Metlink apologises after blind man refused bus entry twice

7:50 pm on 19 November 2020

A blind Wellington man who has twice been told he cannot take his guide dog on a bus says he was made to feel like a non person and drivers need training.

Guss, George Taggart's assistance dog.

Guss, George Taggart's assistance dog. Photo: Supplied

George Taggart tried to get on a Wellington Metlink bus outside the Blind Foundation on Adelaide Road yesterday, with three blind friends. All had white canes, while George had Guss his guide dog.

The poodle was wearing a harness and guide dog tags and George was carrying photo ID which identified him as sight impaired and Guss as his assistance dog.

Guss and George tried to get on the number 23 Metlink bus, just before midday yesterday.

"I stepped up on the bus and the driver said 'get off my bus'," he told Checkpoint.

"I said 'I beg your pardon, this is a guide dog and I'm allowed on the bus', he said 'it's not a guide dog, now get off the bus... I've got a job to do'."

He refused to get off the bus and the driver, he said, then threatened to call the police.

The driver then radioed someone - and after much back and forth, George and Guss were eventually allowed on the bus.

"Eventually the driver told my passport from me. It says 'Blind Foundation guide dog' and there's a photograph on it of Guss and myself and he told his boss of that on the radio.

"The bus driver came down out of his seat on to the platform and had a look at the dog's collar and eventually I was allowed to get on the bus, with him saying 'I'm only doing my job'."

The experience has left a bitter taste for George and he wants drivers to be better trained to help sight impaired people where needed.

"This particular confrontation is the second one I've had in just over a week," he said.

He understood that a poodle may not look like a conventional guide dog to some, but with the harness and accreditation on his passport, the incident should not have happened, he said.

"It was like treating me as a kind of a non-person. One of the difficulties that blind people have is that there's lots of kinds of stereotypes.

"The most common one is that when you explain to someone you can't see, they raise their voice to you. I don't think they mean it in a malicious way, it's that type of 'oh you poor, poor person' and I'm not a poor, poor person. My eyes may not work, but that doesn't stop my brain from working."

He urged the bus company to train its staff.

"We may need a little bit of help, but we're still bus passengers."

The bus company has apologised for the actions of its driver and is promising better training for staff.

Metlink general manager Scott Gallacher told Checkpoint the incident was simply not good enough.

"We apologies unreservedly for the treatment he experienced. That is not in line with our expectations or our policy," he said.

He said he intended to apologise personally to George and had been in dialogue with blind rights advocates to assure them the issue would be dealt with.

"Anyone who has an identification card, who is blind or of low vision, then they are fully welcome on any Metlink service and all they need to do is produce that card for our staff," Gallacher said.