Hello BBS Community!
I’ve been asked to write a blog around public transport, and any advice I can offer to those that aren’t so confident in taking it, as well as useful bits of technology that better help me to navigate around London and beyond.
I would like to say that I have it all sussed after many years living and working around London, but I’m writing this blog after a week of delayed and terminated trains, overhead wires coming down, broken disabled toilets, and missing platform staff with ramps, so the first thing to say is – as much as there are things along the way I have learnt to make travel easier, it’s still by no means perfect and it’s important to try and stay calm when things outside of your control have transpired against you.
Most trains I take aren’t able to be planned too far in advance, so I don’t generally book assistance through the national passenger assistance. I use apps like national rail and Citymapper to plan my route and then on arrival at train stations I make sure I find someone who can organise a ramp to go down for me to board the train, and disembark at the other end. On boarding the train, I reiterate where I’m headed (yes, they do sometimes get the station wrong), and then on arrival at my destination, I make sure to enlist the help of fellow passengers should there be no one ready and waiting to get me off. To ensure that the train doesn’t depart before I’m off I usually get one person to hold the door and another to go down the platform and try and find someone that looks like they work there. If that fails there usually is a passenger alarm switch for disabled passengers if you’ve been put on the appropriate coach.
To my knowledge, all buses in London are now accessible, and provide a great way to accessibly get to places that trains or the underground can’t get to so easily.
There has been a reasonable amount of press coverage of the wheelchair spaces on buses and who should have priority if a pushchair is already in the space when you board. I usually find that most passengers and drivers are quite human about the whole situation, and if they can get everyone on at the same time they will. If they can’t, having the patience to wait for the next bus can be important as there only is the one space!
Usually the next bus is better!
I use google maps to plan my bus routes, and to see when the next bus is due, but this doesn’t seem to be an exact science – and after waiting a long time, two buses still come at once!
Although the London Underground isn’t something that most people reading this will have access to, it’s something that slowly but surely is becoming slightly more accessible and so I find myself riding now and again – and still feeling like I don’t belong there! Around 25% of London’s stations are now accessible, but a large proportion of those are on the newer lines that are quite far out the city centre. It can be very difficult to find a route that gets you to where you want to be in central London, and I often find that getting as ‘near as possible’ on the tube and then switching to bus or taxi is the only way to make use of the tube a lot of the time.
For many years, taxis were an essential tool for me getting to work in Hammersmith as there wasn’t really any other accessible route from St Pancreas. I was lucky enough that these could be funded through Access to Work, and I would use apps like Gett and MyTaxi (now Free Now) to book a taxi in real time, with very little hassle.
All black cabs in London have to be wheelchair accessible, and the penalties for not taking someone because of their disability can be severe. I’ve not experienced the same level of service outside of London however, with it seeming to be a real lottery if a particular area has accessible taxis – often trying to exhaust every possible cab number to be found on google before conceding there aren’t any, which shockingly is sometimes the case! If you are travelling somewhere new, it can be important to check there are accessible taxis before finalising plans.
A few months ago, I had the realisation that in my electric wheelchair I was roughly double the speed of most people walking, and so I should take advantage of that when going from A to B, if there weren’t other straightforward routes available. It’s a lovely way to see the surroundings and no doubt means that I get more interesting interactions on the way – as well as not costing any more than a bit of electricity to charge the chair up! I use google maps again to plan my walking (wheeling!) routes – but still have to be mindful that it may try and take me up or down a staircase now and again!
I love living and working in London, and although travel can be daunting at times, I wouldn’t change it for anything. My independence is so precious.
On the whole people are kind and extremely helpful, so my greatest advice if you are unsure what to do or where to go is to forget any technology and just ask for help! People are usually all too happy to be of assistance.