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TfA Trustee Jeff Harvey shares the issues he faces while travelling in London

Blog by Jeff Harvey. This blog and its content reflect the views of the author only.

TfA Trustee Jeff Harvey is an electric wheelchair user. In this blog he explains the issues he faces while travelling every day.

Buses:

Every time I take the bus, I get stressed. I have a mental checklist, and it’s a relief as I check off each item until I’m on the bus. First, does the driver see me? If I’m the only one at the stop, will they even stop? Second, once the driver sees me, will they deploy the ramp? Third, is the space occupied by a buggy? If so, will they fold the buggy to make room? Fourth, if the driver does try to deploy the ramp, will it work? (This last one has gotten much better over the past few years.) Finally, as I carefully manoeuvre my chair back into the wheelchair space (sometimes having to ask people to move their feet, legs or luggage), I relax a bit. Then, as I approach my stop, the stress goes up again. I often can’t reach the blue button which requests the ramp, so I have to look for someone to ask. Do they know about the blue button? Will they understand where it is? If there’s no one to press the blue button for me, I will have to yell for the ramp and/or stop. Then I have to hope the ramp works again. As I roll down the ramp again and thank the driver, I can relax again. Or do I need to get another bus?”


Tube:

“I love to travel on the Underground. It is so much faster than the bus. There is much more space, and if one train is too crowded, there will be another in a few minutes (as opposed to buses, which might can be 10 or 20 minutes). The problem is that so few stations are accessible, I may have to take a bus to get to the nearest accessible station, then another to my destination. Another problem is that the lifts don’t always work and are sometimes taken out of service due to lack of staff. Wheelchair users are expected to check the status of every lift they require before setting out on every journey. Sometimes the status changes during a journey, and I arrive at a station expecting to get out, but I’m stuck underground. It can easily add an extra hour or two to my journey. Manual boarding ramps are a great addition that have opened up many more stations, but occasionally, staff don’t show up at the stop where I’ve asked to get off. It can be incredibly stressful to try to hold the train while a member of staff comes running, or the doors shut and I have to go to the next accessible station, which could be literally miles away”.

Taxi / PHV:

It’s really great that London’s black cabs are all wheelchair accessible, but unfortunately, I’m too tall to fit safely inside, and their ramps are often too steep. Even when a train company or the Underground might offer a taxi when there’s a problem, finding one I can fit in can take hours, so I’m usually better off taking a bus, and that comes with its own set of problems. Even if I’m in a real hurry, the “just take a taxi” option isn’t on the table for me.”

For Street:

“Most of London is pretty good for dropped curbs, but some areas, for example, Soho, have old curbs with no cuts. Sometimes I arrive at a street and there is no curb cut in sight. I might have to backtrack 100 meters or more, then go into the street, and mix with car and cycle traffic to get to the next place I can get on the pavement. Even in areas with a curb cut at every corner, if there is construction without alternate ramps, or someone parks across the access, it’s the same; back to the nearest curb cut and into the street. Many areas also have pavement so rough that it’s practically impassable. Bumpy, cracked surfaces or cobblestones can mean I travel at 1/10th the speed of normal, risk damage to my chair and end up with a headache from the constant jarring. Signs put out on the pavement are another hazard which can block progress or force me to go dangerously close to the curb.”

For Trains:

“I love to travel by train. Unfortunately, only 1 in 5 stations are fully accessible around the country. If I want to take a trip, I have to find the nearest accessible station, then find out how to get from that station to my destination. If it’s a cab, I have to book well in advance to make sure my chair will fit in (I’m tall, and my electric chair is larger than average). If it’s a bus, I have to make sure it’s accessible. Most train companies also ask wheelchair users to book 48 hours in advance. It makes things so much more difficult. “Turn up and Go” policies which don’t require advance booking are essential; without it, travelling can be too difficult and too much risk to get stuck somewhere. If a broken bus ramp makes me 10 minutes late for a train, it can have a knock on effect for every booked assistance for departure, changes and arrival. Imagine it’s a nice summer day and your friends decide to take a train to the coast for a quick fun trip and they invite you. You can’t go because you didn’t book assistance 24/48 hours earlier.


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