Since I started working on FixMyTransport, I’ve had a better understanding of the difficulties faced by disabled passengers across all forms of public transport – which is not a side-effect that I was expecting. I mean, as a frequent public transport passenger, and a reasonably aware person, shouldn’t I have already had a pretty good understanding of this failure in provision?
As I travel around my hometown, and further afield across the country, I often see passengers in wheelchairs or mobility scooters (and no doubt I’ve seen, but not noticed, many with hidden disabilities). But those are just the ones who are travelling. Judging by some of the reports we receive on FixMyTransport, many people with disabilities will never try, or have all but given up trying, to travel by public transport.
Of course, we don’t see people who aren’t there – and neither do the transport operators, so it’s just possible that neither we, nor the operators, fully understand the extent of the needs of this sector of society.
How FixMyTransport changes things
One of the things I really like about FixMyTransport is that it changes the game. It makes a hidden problem visible, by creating a permanent archive of the issues people complain about. It also provides a forum where we can add our support, or debate the best solutions – and put pressure on the operators to implement those solutions. It allows the people who can’t travel, or who can’t face trying, to explain just why that is.
Whether it’s buses that won’t take wheelchairs, platforms that can’t be reached without climbing stairs, or environments where people just don’t feel safe, the FixMyTransport reports from passengers with disabilities are doing a service for everyone – they are opening our eyes to the improvements that need to be made in society as a whole, if we are to consider our transport to be genuinely public.
The trouble with our transport systems – and how to take things further
There’s no doubt that it’s a tricky business, making public transport accessible. A rail operator recently explained to me that many of the difficulties are to do with the fact that our trains run on a Victorian infrastructure, great engineering that was built to last – but which was also built in a time when the rights of disabled people to travel just weren’t taken into consideration.
In these more enlightened times, the law makes sure that every new station built, and every new bus that rolls off the production line, is accessible for all. But it’s a long process, and of course, budgets dictate that less suitable vehicles won’t be retired until they fall apart, and station improvements can only be considered when there’s money in the pot.
You might have already asked your local operator for better provision and been given an apologetic, but negative response. In the normal way of things, you might give up at this point. But FixMyTransport gives people a way to come together and campaign at a higher level. You can find other people who feel the same way, or want to support the issue, and you can rally together to contact the bodies that can help you – be that your local councillor, MP, or passenger watchdog.
In most cases, operators want to help – but their hands are tied, by budgetary constraints, short franchises, inherited vehicles, rolling stock and real estate. That’s why FixMyTransport aims to give you tools to take your problems higher up, where policy changes can really make a difference.
Here are just a few FixMyTransport reports dealing with problems faced by passengers with disabilities.
If any of those issues has given you food for thought, why not click the ‘support’ button (which will put your name to the passenger’s campaign), add to the debate, and maybe even suggest a solution?
Today, December 3rd is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a United Nations initiative. This year the theme is “removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all”.
Image by Oriol Segarra (CC)
Station accessibility is a frequent subject for campaigns on FixMyTransport. Progress is being made by the rail industry but it will be many years before stations are universally accessible.There are two main aspects to rail accessibility, firstly people should receive the best help and information about the current facilities when making a journey, and secondly that there is continual progress towards fully accessible stations and trains.
Regarding help and information, National Rail have just launched a Rail Travel Made Easy Website. This guides you through the whole journey and includes plans and photographs of every station and information about how to book assistance.
“Passenger Assistance is a service provided by train companies to assist passengers at stations, when boarding or exiting their train and on board the train. It is free and available to anyone who needs assistance due to a disability, temporary impairment, or older age, with no requirement that you possess a discretionary railcard.”
For making progress towards a fully accessible network, FixMyTransport campains are an ideal way of gathering supporters, getting advice and tracking and publicising progress.
Examples of issues include large gaps between the platform and train, poor access problems such as at Beeson and Chepstow, and major upgrades being needed such as at Wakefield Kirkgate.
Some good news is that the Department for Transport (DfT) have funded an ‘Access for All’ programme which was launched in 2006 and includes main, mid-tier and small station budgets. The existing programme of work covers 154 main stations that will receive an accessible route into the station and to and between each platform, normally using lifts or ramps. A further 160 stations are being upgraded as a result of the mid-tier programme (where bids were made for the funding) and will benefit from work ranging from platform humps to reduce stepping distances to new step free routes. 1000 stations are covered by the small stations programme (where each operator is allocated a budget) which tends to focus on improvements for visual or aural impairments.
A further £100m has recently been announced for ‘Access for All’ and the DfT will be looking for stations to include in the programme.
“How these will be selected is yet to be finalised, although it is likely to be similar to the existing criteria. To ensure the best possible value for money stations have been selected based on their annual footfall weighted by the incidence of disability in the area. Around a third were also chosen to ensure a fair geographical spread across the country.”
The DfT have said that people can contact the DfT “with suggested stations for inclusion in the programme or they can contract train operators or local authorities who will also be consulted about their priorities. Please note though that stations will not be selected by “votes” but that each project will need a full business case before it is included in the programme. For smaller scale improvements then people should lobby the train operators in the first case.”
If there is a local Rail User Group then this will often be able to help with information and support for station enhancement campaigns. Railfuture have a list of Rail User Groups. The access ramp shown in the photograph was built by the train operating company following a local campaign.
So good luck with your campaign which FixMyTransport can help to succeed and please get in touch with the Team at FixMyTransport if you need any help or advice contacting organisations.
Well, here I am in sunny Oxford after the mySociety meet-up in London, and while I was there, many people asked how we got down here, so far from home and with the challenges that visual impairment can bring. So, here I am to tell you my experiences, and that with a bit of planning and forward thinking it is possible to get to places that are far away from your home. I can always help you with this (unofficially), leave a comment here and I’ll contact you. This is a description of the day, as well as links to their respective FixMyTransport campaigns:
- 5 – 6am: We were up and getting all our gear together, we had a large holdall with bedding in, and two rucksacks with all our clothes, Last minute checks were done, and we set off to the Tesco Bus Stop in our hometown, Abergele to catch the first eastbound 12 bus to Rhyl, It was timetabled to arrive at 06:43, it arrived at 06:45.
- 7 – 9am: We arrived in Rhyl on time, and strolled over to our next service, the 11 from Rhyl to Chester. The empty bus was late arriving from the depot (why?) and we were 5 minutes late from Rhyl. By the time we got to Chester we had lost the 16 minutes change time, and as we pulled into the Bus Exchange, our connecting bus was waiting to leave. (Total Delay: 30 minutes)
- 9 – 1pm: We had to think fast, and trying to get anywhere by bus was out of the question, so we started walking in the general direction of the Rail Link bus to the station to get to Buxton, ended up with a broken holdall, and £40 out of pocket we arrived in Buxton 20 minutes ahead of schedule, so we found the correct bus stop and waited, unfortunately Buxton Rail Station’s bus stops lack seating, so we had to sit on our bags…
- 1 – 4pm: Transpeak is the connecting service between Manchester, Buxton, Derby and Nottingham, which has recently become part of the High Peak Bus Company (50% Trent Barton, 50% Centrebus) fairly recently, and it was quite nice to get a double decker on the run over to Derby. We left on time and arrived in Derby on time too – our first on time service!
- 4 – 5pm: Derby Bus station is nice and modern, but it’s a shame it is out of town, We caught the Skylink between Derby and Leicester, 10 minutes ahead of the bus we were meant to catch, and it was a nice, busy service as far as East Midlands Airport.
- 5:40: Leicester Bus Station is one of the worst bus stations I have ever been to. It was not very clear which Bus Stand we needed for our bus, and the people there were not very nice, We felt intimidated by a few people, and were glad to get out of there on the X7, which was 20 minutes late, The plus side being the bus was only 3 weeks old!.
- 6 – 7pm: As I mentioned above, we caught the X7 bus between Leicester and Northampton, it was 20 minutes late, and we missed our connection in Northampton to take us to the Rail Station, The driver was not very helpful as we arrived in Northampton, he did not know which bus we needed to get to the Train Station
- 7:40pm: Greyfriars Bus Station is horrible, It is the sort of place where you don’t want to be for long, and we did not like the fact that the doors were not automatic, they were ones that you had to pull open, which given there were no signs for meant we had to guess. Luckily, Greyfriars is being demolished and rebuilt at some point in the future.
- 7 – 8pm: We caught a bus to the station, and went to purchase a ticket from the Ticket Office, Despite having valid Identification of my Disability, the Ticket Office staff Member argued it was not valid. I have raised this with London Midland, and you can keep track of progress here. We caught a train to Milton Keynes, it was on time.
- 8 – 10pm: We arrived in Milton Keynes and proceeded to immediately get lost! They have removed the Bus Stands from the Station Forecourt temporarily, and as such we found it difficult to find our way to our Bus Stop, Luckily a member of Bus Users UK (Milton Keynes) was on hand, and as he has a Sight Impairment also, was able to guide us to our stop. He remained and helped us on board the X5 to Oxford, which was the last bus (and it was 20 minutes late).
We arrived in Oxford at 10:30pm, met our friend and proceeded to where we were staying. So. it is possible to make journeys across the UK solely by bus, but you do need to be able to think on your feet, as sometimes things can go wrong. If this has inspired you, then do let us know how you got on with your journey.
Credit: Northampton Bus Station image by Nico Hogg; 2008 Volvo B9R image by Tom Ellis -both used with thanks under the Creative Commons licence.
I am writing this from my own experiences, but would love to hear from you about yours, get in touch with me by leaving a comment to this blog post.
Here’s an occasion where I felt a complaint was not required, I’ve not named the Operator – you know who you are.
I went to Chester on my birthday with my Fiancée, brought a train ticket from the ticket machine at Rhyl, only later realising it had not given us the discount for a Disabled Railcard.
“Never mind” I said, “I’ll get a refund when we arrive home”
So, we had a nice day in Chester, and arrived back in Rhyl that evening.
I asked the gentleman in the Ticket Office for a refund, he asked me where I purchased the ticket (to which I pointed at the Ticket Machine) and he proceeded to hand me a form (which was not very accessible) and told me to fill in the form and send it in. I arrived home and thought I’d add the issue to FixMyTransport, but then I thought, why bother? Our particular train operator has not got a great track record of responding to customers – a quick look through their responses on FixMyTransport makes that clear.
I binned the tickets a week ago, I was not going to complete an inaccessible form, I was not even going to attempt to contact the Customer Services department, Why? I just didn’t think it’d change anything.
But now I think about it, I should have sent that message, for many reasons.
– Publishing a message on FixMyTransport, even when the operator doesn’t respond very well, puts it out there in the public domain and shows other people with the same issue (even if it’s a really small one) that they’re not alone.
– The more people join my FixmyTransport campaign, the more pressure there is on the operator to fix the problem, even if they’re not engaging as fully as they might.
– The team at FixMyTransport, and other users, can often suggest what to do next when you’ve had no satisfaction. So, if the operator palmed me off, I could have tried a body like Passenger Focus. And if my problem had been a bigger one, there are all sorts of disability support groups to ask for help, there’s my local councillor, the local press, and lots more.
Don’t be like me, Even if you don’t get a response from the operator the first time, keep going. Use FixMyTransport to report issues and to keep a record of any response you get. At the end of the day you will get an answer, it takes time, but you will be supported.
Image credit: Transdev Harrogate and District – used with permission.