Another report today of a wheelchair user being refused space on a bus (not in Blackpool) ostensibly because the bus driver said he already had a baby buggy on board is now leading to a further court case. Blackpool has to have the largest concentration of invalids and or morbidly obese people in the country given the volume of mobility 'scooters' being propelled around its streets and particularly in the town centre. The profusion of establishments, either selling or renting out these unlicensed machines, is clear evidence of their increasing use (and misuse) by a sizeable segment of the local population, as well as a good many visitors to the town from north of the border.
With the DDA requirement of buses and trams now in force, bus drivers (and tram conductors) have to deal with competing priorities between pram/buggy wielding passengers and mobility scooter/invalid chair users wanting access to the one or two (or more on trams) spaces set aside for this purpose. During the town's holiday season tram platforms provide visual evidence of the percentage of travellers with one or t'other encumbrance waiting to get on the next arriving tram. The popularity of the resort for professional carers with their charges visiting for the day - also adds this growing access problem for the operator. This will only become more acute once North Station tram terminus opens in two or three year's time, with surges of arrivals keen to access the first tram leaving the platform for the promenade. Conductors will be in need of extra staff to deal with inevitable sensitive conflicts. Added to this particular problem in Blackpool is the noticeable number of teenage mothers in the town who all seemingly have a tendency to head into the town centre wielding outsize conveyances for their progeny and on a seemingly daily basis. A brisk walk pushing their charges (whilst using their mobiles) would be a healthier option of course.
I was advised that BTS are awaiting clarification of operator obligations and legalities covering this subject, having made my enquiry at Rigby Road last week. No doubt more signage will appear at shelters and at vehicle entrances in due course. It is noteworthy that the South Yorkshire Supertram operator aka Stagecoach requires all mobility scooter users to possess and show to conductors, an individual id and valid pass entitling their access onboard Sheffield 's trams. Whilst this may be regulated in such fashion easily enough inland - a resort attracting thousands of disabled or infirm visitors needs a somewhat different approach. Our ageing population will only continue further into this century making public transport operators (including railways) ever more sensitive to vehicle interior layout and design. Naturally heritage operations are outwith current mandatory requirements. Our British fixation on double deck buses is a natural impediment to optimising full capacity usage as BTS must be well aware on Service 1 along the seafront.
Pedestrians in Blackpool's central area streets need to take care with the cavaliar style of mobility scooter users who seem to think they are actually on the M55 racing up and down at speeds far in excess of intended use. Usually with no concern for the rest of us. Quite apart from the impression that a healthy number of such 'invalids' have no physical impairment at all, and are simply plain lazy, preferring to have their own personal transport available. A further dangerous distraction for road users is avoiding mobility carriages deciding that the roadway is preferable to the pavement - and they are on a equal par with vans, trucks, buses and cars. Just how this came to pass I do not know; especially as Councils went to inordinate lengths to insert special kerb stones at every road junction to allow unimpeded wheeled access.
Wheelchair and other user signage displayed at relevant lowfloor points in Sheffield's trams. Note the inlay on the floor.
Useful tips for Councils. Levy an annual user licence fee on registered Mobility Scooter Owners and require an annual user test from registered organisations (with a charge attached of course). Require all 'for rent' mobility scooters to charge temporary users with a Council fee on a weekly basis (no daily minimum) with the charge being taken by the rental firm/shop at time of hire. Blackpool Council would have a sizeable revenue stream judging by the number of outlets around town, including one now installed in Abingdon Street Market. I will come on to the lamentable state of the town's market in due course.