To coincide with the launch of our transport report, End of the Line 2016, Trailblazer Mansoor Ahmad asks, ‘What can we learn from transport systems around the world?’
I’ve been commuting to London from my home in Gillingham for the best part of ten years. My journey began in October 2006, when I joined PwC as a young fresh faced graduate in their Embankment Place office near Charing Cross train station. What I didn’t know at the time was that the freshness would not last very long, as soon I became just another zombie on the train dealing with the daily commute.
Over the years I’ve made use of trains, both the London Overground and Underground, buses, London black cabs and other local taxis. A lot of progress has been made. However, there is still much to be done in London and the UK more broadly to make our transport system more inclusive for people with disabilities.
Being a keen traveler, I’ve had the opportunity of exploring the world outside of this Island we live in, and have endured the challenges of transport in the various countries, cities, villages visited. Having travelled for both work and pleasure to places across Western Europe, North America, West Africa, Middle East, South and South East Asia, it’s fair to say London does have relatively good public transport facilities for disabled people.
However, it was my recent trip to Japan that really amazed me. The transport system really highlighted the ingenuity of the Japanese. Although initially it did lead to some moments where my heart was racing and breath was abating. This was specifically when I turned up to an underground station in Tokyo, where the station guards in their broken English signaled that there’s no lift and I should follow them, and me in my broken (or rather non-existent) Japanese saying ‘let’s go’. Only to be led to the top of an escalator!
What unfolded was sheer class.
The guards stopped the escalator and requested other travellers to wait or use the other stairs, let it complete one cycle until it stopped at a certain point.
They then programmed the escalator to create a platform by combining 3 steps to elongate the parking position for my wheelchair, with a small barrier raised to prevent driving off of the edge.
Then with a guard standing in front, we were off, with a racing heartbeat stabilising the closer to the bottom we got.
This was not just it. The majority of the underground system was accessible, with access from street level to the train.
Guards would be on hand to help with a sturdy lightweight ramp when needed and sometimes an army of them!
I also went on the shinkansen (aka the bullet train) from Tokyo to Kyoto, which again was fully accessible, with ample spaces for wheelchair users.
If we zoom out from the Japan experience, it’s clear that attitudes have begun to improve in recent times. However, I still hear of the lack of respect given to people with disabilities, in particular in London, and have experienced being on the end of such disrespect.
Accessibility, in particular to transport, is vital to create a society that is inclusive for disabled people and enable us to play a meaningful and productive role in the society we are a part of. Without the means to get from A to B in an efficient, accessible and affordable way, disabled people will remain excluded from every day activities.
Japan’s innovative ways of thinking, ingenuity and helpful nature is not only admirable but a combination that is helping make Japan’s transport system more inclusive and accessible for people with disabilities. Whilst we have seen progress in the UK, we should continue learning from the ways other countries are developing their transport systems, and bring it home to the UK.
Written by Mansoor Ahmad.
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