Disabled man’s protest brings buses to a standstill

by Ilaria Lonigro - 2014.04.11
Disabled man’s protest brings buses to a standstill
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If the bus doesn't have a disabled ramp, the man in the wheelchair sits in front of it and doesn't let it pull out. Paolo Marullo, from Camaiore (near Lucca, Italy), has been protesting in this unusual way for years. He is a wheelchair user and doesn't accept that public transport continues to exclude people with disabilities. “If I can't travel, no one can,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

He has been making his original protests for years. Every time he can't board a bus because there is no access ramp or it doesn't work, Paolo knows what to do: he stops the bus and calls the police. He did it again yesterday when, for the umpteenth time in his life, he was left at the bus stop. Everyone got on except for him because, while the bus did have an access ramp, the lever to operate it was missing. “Everyone should be left stranded because if I can't travel, no one should travel,” he said on his Facebook page, where he documents the discriminations he suffers in daily life with photos and newspaper clippings. A second bus came but this one didn't even have a ramp. Eventually Paolo managed to get on the third bus and reach his destination.

The authorities are familiar with the issue raised by Paolo, who has been dubbed the 'Bus Man' by local papers (in reference to the 'Tank Man', who stopped tanks in Tiananmen Square in Beijing on 5 June 1989). Paolo even met the president of the province of Lucca, Stefano Baccelli, in 2013. The latter promised more bus stops for people with disabilities throughout the province. But, apparently, not much has changed: there are still too few buses with access ramps (and sometimes they don't work) so Marullo's protests continue at a rate of one a week.

The problem, however, is national. To mention another unfortunate episode, in Como, in the middle of winter – it was January – another girl in a wheelchair, Eva Sganzerla, was forced to call the police after waiting for hours in the cold for a bus that would let her on. There are transport companies that ask people with disabilities to inform them in advance of their journey requirements, so they can ensure equipped vehicles serve the route. This is simple discrimination, which doesn't just involve buses, but also trains, to the point that even the European Union has had to intervene. On 28th March, the European Commission referred Italy to the Court of Justice for failing to implement EU legislation on the rights of rail passengers. The norms should have been fully implemented no later than 3 December 2009: an unacceptable delay. Another law, no. 67 of 2006 on 'Measures for the legal protection of persons with disabilities who are victims of discrimination', has also been breached. It states: “there is direct discrimination when, for reasons related to the disability, a person is treated less favourably than a non-disabled person is, was or would be treated, in a similar situation.” (art. 2, par. 2).

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