This week, BBC Rip Off Britain highlights the experience of disabled passengers on trains. Far too often, inaccessible transport stops disabled people from enjoying the same opportunities as everyone else. In some cases, people have been through stressful and upsetting incidents – from train staff forgetting them to being treated like an object. In this blog, Steph shares her experiences.
Every day across the UK 100s of disabled people are left stranded on train platforms. As a wheelchair user, I use trains frequently to go to work and to socialise. But, of course, the one thing that I’m constantly aware of when travelling is accessibility.
When it comes to train travel, both locally and nationally, train companies have issues with the way that they deal with disabled people.
If you’re disabled, you always have to plan ahead
I have to plan my journey before I go anywhere in ways that non-disabled people don’t need to, and I rely on the services of train companies to get me to my destination without a hitch but this isn’t always the reality.
There have been instances when a member of staff at my local station has been unable to put me on or take me off the train due to medical reasons. They said “Our staff will always do their best to assist customers, but there may be occasions when they do not have the physical ability to place ramps. In such circumstances, alternative transport will be arranged.”
While they do offer a taxi to take me to the next accessible station, this can take over an hour to arrive, or they ask me to phone them in advance to book travel, which isn’t always possible.
I feel panicked when assistance doesn’t show up
Sometimes, when you can book assistance, nobody shows up. There have been several times when I have booked assistance with a train company and a member of staff has failed to meet me at the station, leaving me panicked because I don’t know whether they will come and take me off before the train departs.
And it’s not just me. Ceri Smith, Policy Manager for the disability charity Scope, spoke on BBC Wiltshire in April and said that ‘1 in 5 disabled people who have booked assistance on a train only to find that there isn’t assistance to get off the train at their arrival station’.
This is a very simple part of the service I expect as a disabled person. But when this occurs, I am left questioning why I should book assistance in the first place if this need can’t be met.
I can’t use some train stations, so journeys take a lot longer
Not being able to go to a station due to lack of physical access is also an issue. My local train company, has a policy in place to order a taxi to take me to the next available station. This sounds like a good idea in practice, but the reality I’ve found to be completely different.
I went to Port Sunlight on a trip to the theatre and I found out at Central Station that it wasn’t accessible. It really baffled me that this is the case as Port Sunlight is a prominent tourist attraction.
I needed to travel to the nearest accessible station and get a taxi from there. There weren’t any accessible taxis available, and so the suggestion was to get one from Liverpool which would take over an hour at least.
Things like this are a real inconvenience to me.
Things are improving, but there’s more to be done
Of course, this is not to say that there aren’t staff who do their jobs well and provide great service for disabled people because there are and that certainly has been the case for me.
There has been improvement. Under the Access for All programme, introduced in 2006, The Guardian stated that ‘150 stations have been upgraded to remove barriers to independent travel, including by installing signs, ramps and lifts. A further 68 are under construction or in development.’ But, at the same time, I feel that disabled people are still not being taken seriously across the board when it comes to train travel.
It would be fantastic to see train companies work with disabled people directly to ensure that the policies they offer, when it comes to an element of the journey not being accessible, are realistic. And if they aren’t, they need to find an alternative that really works.
Also, the attitudes and terminology staff use towards disabled people who travel by train are important too. I’m not an object, so don’t call me a ‘wheelchair’. Instead, use the term ‘wheelchair user’, it’s far more appropriate.
We want to feel empowered, respected and valued just like non- disabled people. There’s progress that is being made, but there is so much more that needs to be done.
Keep the conversation going on Twitter by sharing your experiences, tagging @Scope and using the hashtag #RipOffBritain.