Bus company Stagecoach has apologised after a Deeside wheelchair user was denied access to the 202 service to visit her partner in hospital.
Sarah Hawken described the humiliation and anger she felt after a driver on the 202 service from Aboyne to Aberdeen told her she could not travel, despite her meticulous planning in order to comply with Stagecoach policy.
After Ms Hawken’s partner and carer was rushed to hospital the night before, the Deeside resident was left with no choice but to use the bus to visit her in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.
Ms Hawken said: “I planned my journey. I printed off the timetable for the bus service and scoured the document for disabled access information.
“I was up at 5am as it takes a long time to get ready on my own.
‘‘I rolled down to meet the bus at around 7.25am and flagged him down on Bridge View Road. He pulled over and stated: ‘You have to book ahead to be able to get on this bus.’
‘‘He went on to say: ‘The chairs are too close together, they haven’t been moved back. Your chair just won’t fit.’
“The driver was friendly and sincere, and as I hadn’t tried the bus service before I asked who to contact and thanked him as he pulled off to start his day.”
The company’s policy on accessibility states that, while they encourage passengers to book at least 24 hours in advance to allow them to ensure that an accessible vehicle is being used on the required journey, this is not an obligation and drivers must assist passengers regardless of whether they have booked or not. On arrival, a driver will check whether a suitable vehicle is in close proximity or, if no appropriate service is available, a taxi will be arranged for the passenger.
Ms Hawken said: “On the roll home, I was very dissapointed and very upset I wouldn’t be able to get into hospital to see my partner at the time I had so carefully planned ahead for.
“I was distressed that I could not be there for my partner and not know just how ill she was.”
On contacting Stagecoach’s disability helpdesk, Ms Hawken was told that she should have been allowed on the bus, or a taxi should have been called.
She added: “I have never felt so humiliated, unappreciated, belittled, angry, useless and unworthy of a little extra effort from the driver.
“What hurts the most is the bus driver was so genuine and friendly when he lied to me, and I trusted what he had said to be truthful and believed that I had done wrong and not planned sufficently.”
A spokesperson for Stagecoach North Scotland said, “We are very sorry for the level of service Ms Hawken received on this occasion.
‘‘We work hard to train our staff to ensure that they are able to provide an excellent level of service to all passengers, regardless of their mobility requirements.
‘‘We are disappointed that our high standards of customer service do not seem to have been upheld on this isolated occasion. We have taken this opportunity to remind all drivers of the related company policies and will discuss this particular case with the driver involved.
“We have been in direct contact with Ms Hawken to apologise for this issue and we have also offered to accompany her during her next journey to help improve her confidence when using our services.”