Wheelchair users, please stop disrespecting public transport

In the last 45 years, I have seen the accessibility of public transport for wheelchair users and people with other impairments improve in leaps and bounds on many fronts. It is obviously not perfect and there is still a lot of work still to be done in some areas, but it can not be denied that it is very different to when I was a child.

The important point to understand is the case for accessible transport was won many years ago around the world as a general policy and now it is an issue of implementation. This means that any new transport or transport hubs. including renovated ones, are absolutely likely to consider accessibility issues from the start.

The problem is the existing pre-accessible transport and hubs. They will be renovated in the end but it is a matter of time, costs, resources and priority. Therefore any campaign for accessible transport should focus on these factors.

While I accept public transport is not perfect, I do not think it is fair for wheelchair users to endlessly berate the system on what are general difficulties. Sometimes a broken toilet is just a broken toilet, and if someone has to wait for another bus because there is another wheelchair user is in the allocated space, it is simply the reality and norms of a system which can not be perfect however much it tries not an anti-disabled conspiracy.

Also, if a wheelchair user has to wait for a ramp off their train, it may be because staff are over-stretched and can not be in two places at once, or there was a communication difficulty with the boarding station. This is the same with airport assistance. These are not the crimes of the century and do not need to be reported in the media when there is an angry tweet from a wheelchair user.

I never book assistance when I use the train because I believe if you are patient, polite and respectful about their role and limitations, staff will mostly always be helpful in putting you on the next available train. And if you can’t get me on the next train, I smile and tell them its fine as I wait a bit longer. This requires a selfishness attitude which some wheelchair users try not to show.

I am not saying current wheelchair users should accept second best but rather to appreciate a little more the battles that were fought and won by wheelchair users before then which has provided accessible transport and their opportunity to moan about these smaller elements.

Going forward, the battles ahead will involve the conflict with parents and their battleship sized pushchairs as they seek to share, or not share, the spaces wheelchair users legally fought for, and have a right to. Another controversial issue is mobility scooters and whether this form of road transport should be allowed on public transport never designed to handle them.

Our achievements in public transport should be generally celebrated for the liberation and inclusion it brings, not berated as some form of disability moaning conformity.

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A Greater Anglian failure

I have been using trains throughout the UK and Internationally for 25 years from a time I was walking to now as an electric wheelchair user. I am the type of impaired rail user who never books assistance because I have found that with a smile and a friendly attitude, staff are often 99% happy to assist you if you just turn up, which should be my right to do so. So when I encounter a situation like I faced on Saturday, I am really not amused.

I went with my volunteer to Lee Valley Whitewater Centre to try Hydrospeeding and Hotdogging, which is in Waltham Cross, London. Before I went, I spent some time on Google Maps finding the most accessible I assumed and quickest route possible, deciding to stick with trains as well as giving me plenty of time to arrive on time and hopefully early.

Getting from Coventry to Euston with Virgin Trains was easy as I know the route very well. We walked to St Pancras and caught the Southeastern Javelin train to Stratford International, a 6-minute journey. Then a quick and interesting walk straight through the Westfield shopping centre to the original Stratford station. And this is where it all started to go wrong.

We needed to catch the Abelilo Greater Anglian train to Waltham Cross, a 20-minute journey. Due to poor signage, it firstly took us a while to find the right platform and only with assistance. Once on the platform, the train was late and when it arrived the staff appeared frozen for a few minutes before getting the ramp for me to board the train. As we were boarding, a member of staff suddenly said: “Oh, you need to get off at Tottenham Hale because Waltham Cross is unmanned”!

At Tottenham Hale, a brash duty manager said she booked a special accessible taxi as there were none at the station and we just had to wait. Looking outside, I could see that there were plenty of taxis that would take my chair. I explained this to her, and her reply was “not one that we are prepared to pay for”.

We waited almost an hour for the taxi, which was just a black cab that was nothing particularly special but still ok. The journey then took a good 40 minutes, but we managed to convince the driver to take us straight to the watersports centre.

The Hydrospeed was booked for 1.30pm, and it was now 2.30pm! We had missed it but luckily we could go on the next session at 3.30pm! We had a great time and finished up, changing out of wetsuits, etc., around 6ish.

We were a bit at a loss to how to proceed to get home. So we firstly walked to Waltham Cross station. No staff but there was a lift and a ramp (locked) on the Platform heading towards Stratford. A train arrived and with help from our passengers; the driver was alerted that I needed assistance which he, for his wisdom, point blank refuse to do. I know other train operators would be far more helpful!!!

So we walked to the bus station and caught the bus to Tottenham Hale that took 1 hour before 1/2 mile to the station. We came back here before I had assumed since we had been dumped here originally, it was accessible, it was modern looking enough. Upon arriving at the station, I went from relief to confusion to total annoyance as it dawned on me there was no lift to the platform we needed! This is the point I lost it, demanding if there was no lift the station must close on the grounds of health and safety since it had been the law for over 20 years!

The same brash duty manager, who was now booking another taxi to Stratford, made the excuse it was a Victorian building. As we were waiting another hour in the waiting room, I was impressed at seeing the modern escalator, glass walls and ticket gates were apparently a part of the original Victorian design, as it would have needed the assistance of Doctor Who to achieved this!

Waiting another 15 minutes outside for the same taxi as before, we slowly realised the last Virgin Train home was at 9.43pm and at was now 9pm, and basically we missed it and were now stuck overnight in London. I could not consider a coach because my wheelchair did not collapse.

So back to the relevant safety of St Pancras and the Euston Road, we had to book a room at the Premier Inn, costing £223 with breakfast! With no access to my evening meds, it was a painful night. We finally returned to Coventry 10.30am on Sunday, a full 24 hours since we left.

The mess was not because something went wrong but because Abelilo is a train operator who feels until now it has been acceptable to discriminate wheelchair users, but with my assistance, whether they want it or not, this is about to change so watch this space!

Does the car industry encouraging benefit fraud?



The motability scheme used to be a small scheme that enables disabled people receiving DLA to exchange the mobility component of the benefit for a car on the 3 year lease scheme. Over the years it has grown in public awareness and popularity as the public acceptance of disability has grown. But when you start to hear adverts on the local radio from car dealerships focus on the fact they have motability cars, you must start to wonder what is carrying.


While more non-disabled people are unable to afford to run cars, cars remain a status symbol and maybe something people will try and succeed to be disabled for. A recent WeRspartacus report suggested one reason not to tighten the eligibility for PIP was the number of obviously non-disabled jobs that would be lost in the car industry. As the age of the car slowly dies for a number of reason, it could be argued it is artificially kept afloat by the motability scheme and therefore it is in the best interest for the numbers of disabled people claiming benefits to increase rather than fall.


We must therefore be careful to see the vested interests the car industry and others to encouraging the growth of disability for their own financial reasons.


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My battles with pushchairs


It was always a matter of time as a very regular bus user to end up blogging about pushchairs. Now for me, this is nothing to do with bus drivers as they need to drive the bus, not always sort the dance with pushchairs I need to have on buses. For those who do not realise, when I use a bus in my wheelchair I have to sit backwards on a very specific place in the bus and I have no choice in that. Depending on the type of bus, there is often an obstacle course of rails for me to overcome which requires a lot of turning space as on some buses, I need to turn to a lot to get in.


This is fine when the bus is empty and the minute I have one or more pushchairs in the way and its become mission impossible. I do not like to bark orders to my fellow passengers as I hope they see the issue and cooperate. That said, I am shocked at the size of some of these pushchairs, like they were battleships, and how some parents give no regard to other passengers. While my wheelchair is neatly out way once I am in, some parents leave the pushchairs blocking the isle with no imagination that they could actually fold down their chairs as their children could actually get off in a way I can’t. 


This leads me to believe the buses of the future will need to be designed quite differently to accommodate the changing demographics of users.


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Cars, disability and income


Whole the Motability scheme has supported a generation of disabled people, the big question for me is whether the scheme remains fit for purpose within the 21st century or indeed is still a fair deal or whether it has become a perk for some disabled people that is a great attractive for people to unnecessarily claim DLA/PIP?


Public transport has dramatically improved in recent years despite the attempts of activists to rubbish this fact, and the car is certainly not the same necessity it may have been on online shopping and so on. DLA and therefore Motability does not discriminate based on income but is this really fair? I would like to see the scheme develop into one that helps a wider range of people, not just disabled people, based on income and outcomes to provide people with a helping hand when they need to, not to remain an absolute right which can be taken for granted or abused. It must be noted ironically that the scheme does not provide disabled people with money to pay for any adaptations they need, additional costs, as a right but as an act of charity at their discretion.


Nothing should be untouchable or unthinkable and we need to be effective in how we support the mobility needs of all disabled people.


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Is public transport used as a weapon of complain?


It sometimes appears that is disabled people want to find something to complain about they pick on public transport, saying it is not fully accessible often for some ridiculous reasons. I have heard a call for bus drivers to have training is autism, which I do not understand as I think training should be general to improve overall customer service. I have also heard a report claim public transport is not accessible to people with learning difficulties because they have to pay in the peak time and therefore they can not work!


Accessibility simply means having the ability to use something in the same way as other people, it does not entitle people to perfection, simply equality. Public transport can be stressful for anyone and we need to improve it for everyone. It can not remain something the charities can use to frighten disabled people with!


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Transport must continuously improve




I am a big fan of public transport and almost a geek when it comes to the architecture of transport. I love how train stations and other transport systems are continuously improving and more importantly becoming more accessible to people with various impairments. Public transport has improved so much in the last twenty years and I become by continuing to improve it plays an important part in the liberation of disabled people.


I was personally reduce the monies spent on the mobility component of DLA/PIP and spent it on improving the accessibility of public transport, pavements and so on, which I believe would benefit a lot more people and enable disabled people to enjoy more stress free journeys. Unfortunately I am sure it will not stop the hard core whingers from complaining about how inaccessible transport stopping them from working but nothing would please them.


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Why should we get free cars?

Motability has been around for a generation and I feel it is now time to question whether the current scheme is fit for purchase for a 21st Century. Within the raising costs of petrol, the carbon footprint, accessible public transport and the fact many non-disabled people can no longer afford to run cars, it is correct disabled people should get a free car?

I do not think the answer is so simple as it is based on individual circumstances and should be based on individual need not a general criteria. I had a motability car for 7 years but with online shopping and accessible buses, I am now better off having my mobility allowance myself. If I lived in a more rural area, it may be different.

I am worried we are getting to a point where people could potentially eat themselves to a far car by willing mobility problems upon them. I also think the scheme should be transformed to assist a wider range of people like new low income workers from rural areas, families who have frequent trips to hospitals and so on, where the individual need also benefits the social agenda of the nation. Motability should be a helping hand, not a freebie.

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Wearing harnesses

Throughout my life I have needed to or maybe chosen to wear harnesses in transport throughout my life because of my posture and to maintain a comfortable position. Despite the fact I can walk I am not very good at maintaining my posture, and certainly not good at remain still when I am in a vehicle or wheelchair breaking sharply.

I feel harnesses are one of those lifestyle choices disabled people make on an individual basis and demonstrates for example, people with cerebral palsy may have similar levels of impairment but may manage it in very different ways. While some people may think it is odd I wear a harness when people they perceive less able than myself do not, I do not think there are any right or wrong answers so long as the wearer is the one making the choice.

My only advise is wearing a harness is always to have one with a crotch strap to stop the harness from riding up or the wearer from sinking down a seat to a very uncomfortable and maybe dangerous position. Why not keep one a try yourself?

Taxi Warfare

Regular readers will know that since I had my electric wheelchair last year, one of the many issues that I have needed to put my energies into is sorting out the small matter that some taxi drivers simply refuse to take me in my wheelchair because of a whole range of nonsense reasons. They work on the basis that I am ignorant of my rights and so they become very annoyed when they realise I know my rights exactly despite being a ‘young (looking) drooling spastic’.

I have discovered that the issue is more complex than it appears because of a website called http://www.timeforchoice.co.uk which is spending misleading information about the accessible of London Taxi style cabs, the ones I am having issues with. The reason for this is simple is that it has been set up by a rival company as a marketing ploy. The site jumps on the bandwagon of being the good guys for wheelchair users which I hope to use political correctness to argue their taxis are better. 

Unfortunately the site has encountered me and my ability to understand the accurate facts of issues and see through the smoke and mirrors tricks being employed by the site. In explaining my concerns about the impact of the site on taxi drivers in Coventry, the managing director of the company behind the site made it clear we did not really care about the negative impact of his site on wheelchair users, saying he was exercising his right of free speech to put his commercial interests above anything else.

I am not sure how well he knows I welcome a challenge and I am already working on my own website to give a more accurate perspective on the  issue called www.thetruthabouttaxis.org with the aim of sorting this issue out once and for all. So let the battle begin!