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Travelling in London is still hard for Disabled people

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

I love living in the middle of my favourite city, London, but given its size, trying to move everyone around, especially at peak times can be difficult, it is even harder for me as I use a powered wheelchair. In my opinion, Transport for London generally to an excellent job though there are some points that could be improved.

Currently, 71 Tube stations, 57 London Overground stations and 6 TfL Rail stations have step-free access. All DLR stations are step-free. However, given that that there are over 250 Tube stations, it is clear that there is still a long way to go. I acknowledge that many lines are very deep and building a lift can cost millions of pounds however there are more things can improve faster.

I live on the Circle Line. By its very name, problems are created. Tubes can bend but ultimately each carriage can only get so close to a rounded platform. What’s worse is that the gaps are at different places at each station. I could, for example, safely board at Farringdon in the second carriage which has no gap and yet only realise once I had arrived at Westminster that the gap was too big to safely disembark. Of Course TfL have fantastic staff but often the passenger on board would not have the ability to signal that he wanted to get off. TfL could advertise at every station where to safely board for each station. I know this has been on some of the Jubilee Line.

I almost always travel with my assistant, partly for safely and partly for convenience. I only need them as a result of my impairment to allow me to have an equal journey. London councils operate a fantastic freedom pass which allows disabled people to travel for free however there is currently no discount for any companions. I think that this is wrong. I’m from Scotland and I know that the Scottish government allows every disabled person to travel for free with a companion if they can demonstrate there’s a need. Given my inability to quickly articulate, severe involuntary movements and ascending ramps for boarding, it is clear that I can do with help.

Buses are easier. Sometimes turning into the tight space can be challenging. Annoyingly, some bus drivers have become numb to the accessible request bell given that so many non-disabled people press it inadvertently. Sometimes I find communicating difficult so it can be fun to be trapped on a bus. There are far too many ramps that don’t work and drivers don’t always understand their relationship to the pavement. It can get fatiguing for bus drivers to become adamant their ramp has broken when in fact it just jammed against a paving stone and the driver has to just drive forward a metre. There is always complete pandemonium from overly helpful passengers as the drivers have to close the doors before the ramp can come out. Everyone becomes agitated and there is usually some aggression. I always feel bad for the driver as someone will usually scream at him when he has closed the doors in anticipation of putting the ramp out, everyone thinks he is just going to drive off.

Overcrowding is an issue on all forms of transport. I generally try to barge my way through however I try my best to travel outside peak times. I am aware that TfL are very conscious of reducing overcrowding and I do not have a simple answer for wheelchair users.

These are just some of my observations and I do genuinely believe that TfL really wants to make itself more accessible. It has not been handed an easy set of cards. Trying to make Victorian engineering above ground accessible is challenging enough, let alone underground.