All aboard? The future of London transport

All aboard? The future of London transport

What is being done to make London’s public transport system more inclusive? Mik Scarlet checks out an event showcasing accessible transport initiatives to find out.

I am so old that I remember when all wheelchair users were put in the guard’s van with the post and bicycles. Things have got better on public transport in recent years but I doubt very much that any disabled person who uses public transport would say that they are even nearly right. So when I received an invite to the Access All Areas event organised by Transport For London I just had to go.

At a mock-up pelican crossing I bumped into Baroness {Tanni} Grey-Thompson and together we berated a poor TfL spokesperson about the difficulties of getting around uneven streets and the problems for people with mobility issues caused by tactile paving. We were introduced to the chief designer for public realm and he took on board our issues, listened to our advice and together we came up with a solution that we thought would suit all disabled people – including blind and partially sighted people for whom tactile paving was originally designed.

We then wandered over to the stand for the river bus. A model of a fully accessible boat proved that most of the fleet is accessible and the crude mock-up of the size of the gangways used to gain access onto these river buses highlighted that most wheelchair users can access them to get around on one of the wonders of London, the Thames.

After chatting with the representatives in the tube and overground trains area, we all agreed that a better solution to the issue of the ramp was to make it part of the train, like on the buses, but with it being either manually operated or lowered with a button on the train. That way any one needing the ramp would not be stuck on the train hoping someone remembered them. Who knows, maybe one day?

It’s still some way off. While TfL is committed to step-free access, the old chestnut of cost and difficultly in an old transport system means that I will be long past caring before London ever sees a fully accessible tube. There was the design for the next step-free station at Finsbury Park which did look very promising and proves it can be done. But with each one taking years to complete, it’s not a quick job.

I now use London buses a lot – after spending years avoiding them because the old Routemaster was impossible – but there are still issues. Only one space for us wheelies and we have to fight for that space with mums and their buggies, and anyone with big luggage – and that’s if the ramp actually works. Unfortunately, the designers of London’s buses did not follow the lead of the bus companies in Brighton and create an area of flip-up seats that can be used to seat wheelchair users, buggies luggage or any combination of those, and instead stuck to the one space design. But in the new electric bus this space is much bigger, thanks to losing the engine, so you could get two manual wheelchairs in at a push.

The National Express coach was, I was stunned to find, accessible. I think that is proof of my age rather than a new development because for most of my life coaches have been right out for anyone on wheels.

I had to meet the great folk at Transport For All and congratulate them on their Crossrail victory. After much campaigning the new Crossrail development will now have step-free access to all the stations on its route. Amazing that in the 21st Century we still have to argue for that but groups like TfA are fighting the good fight.

It was an interesting event. Nothing ground breaking, nothing too new. Just the same old but with a different attitude. The idea of asking disabled people what they want is something all of us have spent years fighting for and maybe the powers that be are finally listening.

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