For the past three months, Transport for All (TfA) activists have been showing their MPs the reality of travelling around London when you’re a disabled or older person, by taking them on a trip. Chuka Umunna was the latest MP who undertook this journey.
In April 2015, as part of TfA’s seven election demands for accessible transport, we were calling on all candidates to commit to making a journey with a disabled or older person – or better still, a group – to see first-hand the barriers that we encounter every day. Some made this commitment to their constituents at the various husting events we organised.
“An eye-opener for the MP”
TfA trustee, Alan Benson was the first to take his MP Zac Goldsmith on an excursion. He says: “It was an eventful trip. I spent two and a half hours with him on trains and buses. There was a buggy on the bus which brought the debate up. We were put in the wrong carriage at Queen’s Park. It was an eye-opener for the MP who mentioned it on LBC. “
Four other MPs – Stephen Timms (Newham), Dawn Butler (Brent Central), Mike Gapes (Redbridge), and Chuka Umunna (Streatham) – have also joined TfA members and Transport Action Groups to test the accessibility of London transport network. We took Dawn Butler with Brent members on a trip to the Parliament. Working with Brent Pensioners and Brent Mencap, we travelled on a bus from Brent Civic Centre, and then a group of fifteen members boarded the Jubilee Line at Wembley Park to Westminster. At Westminster station, a temporary lift was in place due to maintenance work but the route was badly signed. We were glad that Ms Butler has taken up this issue with TfL and the signage has been promptly improved. At Parliament, member Jeff Harvey chaired a roundtable where members raised the transport access issues that affect us. Ms Butler also asked the Secretary of State of Transport about his plans to expand Turn Up and Go rail assistance.
A week after, Mike Gapes MP travelled by bus with Redbridge TAG members June Kelsey and Abdul Jamil for his first day back at the House of Commons. Abdul, a scooter user, chose to take Mr Gapes to a nearby bus stop where bus ramps frequently fail to work. Mr Gapes has written to Redbridge Council asking them about making bus stops accessible and has also pledged to write to the Minister asking them to make Turn Up And Go assistance a condition of future franchises.
Newham Transport Action Group (TAG) campaigners Sam and Ron Candy and Shani went out on the bus and Tube with MP Stephen Timms.“The day was a success; the MP has asked questions in the House about accessible transport”, according to Ron. Despite the fact that there is meant to be level access onto the train at West Ham, the gap was too big and staff needed to help push Shani’s wheelchair onto the train. Following this meeting, Stephen Timms has taken up our issues by writing to the Rail Minister Claire Perry, asking her to make Turn-Up-and-Go a condition of the award of franchises for South Eastern railways and South Western railways.
The latest MP who made it was Lambeth MP Chuka Umunna, who joined his constituent Faye Lightbourne on her first bus journey for ten years in Streatham. Conflict arose when a parent with a buggy, considerately and without fuss, got off the bus to make room for Faye in the wheelchair bay, and another passenger stared abusing Faye.
Faye said: “It was very frightening when this woman starting shouting at me and I felt terrible, I just wanted to get off but I couldn’t.
“It wasn’t the mum who was horrible, she was really sympathetic and understanding. It was another woman on the bus, who said I should be ashamed of myself for making the buggy move out of the way.”
Chuka Umunna has promised to take up with TfL the urgent need for more spacious buses to help avoid this conflict.
How to get your MP on board
If you are thinking of taking part, do get in touch. Tell us who your MP is and we will help you to organise this journey. We can link you up with others in your constituency. It’s a powerful way to show them the impact that inaccessible transport has on our lives. “If your MP has not been on a trip, encourage them to do so. Get in touch with TfA and they will help you” concluded Alan Benson.