, and even going to their offices and meeting 'top management', and for more than six years I have been getting the 'idiot treatment.' In other words, I have nothing better to do than invent incidents which never happened and then write in to complain. After all, the bus service is well-nigh perfect ... It must be ... It says so in TfL's publicity.
Six years of writing; about ninety letters, and nothing has changed. If anything, things are getting worse. I am now writing about once a fortnight and reporting up to fourteen incidents per letter. TfL do not honour their commitment to reply to letters within fifteen working days, and have sometimes 'not received' letters; even those sent by recorded delivery. Crucially, the answers often miss the point, and are usually unsatisfactory.
But as I said before, this is everybody's problem.
For example; any owner of a baby buggy who has been aggravated by conflicting claims over the WHEELCHAIR space; which is just too small.
Anyone whose bus journey has been delayed because of a faulty ramp, or by an argument between a bus driver and a wheeler who has the audacity to assert his legal right to travel on that bus, and not the one that's "only two minutes behind, Guv." … And twenty (wet, windy and weary) minutes later you might not be able to get on that one, either.
Any bus driver who is fed up with being at the sharp end of problems which are not his fault, but arise because he has to drive a bus which is not fit for purpose; ie. one with a poorly designed and minimally maintained ramp made out of substandard materials, leading to a ludicrously small wheelchair space which inevitably causes timetable breaking and unnecessary conflicts over priority claims to the area. And in the worst cases it is he who has to explain to a bus full of frustrated passengers that they've all got to get off the bus and wait for the next one.
Obviously, all carers and escorts. But also all health professionals who are concerned about the quality of life of their patients once they have left the intensive care and the rehab. units and are looking forward to getting on with their life and playing their part in society once again.
So I am trying to organise an independent lobby of all bus users, not just wheelers, who have had unacceptable experiences and would like to see an improvement in TfL's services. Unfortunately, the groups that sound (from their names) as if they would be useful, have either ignored my emails and phone calls; or have advised me to write to TfL (!); or have made it clear that the problems of wheelers are low on their list of priorities.
So if you have read this far and think as I do that something needs to be done about these and perhaps other problems that you have encountered that I am not aware of, I would ask you please to do the following:
1. Write a letter to TfL every time you have, or witness, an incident. Yes, it's a chore, but if you don't write, TfL can claim that everything's OK. Don't be tempted to phone, (except to chase up a letter), because then you have no record if it goes missing.
To make a viable complaint, you need to report:
(i) The date, time and place of the incident
(ii) The route number of the bus. (I also include the direction of travel)
(iii) The registration number or the fleet number or the running order
(iv) If you can get the driver's number, that's great, but it can be a bit intimidating to ask for it. Don't worry though, some if not all of the above will identify him
(v) What happened; why you and perhaps others were inconvenienced, and what you want done about it - an apology from the operator, (you'll be lucky); compensation, (you'll be even luckier). A smoothie PR letter from TfL is most likely
(vi) Send your letter to: London Buses, Customer Services,
FREEPOST LON17627, London SW1 9ZZ
2. Keep copies of your letters and their replies, and if the replies are not satisfactory, keep at it and try to involve your local councillors and/or your MP.
3. Duplicate this manifesto and circulate it to any wheelers, carers, or others you know who might be interested. I am particularly keen to hear from those wheelers who have given up trying to use London buses because they have had trouble with the service and the brush-off from TfL.
4. Let me know of any people or groups I can contact who may be useful allies in this campaign; eg. MPs, Local Councillors, Access Officers, OTs and Healthcare professionals; even sympathetic people working in the bus service. And especially anyone who can give us any publicity or help in any way.
5. (Optional) Let me know how you get on. (Contact details at the head of this manifesto). TfL follow the classic pattern of 'divide and rule'. They are a large organisation who work together. We are all disparate units scattered around the city. Only when we organise and work together will we have any chance of getting them to walk their talk. (Or should that be 'drive their jive'?).
FOR THE TRANSPORT SERVICE THAT LONDON DESERVES