Let me on the bus, disabled man pleads

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Peter Baker. Photo / John Borren
Peter Baker. Photo / John Borren

A disabled Papamoa man twice denied access on local buses is taking his case to the Human Rights Commission.

Peter Baker, 54, cannot walk and relies on a four-wheel-drive wheelchair to get around.

On Wednesday, Mr Baker used his chair to block a Bay Hopper bus driver from returning to his seat. Police were called to the Palm Beach Plaza stop but Mr Baker was not charged.

The stunt was about proving a point, he said.

Three weeks ago Mr Baker and helper Diane Clinton caught two buses to Mount Maunganui. When they tried to catch a bus home, they were told they were not allowed.

"The bus driver said 'you can't come on to the bus because you have a wheelchair'. I said 'you have a sign that says access'," Mr Baker said.

"He rang up on the RT . . . then he turned around and said, 'You can ride [to Ms Clinton] but the guy in the wheelchair can't', slammed the doors in our faces and took off."

Mr Baker said he was disgusted and felt victimised. He complained and received a management guarantee the incident would not be repeated, he said.

However, on Wednesday in Tauranga city Mr Baker was again told he was not allowed on because of his chair. Mr Baker said he had an embarrassing fight with the driver in front of passengers, demanding access on the bus because it was his right.

All Tauranga urban buses are wheelchair accessible with low floors and ramps.

Eventually the driver let Mr Baker on but when it reached the Papamoa stop, he refused the driver access to his seat.

"I don't want to stick my neck out like this but I've got to. I'm doing it because there will be others out there who are unable to stand up for themselves."

CCS Disability Action regional manager Jo Herbert said a lack of education was an issue and it had worked with Go Bus, which operates Bay Hopper, around disability awareness.

"If you have a bus licence, it doesn't necessarily mean you know how to be respectful to people with disabilities."

Bay of Plenty Regional Council's transport policy manager Garry Maloney said the incident was "disappointing and concerning" and awareness of the council's wheelchair-friendly policy was something it would look into with the bus operator.

Go Bus operations manager Ashley Burton could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The Human Rights Commission said the company could be breaching the Human Rights Act but without a complaint she could not comment further.

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