It happened in the U.K., where the man, who ultimately had to get off the bus, later sued the bus company for not forcing the mother to vacate a space reserved for wheelchair users. A judge ruled in his favor, awarding him £5,500 — more than $8,600 — in damages, The Guardian reported.
Could a case like that happen here? Peter Stergios, a New York lawyer at McCarter & English LLP who has worked on Americans with Disabilities Act cases, says that’s highly unlikely. While U.S. law mandates that buses to be accessible to the disabled, he said, the federal law does not require passengers themselves to give up seats or make other accommodations for the disabled.
Bus companies are free to implement their own rules requiring able-bodied passengers to move for the sake of disabled riders, but Stergios added, “most of the time people cooperate anyway.”
One etiquette expert says that parents pushing strollers absolutely should cooperate to make room for wheelchair users on public transportation. Lisa Gache, the author of Beverly Hills Manners, can see it from both sides. Gache, who runs an etiquette coaching business also called Beverly Hills Manners, is a mother of two who remembers well the headaches of navigating life with a stroller. But Gache is also familiar with the challenges facing the disabled — her husband has been confined to a wheelchair for the last two years.
“You never you want to wake a sleeping baby and those strollers can be quite cumbersome,” Gache said. Nonetheless, she said, “you always want to defer to the wheelchair-bound or disabled person.”
Assuming a parent pushing a stroller is healthy, “it is much easier for her to make the concessions to accommodate the disabled person than the other way around,” Gache said. Those concessions should include even getting off a bus, train or subway, when necessary, to make room for a disabled person, she said.
Of course, proper stroller etiquette on public transportation extends beyond just being courteous to the disabled. Gache offers these general tips:
8 Etiquette Tips for Parents Using Public Transportation
- When possible, avoid the stroller entirely and wear your baby in a sling or carrier when using public transportation. Not only does it save space on crowded buses or train cars, it makes it much easier to get in and get out.
- Use common sense when determining whether to let your child remain in the stroller or whether to fold it and stash it. When there’s little room, folding and stashing the stroller is a must. And if a half-empty subway car suddenly becomes packed, be ready to remove your child and fold the stroller then.
- Know how to fold your stroller quickly. Practice beforehand if necessary so that passengers aren’t left waiting to get to their seats while you fumble with various locks and latches.
- Don’t let your stroller accessories and bags stick out so far that they intrude on other passengers’ space. Pack everything away neatly.
- Avoid putting car carriers on the floor. While a car carrier may take up more than one seat — especially on subway cars — it’s preferable to put it at eye level with you than on the floor, where others could trip over your baby! Just be sure to hold on to it tightly, since car carriers tend to rock if not secured. If the floor is the only option, put it between your feet, facing you.
- Never ask a bus driver to lower a ramp so that you can get your stroller on board. Those are strictly reserved for use by the disabled.
- Be ready to disembark when it’s your stop. Have all your items collected, don’t be on your phone trying to multi-task and don’t attempt to start a nursing session just as you’re about to exit a vehicle.
- If possible, let other passengers exit first. If you’re in another passenger’s way, then get out as soon as you can so that others may also disembark.