Disabled bus passenger 'humiliated'

By John Cousins

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A partially-sighted Tauranga woman was reduced to pushing aside her fringe to reveal an empty eye socket before a bus driver agreed to issue her a concession fare.

The incident last week was the last straw in a history of unpleasant experiences on Bay Hopper buses for 21-year-old Ashleigh Dixon of Welcome Bay.

Miss Dixon presented her Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind ID card to the driver that should have entitled her to the equivalent of a student fare. Instead the driver looked at the card and said: "Foundation for the Blind - you don't look blind."

She responded by moving the fringe over her left eye and showing him her empty eye socket.

"Only then did he mumble sorry and give me a ticket. I should never have had to resort to this. I have a card for a reason," Miss Dixon said.

She has been blind in her left eye since birth and has limited vision in her right eye. Her left eyeball was removed two months ago and she was waiting for a prosthetic eye.

She chose to speak out about the hassles she has received from rude and impatient drivers since she started travelling on the buses four years ago.

Go Bus regional operations director Darryl Bellamy said he was disappointed to hear about her complaints.

"Like all businesses, sometimes the staff let us down. It is what we do next that we should be judged by," Mr Bellamy said.

Go Bus is the company contracted to operate Bay Hopper for the Bay of Plenty Regional Council. Mr Bellamy said it was Go Bus' job to train drivers to be customer-friendly or encourage them into new employment. He said drivers were paid to do a job and Miss Dixon should not have had to go through what she did.

He received a written complaint from Miss Dixon yesterday and said he would talk to her before assessing the next step.

Miss Dixon, a volunteer teacher aide, also recalled instances where drivers had told her to read the sign on the side of the bus when she had asked where the bus was going.

Others responded rudely that they were not taxi drivers when she asked them to show her where to get off. On occasions she had ended up lost after missing her stop when a driver had not told her where to get off, and had to ring her mother to come and get her.

"It is very embarrassing because I like to think of myself as independent," Miss Dixon said, adding she had experienced many problems with bus drivers and usually shrugged it off, but she snapped after last week's incident.

"I have never been rude to them. I am always polite," she said. It was the second complaint in three months from a disabled passenger. The earlier complaint involved a bus driver refusing to take a disabled person's mobility scooter on board, despite an earlier driver agreeing to do do.

Mr Bellamy said each driver interpreted the rules differently and Go Bus had since tightened the rules to clarify mobility scooters weighing up to 300kg were allowed on buses.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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