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Failure to consult ‘led to London bus design flaws’

Designers of the successor to London’s inaccessible Routemaster bus have failed to include enough space for wheelchair-users, say campaigners.

The accessible transport charity Transport for All (TfA) says the new Routemaster’s wheelchair space is too small, and “considerably smaller” than spaces on London’s existing buses.

The concerns come eight months after Transport for London (TfL) admitted failing to consult with disabled people’s organisations on the bus’s design.

The mayor of London’s transport advisor, Kulveer Ranger, said then that disabled people would be able to “see the bus for themselves and feed back their opinions” when the full mock-up of the bus arrived in the capital.

But having seen the mock-up, TfA said that the “manoeuvring skills of a Paralympian basketball player seem to be required to get yourself into the space” in the new bus.

The old Routemasters were scrapped by the previous mayor, Ken Livingstone, largely because they were not accessible.  

Lianna Etkind, TfA’s campaigns and outreach officer, said: “We say that the best practice in consultation is ‘nothing about us without us’, and disabled and older people should be included from the very earliest stages and not just at the end.”

If TfL had done that, she said, they would have avoided having to make “last minute” changes to the design, which is due to be finalised this autumn, with the first buses set to appear on London’s streets early next year.

Etkind said the bus was London’s chance to “set a gold standard for accessibility” in advance of next year’s Olympics and Paralympics, but she was “not confident” that TfL would “make the appropriate changes” and “do the right thing for London’s disabled and older people”.

She said the new bus had some positive access features, including a low floor, the “i-bus” system, which announces destinations visually and via audio, and plenty of grab rails.

But she said that “if the final design incorporates a wheelchair space of this size, it will be bad for disabled people, and bad for parents with pushchairs”.

A TfL spokeswoman said that, following initial feedback, some changes were made “to the location of the hand poles and the seats to provide more space for manoeuvrability”, but that “further changes could be made”.

She said creating more space for wheelchair-users would mean fewer “low floor” seats for older people or those unable to stand.

But TfL declined to comment on whether the design problems proved they should have consulted with disabled people earlier.