Falkirk family’s anger over bus let-down

Robert Armstrong with his son, also Robert
Robert Armstrong with his son, also Robert

A bus boss has apologised for nearly ruining a family’s weekend.

Robert Armstrong had planned a trip to Glasgow with his disabled son Robert (28) to enjoy a film festival. But their arrangements were thrown into chaos after the bus they went to catch proved to be unsuitable for wheelchair users.

At the last minute they were able to catch a train to the city – but the experience left them both angry and frustrated.

Mr Armstrong (49) is Robert’s full-time carer. The 28-year-old was born with cerebral palsy and needs his wheelchair everywhere he goes. As a treat for the keen film buff his parents organised a weekend in Glasgow for him to attend the event. Because Robert gets agitated easily and can become anxious when he has to wait about, his mum, Martha, phoned bus operators First Scotland East to confirm the bus they intended to take would be able to take his wheelchair.

After being assured the X37 service leaving Falkirk Bus Station at 10.15 a.m. last Friday would be a low floor vehicle they set off from their home in Falkirk’s Kerse Gardens looking forward to the journey – only to be disappointed.

Mr Armstrong said: “I was shocked to see the bus had steps. Because of the time factor I was prepared to carry him to a seat but that was not possible because there was no room in the luggage bay for his wheelchair.

“Robert was already getting a bit upset with the delay because he likes things to run smoothly and gets frustrated very easily. There was no time to wait for the next bus so we had to take another bus to Grahamston and catch a train from there. It was all a bit of a rush and not how we wanted our weekend to start.

“It was particularly disappointing that after being assured the bus on the service that day would be suitable it wasn’t. Unfortunately this was not the first time this has happened to us, that’s why we specifically checked. First Bus really should take the issues facing their disabled passengers and their carers more seriously. We need buses that are wheelchair friendly to be on all the routes, but particularly those on longer journeys into the city. Buses with low floors or ramps are essential.”

Yesterday (Wednesday) Paul Thomas, managing director at First Scotland East, said: “The vast majority of buses we use on service X37 have low floor access. However, unfortunately due to circumstances beyond our control we had to replace a low floor bus with another vehicle at short notice for the 10.15 a.m. last Friday.

“We’ve apologised in person for the inconvenience this caused the Armstrong family. I can assure them if they provide us with notice we will do everything we can to ensure a low floor bus operates when they next visit Glasgow.”

Bus operators have until 2017 to make sure all buses are fully compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act. That means low floor access and better access for wheelchairs and buggies. First Scotland East said it is well on the way to achieving that and will meet the deadline. At the moment more than 80 per cent of its fleet operating in the district have low floor access.