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I took various TfL senior managers on tours of London underground

Blog by Joshua Hepple. This blog and its content reflect the views of the author only.

As part of a Disability Equality Training programme run by Transport for All and Inclusion London, I have had the opportunity to be one of six disabled passengers to take various senior managers of Transport for London (TfL) on tours of London underground.

I know that the managers who have observed me using the tube over the past few weeks have found the trip very eye-opening and often left speechless.

I am a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy. I mainly travel with an assistant in case my movements intensify to the point where I find communication difficult. I live in central London and have very good knowledge of the tube. The managers have seen how critical this knowledge is for disabled people, since my journeys require substantially more planning than non-disabled journeys. I need to know where lifts are, where the raised platform is and if the gap is manageable. There are other things I require which TFL have not necessarily always considered. For example, on the circle line gaps are different at different stations. This is a safety hazard, given that I may board on a platform that is straight and arrive on a curved platform where there is a massive gap, such as Baker Street. While fixing gaps requires complex engineering, displaying more information is not insurmountable.

When travelling with me, I found that the TFL managers noticed things which they have never before considered. For example, tube acceleration is a major factor for me. Tubes that are slower seem to be safer, but the tubes that quickly accelerate, sometimes before I have my chair in the designated area, can jolt my chair. Buses have time to wait until I am in place and I can communicate with the driver easily, but I do not have the same advantage on the tube.

No one enjoys a busy tube or station and given that I am sitting far lower than the other passengers, I often feel claustrophobic. This is difficult to avoid. However, rush hour is never necessarily the hardest time for me to travel as, despite it being busy, everyone knows where they are going. I find it a nuisance when tourists, especially at the weekend, pause and block the corridors as they try to work out where they are going. Trying to navigate my wheelchair through people who are not moving is far more difficult than joining a fast-flowing artery of commuters who know how to move around stations.

Platform staff are generally friendly and helpful. If I drop my oyster card they can help and I always appreciate TFL’s turn-up-and-go policy, which I thoroughly hope all transport providers can accommodate.

The tube isn’t perfect. The vast majority of stations are not step-free, but turning a system which is 150 years old into something fully accessible is impossible. TFL are moving in the right direction (though not as fast as Victoria tubes accelerate). I appreciate that building a lift in central London is tricky, though I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to provide direct feedback and demonstrations to TFL staff. From my conversations, it is clear that staff are taking accessibility seriously and are grateful for the demonstrations from the disabled guides.