It’s time for another travel blog, nowhere particularly exotic this time, just an account of my recent trip from London to Liverpool using Megabus (a low-cost coach company) and how that went in terms of using a wheelchair and travelling with a disability, so here goes:
Booking was pretty simple because I was just able to book 2 tickets (myself and a friend) online as per the standard way of doing things, and I didn’t even have to specifically buy a disabled ticket. I also did not need to pre-advise Megabus about my disability or the fact I would be travelling with a wheelchair because I was in my manual chair which I was able to fold and store as luggage and I then walked the few steps up onto the coach with some help. If I had been using my electric chair or had to stay in my chair for any reason I would have had to pre-advise Megabus about my disability, so they had time to make the necessary adaptations to the coach.
Travelling to the coach station was an experience to say the least. Firstly, travelling somewhere in ORDER to travel somewhere ELSE always feels a little weird. We took the 607 bus to Shepherds Bush station and then we were supposed to take the C1 bus to Victoria, pretty much right outside the coach station, but we missed that as is often the way with these things, but no big deal, we just took another bus that would supposedly take us to Victoria (according to the advice of a TFL staff member) EXCEPT that bus DIDN’T go to Victoria which lead to us having to run back from Westminster area and generally running to and through Victoria with minutes to spare before our coach left (we made it!).
In terms of seating and experience, we boarded last on account of being so late to the coach but I’m not sure if the policy is to board wheelchair users last as a general rule or not. My chair and its many accessories (read: ridiculous number of additional back supports) were then stored under the bus by the driver while my friend helped me onto the bus (I prefer a friend helping me as opposed to a driver, but a driver will help you to your seat if you need them to) we were sat in the priority seating area as that was the only seating downstairs. One specific issue on the way there was that there was no air conditioning which is particularly problematic in 20’C + heat, luckily we were downstairs so there was breeze from the open driver’s side window, but I did feel really bad for those upstairs who probably didn’t have any such breeze. More disability related issues included the lack of disabled toilet. Yaaaaaaaaaaay tactical dehydration, seriously though, disabled passengers are allowed to use the service and “catered for” yet we’re expected not to use the bathroom for 5+ hours? I was also concerned that we were only checked on by 1 of the 4 drivers across both the outbound and return journeys, what if I’d had a medical issue while on board? It did not make me feel cared for that’s for sure. We were encouraged to take our time unloading my chair when disembarking which, after the disabled toilet issue and everything else, felt like a nice thing to say but also I will unload my chair as as fast as I can whilst doing it safely so you would have to wait anyway, what I’m saying here is it felt like something said to make the company look better rather than anything meant for my benefit.
Update: On the basis of my recent trip to Cardiff with Megabus, I have a few things to add to my accessibility review. Firstly, on this recent trip, the driver of the outbound coach was able to fold and store my chair without any instruction (about how to fold it) from my friend. This was a nice surprise and made us feel that we were going to be well looked after on the trip. This shouldn’t have been a surprise or revelation as I was informed that all Megabus drivers are trained in how to store and fold a manual chair. However, I would say it’s a good idea to make sure you are entirely certain how to fold a wheelchair, or store any mobility device before attempting to do so. I’d rather explain how to fold my chair 100 times than arrive at my destination with a broken chair because someone tried to fold it wrong and broke it. There is also a seat backboard (without the seat part) next to the driver where wheelchairs (for those who need to travel in their chairs) can be parked and then securely strapped into place. Drivers are also trained in exactly how to secure a wheelchair for travel in the bus (but exactly where the securing straps are meant to go may be something to be discussed as the straps might go in different places on different chairs or you may prefer the chair to be secured a certain way).
The other piece of information that we were given, that perhaps warrants more discussion, is that every Megabus LEGALLY has a mobile ramp. This is for any wheelchair user to request, even if you use a manual wheelchair to travel, like me, and can walk up the step onto the bus. This is not something we knew about as it had not been offered to us as an option on any Megabus journey until the inbound trip from Cardiff to London. Using the ramp to get onto the bus meant I was able to roll up the ramp off the pavement and straight next to my seat in the priority downstairs seating area and transfer into the seat, rather than having to struggle to step onto the bus. We were also told that, if you request the ramp and the driver refuses (because that happens, as much as we wish it didn’t) you are allowed to refuse to get on the bus. You can then call the company, whilst still stood at the stop, who will discipline the driver for refusing to accommodate your request.
I hope this is an enlightening post about to what it’s like travelling with Megabus as a wheelchair user.