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Stop the bus! A guide ...

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Stop the bus! A guide to public transport

Stop the bus! A guide to public transport

"Catching the bus is my main way of independence"

The effects of a brain injury may mean that some people are no longer able to drive, they may have had to surrender their driving licence or perhaps simply don’t feel confident enough to get behind the wheel again.

Suddenly finding yourself without access to a car can lead to feelings of isolation and may make it hard to do tasks such as shopping, attending appointments and socialising. Public transport can therefore be a lifeline for many, granting independence and freedom.

We asked our social media followers about their experiences of using public transport and received many positive responses.

Pete Hurford said: “It is essential. For me, just being able to get to the bus stop was the first major milestone in the recovery process.” Kev Demery shares this opinion, stating: “Catching the bus is my main way of independence”.

However, managing the effects of a brain injury whilst using public transport can present challenges and some people recalled negative experiences.

One Facebook follower described his public transport experience as “horrendous” and “far too complex and confusing” and this was a feeling shared by many.


In this special feature we navigate through all things public transport: from accessibility and the law to discounted travel and tips for managing the effects of your injury.

Your legal rights

Under the Equality Act 2010, transport providers have a duty to provide an accessible service and to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to offer the same standard of service to disabled people as to non-disabled people.

This means that transport providers (including taxis):

  • Cannot refuse you or charge you extra because of your disability (unless there are valid safety reasons).
  • Must guarantee to accommodate you if prior notice is given, and must make every effort to accommodate you if no notice is given.
  • Must provide help with moving around the station or terminal, getting on and off transport and loading and unloading luggage.
  • Must provide information in an accessible format.
  • Must train their staff in disability awareness.
  • Must allow registered assistance dogs to travel.

Find out more about your rights here, including how to make a complaint if you feel you have been unfairly treated.

train pulling into the station


Brain injury survivors may face additional challenges when using public transport, including mobility issues and hidden effects, such as noise sensitivity and confusion.

Fortunately, public transport is increasingly becoming more accessible for people with mobility needs.

The majority of buses and trains will have disabled access ramps, an area for wheelchair users and priority seats for those with mobility issues.

Many of the major bus companies offer ‘journey assistance cards’ to make it easier for passengers with disabilities to ask for assistance. These can often be personalised to suit your needs and downloaded for free online. For example download these cards for use on First Bus services.

You can also use your Headway Brain Injury Identity Card to explain how your brain injury affects you. Click here to find out more and apply for one.

Speak to the driver if you need any assistance.

I always ask for driver to ensure he sees me seated before moving off. When ready to get off I wait for the bus to totally stop before I get out of my seat.

- Freya Perry

Trains can be a great way to get around, however not all stations are accessible (particularly smaller stations). Click here to view an ‘access map’ - a helpful tool for researching what a station offers in terms of accessibility - for example does it provide accessible toilets, step-free access or staff available to help?

Asking for a seat

Many people with a disability report struggling to get a seat on public transport when they need one. This can be a particular problem if your disability is hidden.

It can be awkward to ask someone to give up their seat, however most people will be willing to vacate a seat for someone who needs it more than they do. If someone refuses to give up their seat, try not to get into a confrontation, for all you know they might also require it due to a hidden disability. It’s likely another passenger will have heard you asking and offer theirs.

Some transport providers encourage the use of ‘please offer me a seat’ badges to alert fellow travellers to your needs. Find out more about the badge offered by Transport for London.

The wheelchair space on buses and trains is often used by people with prams and pushchairs. However wheelchair users should always get priority and pushchairs should be collapsed if the space is required for a wheelchair. If you encounter any problems, speak to the driver/ticket inspector who should assist.

It is worth noting that the wheelchair space is available on a first-come-first-serve basis and, therefore, if the space is already occupied by another wheelchair user(s) you may be unable to board.

Managing hidden effects

We asked our social media followers how they manage the hidden effects of their brain injury when using public transport.

Many people stated that cognitive confusion and memory problems led to missing buses and getting off at the wrong stop.

One Facebook user, who opted to remain anonymous, said: “One thing I find useful is to write down bus/train times and alternatives should one be missed. Writing down the route also helps so that I don't get off at the wrong stop”.

You might also find it helpful to do the journey with a friend or family member for the first time.

Noise was also raised as a problem for many struggling with noise sensitivity following their brain injury.

Gail Coleman said: “I can’t manage the bus without noise cancelling headphones and music. Way too many sounds”.

If you’re travelling by train and noise is an issue for you, many trains offer quiet carriages so, if this is an option, try booking seats in one of these.

Using public transport can cause anxiety for many brain injury survivors.

I can remember the first time I went on the bus on my own, my anxiety was through the roof but I managed to keep calm. I wrote down on my phone little positive notes that I am able to do this just like everyone else.

- Georgia Louise Smith

Sunflower lanyards

Sunflower lanyards are currently available at all UK airports to make staff aware that you have a hidden disability and may need extra assistance.

The extension of the scheme outside of the airport is relatively new and London Northern Eastern Railway (LNER) is currently the only train provider that officially recognises the lanyards on their trains. As the scheme develops it is likely that the lanyards will become a more common feature on public transport.

Click here to find out more.

Discounted travel

Disabled person's bus pass:

A disabled person’s bus pass entitles you to free travel on local buses.

There’s no central provider so get in touch with your local authority to find out if you are eligible.

Disabled person's rail card:

A disabled person’s railcard entitles you to 1/3 off rail fares for you and a travelling companion.

Find out if you’re eligible and apply here.

busy station
I absolutely love public transport, I have a disabled persons rail card and a bus pass, I use both regularly.

- Holly Robinson

National Express disabled coachcard:

Get 1/3 off National Express fares to hundreds of UK towns, cities and airports with a disabled coachcard.

Furthermore, 95% of National Express coaches are wheelchair accessible.

Find out more about the disabled coachcard here.


Community transport:

Most local authorities offer a community transport service. This is intended for people who are unable to use public transport due to age, disability or even a lack of available public transport due to location.

Some schemes only cater for certain types of journey, for example attending medical appointments, whereas other schemes offer a wider range of service.

Contact your local authority to find out what community transport schemes may be available to you.

Disabled persons Freedom Pass:

If you’re in London, the disabled persons Freedom Pass allows free travel across the city.

You can check your eligibility and apply here.

London Taxicard scheme:

The Taxicard offers subsidised travel in licensed taxis and private hire vehicles to London residents with serious mobility impairment.

The aim of the scheme is to enable people who have difficulty using buses, trains and tubes to get out and about.

Find out more about the Taxicard here.


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Headway - the brain injury association is registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales (Charity no. 1025852) and the Office of the Scottish Regulator (Charity no. SC 039992). Headway is a company limited by guarantee, registered in England no. 2346893.

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