The most useful thing I have found was shown to be me by a helpful person on Twitter, and it was this page taken from the most recent set of guidelines gives to TFL drivers:
Vulnerable passengersDo not leave anyone stranded if they are vulnerable or obviously in distress. For example:
- Young or older people
- People who could be at risk if left behind, including those in isolated places or at quieter times
- People who are disable, injured, unwell or who have had an accident, assault of similar incident
- People who show you a travel support card and may have learning difficulties. Not all impairments are obvious
This seems generous enough, but it does mean that allowing people onto buses without charging is left entirely up to the driver's discretion as the rules are very vague.
What, for instance, counts as "young"? I am 21, which is generally considered young, but I am the oldest I have ever been and, for the most part, I feel pretty grown-up right now. However, if that is the only excuse I have to getting on a bus for free, I will take that excuse.
The terms "isolated places" and "quieter times" are also somewhat vague. I wouldn't consider Hammersmith in general an "isolated place", but it does feel pretty damn isolated when it's 3am and no Oyster stops are open. As for "quieter times", I can only assume that that means, "in the middle of the night" rather than "when there's only one person on the bus, no matter what time of day". To me, that leeway seems to have been put in place purely for instances such as the ones I have experienced.
What is clear from those rules is that the woman with the broken leg I saw get refused definitely had the right to board the bus regardless of fare. She was certainly "injured" and, if she "had an accident", had clearly suffered a "similar incident" that would have justified her needing to get transport instead of walking to her destination.
Given that this information is in the rule book given to bus drivers, there really shouldn't have been a dispute in either of the situations I experienced. I have downloaded the above photo and have saved it to my phone so that, should it happen again, I can show it to the offending bus driver. TFL have said that they have given all their bus drivers "refresher courses" so that they know this information, but the ones I have dealt with either forgot or purposely ignored it. It is a shame that I consider it in my best interests to have to carry it around with me.
Should this fail, I have learned some other things.
I had already assumed, based on what I've gleaned from past experience and my knowledge of other company's policies about abuse, that if you swear too much at a bus driver, they have the right to ask you to leave.
However, if you remain calm and talk to the driver, they can't actually do anything. They can't physically touch you to remove you from the bus, because that is legally considered assault and you can sue them for it. If you remain standing on the bus, they are allowed to call the police to have them remove you. If the police arrive, you can complain that it is the bus driver who is in the wrong and that the rules do in fact say that they should take you to your destination, and now you've got your photo evidence to prove it. If they still ask you to leave the bus, it is then the police's obligation to ensure that you are safe. As you have not committed a crime, and provided you have legitimate reason not to want to walk (for example, it is 3am), they then have no choice to but to escort you home.
Personally, I think this is a waste of police time and that bus drivers should just be more compassionate and remember that, actually, they are allowed to use their discretion to ensure people aren't endangered by being stranded at all hours of the morning. The only reason I can think of for them to not want to help people get home is that they will have to "issue an Unpaid Fare Report", and no one likes having to do extra paperwork.
Sadly, I don't have a photo of the page in the rulebook that explains quite how that works. But, personally, even if it is a lot of hassle as far as paperwork goes, I'd still rather do it than leave someone abandoned in the middle of the night.
But that's just my personal opinion.
Ideally, the bus system should just not allow people to get stuck in these horrible situations and hopefully one day these decisions will be repealed so that this sort of thing stops happening. In the mean time, I hope that people will share this information as much as possible so that no one else gets left behind.