Hi, my name is Dean and I am a wheelchair user due to Becker Muscular Dystrophy.
I travel to London from Berkshire quite often, to either visit my sister or for MDUK and Trailblazers events and campaigns.
I am writing this blog to highlight some of the difficulties I encounter when using public transport in London.
The staff at my local station of Twyford are very helpful, they are always on hand with the ramp and any assistance I need, whether I have booked assistance 24 hours in advance or not.
However, when I arrive into London Paddington there is very rarely a member of staff waiting with a ramp. I then have to ask another passenger to let someone know that I am waiting on the train for a ramp. It is not fair that I have to rely on the goodwill of strangers to help me out and inconvenience them, although most people are lovely and happy to help.
I now tend not to book advance assistance on journeys to Paddington due to the system not working, and also because I believe wheelchair users should be able to make last minute journeys whenever they like, just like everyone else.
However when I travel with Southwest Trains into Waterloo they are so much more efficient, I can’t think of a single time when they have not been there with the ramp waiting for me to arrive and there is a lot more space for wheelchairs on their trains too.
Another issue I find with train stations, particularly in London, is that they only have a lift to one platform. Take Finsbury Park for instance, you can’t get a train there from Kings Cross, but you can get one back. It makes no sense to me that they would only put a lift to one platform.
So that’s my experience with trains, now for the London Underground.
I was so happy when I found out the Hammersmith and City and Circle lines had lifts and access at Paddington and Kings Cross. This meant I could travel to my sister easier and get other connections to other parts of London.
However last month I was making my usual journey on the tube from Paddington to Kings Cross, when I got off at Kings Cross there was a big sign by the lift saying it is closed for 6 months, and passengers were to go to Farringdon and get a bus back.
I now realise I should have checked the TFL website before I made my journey and not have just assumed the lift would be working. I understand that a new lift needs to be put in, but 6 months sounds like a long time to finish the job at such a big station. Station staff could also make a point of always talking to wheelchair users when they see them to advise of issues.
Other than that experience, I find the underground very easy to use. Obviously most of the stations are not wheelchair accessible, but the ones that are have level access and I can manage boarding the tubes without any assistance.
So last but not least, London buses.
I try to avoid using buses, because sometimes the automatic ramps to board them can be quite steep and it can be difficult when I am on my own. Back in November I was getting off a bus and the ramp was steep, looking back I realise it was because the driver didn’t lower the bus. Anyway I put my hands either side of the doors so I didn’t roll down to quickly, but my right arm ended up getting flung back too far and I tore some muscles in it. It was very painful and took three weeks to get better.
Unfortunately a few weeks ago I had a another bad bus experience. I was with my sister Lorraine opposite Finsbury Park Station and wanted to board the number 29. The bus pulled up and the driver put the ramp out. There were two pushchairs in the wheelchair area, but the parents saw me and began to move and fold the pushchairs to make room. Then the driver started shouting and got out of his seat. He said, “There are two pushchairs on here so the wheelchair can’t come on”. So I said to him, “I thought the law states that the area has to be given up for a wheelchair no matter what?”. The driver replied, “The law has just been changed and I know the rules”. He was very rude and aggressive. I took a photo of the number plate of the bus and put in a complaint to TFL, which is still ongoing.
I hope my blog has not put any disabled people off traveling to London on public transport. Although these events are frustrating, they can only get better. If I think of the progress that has been made in the last 5 years, things should vastly improve in the next few years ahead.
Thanks for reading and happy traveling.
If you would like more information about using public transport in London, visit the Transport for London accessibility webpage.