Bus Company Apologises After Blind Woman Told She Can’t Ride With Guide Dog
Louise Pearson's trip to work turned into an hour-long standoff with a bus driver who refused to let her on with her guide-dog Arthur.
Pearson said she had flagged down the Melbourne bus when the driver informed her "no dogs".
She said she had been travelling on the same bus route with her guide dog for the last four years and had attempted to explain to the driver that her companion Arthur needed to come along for the ride.
But she claims that what followed was a near hour-long stand-off between the pair.
Another passenger tried to sway the driver by informing him that Pearson had been seen on that route every day.
"He was sort of moving up and down the bus saying, 'no dogs, you can't have dogs on this bus'," Pearson said.
The social worker said she was "startled" because she had never had a problem on the route before.
She claimed she had been asked to show her ID once in her more than 30 years of using a guide dog.
"This is Melbourne, Australia, and I always think that we are at the forefront ... that we've got around these issues," she said of the incident.
"I didn’t get angry at all with him this morning or say anything that was in any way rude to him, but I just wasn't going to let the point go because otherwise, people don’t learn."
Victoria Police officers who attended the scene offered Pearson a ride in their car, but she refused and was eventually allowed to continue on her bus trip.
On Tuesday, the state's head of transport services Jeroen Weimar told reporters he was "distressed and disappointed" by the incident.
"Everybody who uses a guide dog is entitled to travel on our public transport system, whether it be a bus, train or tram," Weimar told reporters.
"This is a reminder of how important it is that we continue to educate not only drivers but everyone in society about the importance of guide dogs and also the importance of enabling everybody to live freely and independently."
Weimar said the Department of Transport would be working "very closely" with the bus company to ensure that drivers have sufficient training, adding that additional training would be given to drivers at the depot involved.
Guide Dogs Victoria chief executive Karen Hayes said the organisation has a long-standing role to ensure that there is a "voice at the table" for accessible transport for all members in the community and said it would continue working on education.
"We need to keep the message out there that we need to continue to educate the community about the fact guide dogs aren't pets," Hayes said.
"They are working guide dogs to provide freedom and independence to somebody who has blindness or low vision."
Hayes also praised Pearson for how she handled the "distressing situation".
"She's clearly got a lot of confidence, but she knows her rights, she's spoken to the relevant people she has put the message out there."
Pearson said Tuesday's incident was not the first time she's been denied access to a service because of her guide dog, noting previous experiences with taxis, rideshare services and even restaurants.
But she said she's unwilling to let the issue go and wants the bus company to educate its drivers.
"I just think that we need to take the opportunity to educate the community," she said.
Bus company Dysons said the driver had misunderstood the rules for assistance animals on public transport.
The company confirmed the driver had been stood down, as investigations into the incident continue.
"We would like to apologise to the passenger for any distress caused by this morning's incident," it said in a statement.
"To ensure this doesn't happen again, we will engage with Guide Dogs Victoria and other applicable organisations to see what training opportunities are available to our company."