Norwich blind woman in row with First bus driver over bus pass

A bus firm has insisted 'appropriate action' is being taken after a blind woman was involved in a 20-minute row with a driver over her free travel pass.

Broadland district councillor Lana Hempsall, who is registered blind, said she felt 'outraged and humiliated' by the confrontation when the driver refused to accept her blind person's bus pass, even when his office told him it was valid.

The 20-minute ordeal came as Mrs Hempsall presented her concessionary 24/7 bus pass on a First Bus 24A service at St Stephen's Norwich, at about 8.30am on Tuesday.

The round-the-clock passes were reinstated for blind people by Norfolk County Council in April following a campaign by the Norwich and Norwich Association for the Blind.

'The driver said the pass wasn't valid and that I couldn't travel on it before 9.30am, but making them available to blind people before 9.30am was the whole point of the NNAB's campaign,' said Mrs Hempsall.


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'I told him he had been misinformed and asked him to get in touch with his line manager but he refused. He just turned off his engine and said he wasn't going anywhere until I got off the bus.

'He then tried to shame me off the bus and to back down, by getting the passengers to put pressure on me. To be subjected to that level of mobbing and bullying by complete strangers was horrific, just awful.

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'I eventually got through to First's customer service team and they told me he was wrong. I asked them to tell him, but he refused to take the phone from me to talk to them.'

Mother-of-three Mrs Hempsall, 41, who is the Broadland councillor for Acle, has an inherited macular degeneration condition known as Stargardt Disease which means she has been progressively losing her sight since her early teens.

It was only when First's customer service team rang the Norwich depot, and the depot radioed the driver direct to tell him of his error, that she was allowed on the bus.

She has demanded an apology from First and said she wanted the driver disciplined for his actions.

'When I got off the bus I just collapsed into a sobbing heap. I have never experienced anything like that in my life,' she said.

A First spokesman said: 'We are fully aware of the incident. We have identified the driver and he is being dealt with internally with the appropriate action. We do not expect this from our drivers.'

Chris Maule-Oatway, from the Norfolk and Norwich Association for the Blind, said: 'We would hope that this is an isolated incident, but it reinforces the need for all drivers to be aware that blind people can travel for free at all times.'

Do you have a story for the Evening News? Call reporter Kate Scotter on 01603 772326 or email kate.scotter@archant.co.uk.

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