A disabled Londoner has launched legal action against a rail company which forbids scooter users onto their trains.
Transport for All member Gina Vettese, from Merton, is taking legal action against Northern Rail, which will not allow even the smallest mobility scooter onto their train. Northern Rail is one of the three train companies (out of twenty-seven operating in the UK) which still has a blanket ban on all scooter users boarding their trains unless they are folded. The others are Gatwick Express (on their 442 trains) and Grand Central. Other train companies mostly allow on small scooters whilst disallowing larger scooters (see Rica’s helpful guide)
Gina used Northern Rail’s services in December, when travelling up to her family over Christmas. Rail staff assisted her getting on the train on her outbound journey and did not mention their policy when Gina bought her ticket. But on the way back, a different member of staff told her that company policy forbade her boarding a train unless she folded her scooter and carried in on as luggage – which was impossible for Gina, given her mobility impairment. Gina was forced to travel four miles to Lancaster station on her scooter and on her own, in freezing cold weather in an unfamiliar area. This journey involved a steep and dangerous route and Gina was fearful that her scooter would run out of battery.
Gina today led Transport for All members in a musical conga action through Victoria Station to present a letter to Gatwick Express. We urged them to change their policy to allow on all scooters which can fit on the train safely, or face a similar challenge. Four of us were mobility scooter users, and all had experienced being denied on public transport.
“If I could fold and carry my scooter, I wouldn’t need to use it!”
Gina explained to their Development Manager that the newest scooters have a very small turning circle and are smaller than many wheelchairs. The manager tried to insist that it was not really a blanket ban as scooter users could fold down and carry on their chairs; but Gina explained that telling disabled passengers that they can board a train if they fold down and carry on their scooter is a bad joke – “If I could do that I wouldn’t need a scooter!”. We are glad that Gatwick Express agreed to meet us and review this policy. We have also written to Grand Central and hope to meet with them to discuss reviewing their scooter policy.
“In this day and age it is a ridiculous policy to restrict the movement of mobility scooter users. We do not use scooters as fashion accessory. They are a much needed aid when many of us are not able to use wheelchairs. I was upset and frustrated when Northern Rail wouldn’t let me onto their train, and talking to their Customer Care felt like talking to a brick wall. I’m taking action because I do not want this to happen to anyone else.”
The policies of Gatwick Express, Northern Rail and Grand Central are unfair. We recognise that some mobility scooters are too large to fit on trains, but modern mobility scooters are in many cases smaller and lighter than some wheelchairs, and just as manoeuvrable. We hope that these companies will work with us to develop a new approach that will allow disabled people like Gina to travel with the same freedom and independence as everyone else.