I first started University in 2009, and lived in a flat which was part of University accommodation. My flat was in a village called Oadby which was 2 miles from the main university campus in Leicester. So we needed a form of transport to get from my flat to campus every day.
I had to be on campus for 9 AM usually every weekday so we tried to find a wheelchair accessible taxi company that would take me in every day. This was easier said than done. A lot of companies didn’t have big enough vehicles for my Powerchair, and even if they did they wouldn’t be able to clamp it down safely.
So ideally we wanted a reliable company that had big enough vehicles, and that wasn’t too expensive. We couldn’t find a normal taxi company to do this. So eventually we went for a private company that had big enough vehicles, but it was very expensive.
We gave them a contract to do the transport for me for the three years of my undergraduate degree. It cost about £10,000 a year, which was paid for by my Disabled Student Allowance. It was a lot of money but it did give me the peace of mind that I would have transport available for when I needed it.
The vehicle this company used was big; in fact it was too big. They used a 16 seater minibus to transport me the 2 miles from my flat to campus every day. It was overkill, but it did the job. Eventually they downgraded to a smaller minibus which was a bit less ridiculous.
Overall, I think it worked quite well for the first three years. I could ask the company to pick me up in advance for example if I was going out at night. They would pick me up at 3 AM and take me back, and it personally wouldn’t cost me anything. My DSA would pay for it.
Although, the fact that I had to book it, often up to a week in advance, was a pain. If I had booked the company to pick me up at 3 AM from a nightclub and then on the day I was too tired to go, I had to cancel it. Because they had other jobs to do as well they didn’t really like me cancelling a booking too often.
In fact in the end this is what made them fall out with me. I had booked them to pick me up at 3 AM from the student union. But I missed the last bus at 11:40 PM to get there so I couldn’t go any more. I tried contacting the owner of the company but he had his phone switched off. He then sent me an angry text the next morning saying they were still there waiting for me! I told him I did send him a text the previous night but his phone was off, and he said he didn’t get it. It wasn’t exactly my fault. I never used them again after that, but I think it was their loss more than mine.
Anyway, the moral of the story is life can’t always be planned in advance. Shit happens.
On the buses
So, for my masters we decided not to use any taxi companies any more. Luckily, there was a student bus service that ran from right outside my flat to campus at regular times throughout the day, every day. This gave me more freedom as I didn’t have to book it in advance. I could just catch the bus whenever I needed to. And because I had a disabled bus pass I could ride it for free.
To be honest, I wish we had just used the buses from the start as it would have been cheaper, and given me more freedom and flexibility. But, that’s not to say I didn’t have any problems with the buses. There were lots of problems with the ramps and the drivers being rude or incompetent, which you can read about here.
I liked using the buses though because it made me feel more part of a normal student community. I was doing the same thing as everybody else, rather than having my own transport like I did the previous three years.
How NOT to exit a minibus
I’ll finish by telling you about one unfortunate incident that occurred during my undergrad years.
One morning I got picked up in the 16 seater minibus and taken to campus. We were parked at the side of the road and in the process of unloading me. The driver took off the clamps that were holding me to the floor, and opened the backdoors. This bus has a cassette lift that comes out the back to lower my chair to the ground.
The driver didn’t bring out the lift but then went round the front of the bus to have a look at something. Meanwhile, I assumed that the lift was out and they were waiting for me to reverse out. So, without thinking I started reversing out through the open doors and fell backwards off the back of the bus, falling about a metre or so.
Luckily, I reversed out perfectly straight and so landed on my back. If I had gone out at an angle I would have landed on my side and would probably have cracked my head on the concrete.
So, there I was lying on my back, and staring at the sky somewhat shocked and a little bit dazed. My carer and the driver ran back and lifted me back upright. Physically I was fine, as the back of my chair took the full impact. There wasn’t a scratch on me, but my powerchair died there and then. It took over six weeks to fix it. I guess they’re not designed to be dropped from a height!
My parents insisted I go to A & E just to make sure I was okay, and they confirmed that there was nothing wrong with me. I was back at uni a few hours later, albeit in my manual chair.
I felt really bad for the driver, as he got the blame. Technically he was responsible as he left the doors open attended and my chair unclamped. But it was my own stupidity as well. I wasn’t thinking at all. I just did it. It was frightening because I could easily have given myself a serious head injury, and it all happened so quickly.
The driver didn’t lose his job over it thankfully, at least not immediately. Though I don’t think he stayed at the company for long after that. It’s a shame and I felt sad about it because I was good friends with him, and we got along really well.
Anyway, we learn from our mistakes. I won’t do that again, and I don’t recommend it to anyone else either.
The moral of the story is: Always look behind you before you start reversing.