Is public transport really wheelchair accessible?
Recently my partner, daughter and I visited my Mum, in Hertfordshire, near where we lived until relocating 2 years ago. We had 2 excursions planned, one into London to meet a friend for dinner, and the other to local shops on the bus.
Now we are seasoned public transport users. I am confident in asking for assistance, I know access points on buses, and research our routes for accessibility prior to a trip. However, what I can’t control or plan for is staff attitudes, broken equipment and poor service in general.
Our journey into London was uneventful, apart from staff being grumpy and complaining at the weight of the ramp, staff shortages and life in general. On our return, station staff had difficulty locating assistance, so in order to avoid missing our train, we managed to get the wheelchair on board ourselves. However, we discovered that our return destination was unmanned after 7pm, so again we disembarked ourselves. If we had not, we would have had to continue our journey to the next stop and then a 10 minute walk to catch a bus to our starting destination adding almost an hour to our journey time.
I was astounded in the fact that there was no staff available after 7pm to assist. This is by no means late, many commuters are still returning home from work, and the train was busy. The station is a relatively busy one too. This gives a message to me that people requiring assistance must be at their chosen destination during day time hours and that dinner with friends or any other evening activity is just not an option. Surely this is not OK.
Our experience with the local buses the following day was also like russian roulette and a work out for me. Again we planned to use buses all claiming to be ‘wheelchair’ friendly. The first bus was a single door front entry, but the ramp was broken. That’s kind of OK, the step up was no higher than a curb. The second bus, had middle doors for wheelchair access. The driver informed me that these middle doors were broken and we had to board from the front, however the wheelchair could not get to the designated space due to a pole reducing the width of the gangway. The driver told me to just pull the chair over into another space (I think it was for a buggy). I felt very pressured to do what he said, my daughter became more anxious, as people were trying to board behind us. She didn’t want to wait for the next bus (in half an hours time) so I manipulated and squeezed the wheelchair into the space, but all passengers had to step around the foot plates in order to get on and off the bus. The driver offered me no assistance and just looked straight ahead when we disembarked.
Our 3rd bus, had a middle door working, but the ramp was broken. The driver offered to help me with the wheelchair, but a fellow passenger beat him to it. At least we could use the appropriate space for the wheelchair. The final bus was fit for purpose.
If my daughter had been a lone traveller in her wheelchair, she would not have been able to access these buses and would have been waiting for buses that had working ramps. Why is it acceptable to put inaccessible buses on the road? Do bus companies in the home counties, think that it is OK to run such poorly kept vehicles? I’m pretty sure that this is a definite decline in accessible transport since we moved away, or are my expectations different? Is it that as my daughter has grown, she has larger wheelchairs that are harder for me to get up steps and manoeuvre, so I notice these difficulties more?
Maybe we are spoilt ‘up north’ . All but 2 stations on our train line into Liverpool are wheelchair accessible, there are always staff available to assist, without moaning and after 7pm. There are designated wheelchair spaces on train carriages, so my daughter’s wheelchair does not ‘block’ a doorway, staff always radio ahead from the station entrance to the platform to let staff know you are on your way. We are yet to board a bus where the ramp does not work, drivers take time to ensure you are safely in position before pulling a way. Our recent experience has made me think twice about travelling to London, and increased my awareness and appreciation of the public transport system we have where we live.
How can there be such a difference? My biggest question is why is reliable accessible public transport still not available???