Last month, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to take part in a Transport for London (TfL) manual ramp trial on the London Underground. The trial took place between Earls Court and Fulham, two stations which now have lifts to the platform, but still have large steps up to the carriages.
As the Trailblazers End of the line report revealed, the London Underground is currently anything but perfect for disabled people, whether they use wheelchairs or not.
Improvements are slowly being made and TfL is currently renovating a number of Central London stations and has already installed lifts in a number of key stations including Green Park, Kings Cross and Tottenham Court Road. TfL make a point of publicising that the stations are now step free to the platform by installing lifts. This is definite progress and to most non disabled people, this sounds fantastic. However, to most people who use wheelchairs, there is still no access to the train carriage and TfL realise that this is going to be a major challenge during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Using a manual ramp as an interim solution at stations with partial access is something Trailblazers has been calling for and which has been considered for some time. It is very exciting to know that a recommendation that we have suggested is actually being seriously considered.
The ramp trial for the underground resembled my experience when attempting to board an overground train service- but without the 24 hour booking- I went to the station and was met by a member of staff. We then went to the platform and a manual ramp was deployed for me to board the train. When I got to Fulham, I was met by another member of staff, and a ramp was again deployed in a similar manner.
The trial I was involved in went well in my opinion. I felt safe and the staff were polite. The process was stress free. TfL used the same carriage on the same platform each time, so that staff knew exactly where I was. Information was communicated well from one station to the next and despite the trial being conducted in rush hour the other passengers were courteous and even offered to help. When the train was busy, other passengers waited patiently for me to board, or used the other entrance to the carriage. I didn’t feel like an inconvenience and it literally took seconds.
The only real challenge was that there were some drunk people who decided to walk on the track. Service was suspended so I was unable to complete the final journey. So I guess addressing such issues will be more of a challenge than boarding with manual ramps!
It was brilliant to be part of a trial that will potentially have a major impact on access into London for many wheelchair users. In many ways relying on a member of staff to get out a ramp is not ideal, but if it means I can access and enjoy many parts of the city that I couldn’t previously, I don’t mind if it is a short term solution until a permanent fixture can be placed to allow level access.
Hopefully these trials will be seen a success and will be implemented in time for the 2012 games. London is expecting the largest volume of visitors in history, and if it works during the games,I see no reason why they can’t continue afterwards. Only time will tell.