Birmingham Travel: New Street to Sutton Coldfield as a Wheelchair User Under National Lockdown? Here’s How I Did It

Recently I had to take a few trips to Sutton Coldfield for some course training (whilst we were still under national lockdown) , so I thought I’d let you know what the experience was like (travelling from Birmingham New Street) as a wheelchair user. I had to take this trip a total of 6 times (3 outbound and 3 return) but this post is just about the first outbound and return trip.

Outbound

Ticket Buying, Assistance Booking & Getting On at Birmingham New Street

When it came to booking the assistance, it was pretty much the standard process, I just called West Midlands Railway and booked the assistance over the phone. I did not have to give my wheelchair dimensions this time as I had already given them for a previous assistance booking and they were stored in the system. The ticket situation is where things get a little more complicated. Initially I thought since both stations were in the free travel blue zone on my disabled travel pass that I would be able to travel for, you know, free. However, it turns out that free travel thing is only for after  9.30am and my train was at 8.25am. Cue a dash to grab a last minute ticket on Trainline the night before my trip. I did wonder if I could buy the ticket and manage not to use it. On arrival at New Street, the staff let me through the barriers with just my pass despite it being before 9:30am.I then made my way to the assistance lounge and made myself know to the staff so I could get my train. I WAS able to get a partial refund on the ticket I bought on Trainline since I never actually used or registered it anywhere on my trip.

On Train

The on train experience was pretty simple as it was only a 15 or 20 minute trip so there wasn’t really time for anything spectacular to happen.

Disembarking & Leaving at Sutton Coldfield

On arrival at Sutton Coldfield, station staff were already there on the platform which meant I was able to get straight off the train. The staff then showed me a simpler route to my location which went via a separate exit to the main one. This did involve taking one lift up to the concourse level and then another lift down to the other platform before going out of the separate exit.

Return

Getting On at Sutton Coldfield

When getting on at Sutton Coldfield for the return trip, I used the same assistance booking without a  ticket (just using my travel pass) as it was after 9:30am. When it came to actually getting on the train, I ended up getting an earlier train than my booked assistance, so I informed the security staff that I needed assistance and they went and informed the station staff on my behalf as I couldn’t actually find any of the assistance staff.

On Train

Again, the on train experience was only 15 or 20 minutes so there wasn’t time for anything  dramatic to happen.

Disembarking & Leaving at Birmingham New Street

On arrival at Birmingham New Street, staff were already on the platform to greet me (as I find they usually are at New Street) which meant I was able to get straight off the train and head out of the  station.

I hope that this post provides some insight into what it’s like travelling between these 2 stations as a wheelchair user whilst under national lockdown.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Birmingham Travel: Snow Hill to Hall Green as a Wheelchair User Under National Lockdown? Here’s How I Did It

Recently I had to take another essential lockdown train journey, this time from Birmingham Snow Hill to Hall Green for a job-related visit, so I thought I’d give you an insight into the process again since the stations were different.

Outbound

Ticket Buying & Getting On at Birmingham Snow Hill

This was a right palaver if I’m honest. Well actually, buying the ticket was because, as with my previous lockdown train travel blog post, the 2 stations I was travelling between are on the West Midlands network. This means that, with my West Midlands Disabled Travel Pass, travel between those stations is free. The assistance booking is where things got complicated. I initially phoned West Midlands Railway passenger assistance line (as it was them I was travelling with) and they requested my wheelchair dimensions prior to making the booking. This was not information I wanted to give since I did not understand why it was necessary and had not been asked for this information the recent previous time I’d travelled with West Midlands Railway.

So I decided to try and book my assistance through Cross Country Trains instead, but they were asking for the same information. In the end I just gave in and located and passed on the dimensions so I could get my assistance booked.

Further discussions informed me that asking for the dimensions is a nationwide policy that was introduced around 18 months ago (which makes sense as it’s around that time that other train companies I used started asking for the information). However, I was also told that you should be asked for the dimensions once and then it goes onto the system, so hopefully that’s me done having to give the dimensions.

BUT the dimensions saga wasn’t even the end of my issues! I originally wanted to travel from Birmingham Moor Street to Hall Green, but the lifts at Moor Street are currently out of order, which makes the platforms inaccessible to me. So I had to make decision to walk up to Snow Hill (from where my train goes THROUGH Moor Street) and make the journey that way. Other than these accessibility issues and the additional request for dimensions, the process of booking assistance was broadly the same. On the day of my trip, I arrived and made myself known to a staff member who said that another staff member would meet me on the platform. I should also say that I arrived at 11am for a train that departed at 11:07 and was still put on the train with time to spare, so this request that those who need assistance turn up 20 minutes early for their train definitely seems excessive and somewhat unnecessary.

On Train

The actual journey was only around 15 minutes so there wasn’t time for anything too dramatic to dramatic to happen. One thing I would say is that on this train the wheelchair space involves parking against a flip down seat, which is difficult to do when the seat won’t stay flipped up, because you have to try and park whilst holding the seat up at the same time!

Disembarking & Leaving at Hall Green

When the train arrived at Hall Green, there was no sign of station staff. Then, despite multiple yells for help, the doors closed and the train began moving away with me still onboard. This meant I had to press the emergency button and stop the train in order to get off. I was then informed that staff had recently switched over and incoming staff were not informed I was on that train or required assistance, even though I booked assistance ahead of time as per the system. Once I FINALLY got off the train, it was a simple case of heading up the ramp and out of the station.

Return

Getting On at Hall Green

For the return journey I was using the same “ticket” (my disabled travel pass) and had intended to travel on the same assistance booking. However, my appointment finished early which meant I could catch a significantly earlier train. I informed staff that I wished to catch an earlier train and from there it was a fairly simple process, as they just cancelled my later assistance booking and put me on the next train back to Snow Hill

On Train

Once again, the actual journey was only about 15 minutes so nothing dramatic happened. The flip down seat in the wheelchair space actually stayed flipped up this time, which made it much easier to park.

Disembarking & Leaving at Birmingham Snow Hill

On arrival at Snow Hill, a staff member was waiting on the platform with a ramp which meant I could simply go down the ramp and get straight off the train. I then decided to make a bathroom stop before leaving the station but realised I didn’t have my radar key so I asked staff if I could borrow their key. It turned out the toilet on my platform had issues with the lock and someone had shut the door (staff usually left it open) which meant the lock had jammed. Thankfully, staff managed to get the door open with a pair of scissors in the lock. They were very helpful and saved me having to make a trip to the other disabled toilet on a platform (yes I know I shouldn’t have to be thankful  about being able to use the bathroom like everyone else, but I really appreciated their working to fix the issue rather than fobbing me off with an excuse.)

I hope this post has provided some insight into what it’s like travelling between Birmingham Snow Hill and Hall Green with West Midlands Railways as a wheelchair user under national lockdown.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Travelling from Birmingham New Street to Erdington as a Wheelchair User Under National Lockdown? Here’s How I Did It

Recently, I had to travel on the trains during the national lockdown which we are currently under here in England. I travelled from Birmingham New Street to Erdington (a smaller station within Birmingham) with West Midlands Railway for an essential job interview. I thought it would be useful to let you know what it’s like travelling on the trains as a wheelchair user during lockdown, so here’s the lowdown on lockdown train travel!

Outbound

Ticket Buying & Getting On at Birmingham New Street

In terms of tickets, I was already set up as I now have a free disabled travel pass. This allows those who have it to travel for free on trains and trams within the West Midlands network within certain times. The assistance booking process was the same as it usually is outside of lockdowns, I simply rang the phone line for that particular train company and requested my assistance at the specific date and time. They did have to make me a new account on their booking system though (even though I have booked a LOT of train assistance in my time) so I  guess that shows that not all the booking systems are connected. When it came to actually catching the train, I arrived at New Street at least 20 minutes before departure )as instructed when I booked assistance), presented my travel pass at the entry gate and was let through by a staff member. I then made my way to the assistance lounge and made myself known to the staff. When it came time to get the train is when the difference in assistance due to COVID restrictions became more obvious as it was only me allowed in the lift and not the member of staff. Once we got to the platform, the member of assistance staff made a comment that the guard (who would have to disembark me from the train as Erdington is a smaller station with fewer staff) was not going to be happy about having to use the onboard manual boarding ramp. Whilst I’m sure that was just supposed to be an innocuous comment, it made me feel like I was being seen as an inconvenience for having to travel. BELIEVE ME if I didn’t have to travel in the current circumstances I wouldn’t be doing so, but the fact of the matter is I had to travel for work just like anyone else. Add to that the fact that helping disabled passengers is part of the role on the railways and well, if you can’t already tell, that comment bothered me quite a lot.

On Train

Onboard the train was the usual ‘board and back up into the wheelchair space’ situation. It was only a 15-minute trip so there wasn’t really time for anything dramatic to happen.

Disembarking & Leaving at Erdington

In the entire 15 minute or so ride to Erdington, the guard had not been to speak to me or check where I was on the train so I wasn’t sure what the process would be when we arrived. On arrival at  the station there was no ramp or guard to be seen and generally no sign of any assistance arriving. To add to my anxiety, I found out that I could only barely reach the ‘open door’ button if I was forgotten and the train door did close. Knowing that and with previous experience, I reverted to my usual of yelling for assistance from the train door. When that didn’t seem to do anything I headed away from the door and back into the carriage to press the assistance button located next to the wheelchair space. When the guard did arrive to disembark me, he made a point of saying “you don’t have to press that (referring to the assistance button) you just have to WAIT” . This really bothered me again as no other passengers have to wait to disembark a train, that is only necessary because the railways are not entirely accessible and I require assistance. I was also worried about how long I’d be expected to wait as I’ve been forgotten on trains before so I know that ‘just waiting’ is rarely the solution.

Return

Getting On at Erdington

When it came to making the return journey, I was using the same ‘ticket’ (my travel pass) and  assistance booking as before so that was no issue. I arrived way earlier than the train I had booked assistance for as my interview ended earlier than expected. I then made my way into the ticket office to make myself known to the staff. However, I found that the office door was only able to be opened on one side and that side was not big enough for my chair to get through. That meant that a  fellow passenger had to help and unlock the other door to allow me through, close contact which obviously isn’t ideal in the current circumstances. Getting my train was a much simpler process thankfully, I simply said which train I had booked assistance on and asked if could get on earlier train since I had arrived early. The staff member in the office (whose name I think was Richard? shout out to him anyway whatever his name may have been) sorted it with no fuss. He simply rang New Street to let them know what train I was originally booked on and that I would actually be getting the next train back to New Street, and then put me straight on the next available train.

On Train

Again I was only on the train for about 15 mins so there was no onboard drama.

Disembarking & Leaving at Birmingham New Street

On arrival at New Street, there was a staff member waiting on the platform with a ramp. That meant there was none of the disembarking hassle I’d had on the outbound journey, so I was able to get  straight off the train and head home, just like everyone else.

I hope this gives some insight into what it’s like travelling on the trains as a wheelchair user during a national lockdown.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

An (EXTRA) 40 Year Wait For Step Free Rail Access?!

Recently I was LIVE on BBC Radio 4 (national radio here in the UK) discussing accessibility on trains and the impact a fully accessible rail system would have on me, specifically on my employment prospects. This interview was quite short but got me thinking about the issues I experience as a wheelchair user trying to access trains. With that in mind, I thought I would discuss those issues, and some of the ways things are SUPPOSED to be improving, in this blog post. I know those of you who’ve been following for a while will have seen me discuss these issues in blog posts about specific journeys before in the Travellingsection of the blog, but I thought it would be useful to have these issues compiled into one post.

Firstly, it’s probably best to put this (lack of) accessibility into context, which means STAT TIME! According to a report by Leonard Cheshire,  42% of train stations in England lack step free access. Obviously that’s close to half, which is a frankly ridiculous number. According to the same report, the Government is set to miss its target to make all stations step free by 2030, by 40 years and thus not have the programme complete until 2070. In 2070 I will be 74, which is absurd to think about, I’m only 24 now for pity’s sake! I REFUSE to wait until I am 74 to access the entire rail system in my home country. The worst thing is this is made to seem like it’s not an issue. 40 years is a pretty big deadline miss and there seems to have been very little outrage or coverage, other than from disabled people themselves and charities or groups like Leonard Cheshire.

So, what kind of impact does this inaccessibility have on me? Well, the Leonard Cheshire report focused on the impact on employment, so I guess I’ll focus there too. I’ve had to turn down jobs because I can only use public transport to commute to a job and the closest station to this particular location was inaccessible. Travelling by train to the nearest accessible station and then walking/ using the bus from there then  made the commute undoable. Besides the obvious impact of literally having to reject jobs, there’s also so much extra work and stress that goes into job hunting as a disabled person who needs to commute via rail. First, I have to work out which is the nearest station to that location, then I have to work out if I can actually use that station. THEN I have to ask myself I actually trust the accessibility information, because the accessibility information and the actual accessibility experience can sometimes not match up.

Beyond that, I have to account for the fact that, even where there is accessibility, it’s often only partial accessibility or via certain routes. For example, the station where I used to live in Chippenham is considered accessible, but the accessible entrance side is up a giant hill which, as you can imagine, could be an even bigger accessibility hurdle for those in manual wheelchairs who have to self-propel or be pushed, and those with a variety of other access needs. There is also a requirement (apparently it’s a suggestion but it’s certainly made to seem more like a requirement to me) to prebook travel assistance 24 hours in advance. That means I have no room for spontaneity, no room for late running meetings and all that stuff that’s pretty standard in a job and a life in general.

And inaccessibility doesn’t end once I’m in the station. Even once inside, I don’t have equal access. I have to wait in a particular office for someone to walk me to the platform and put the ramp out, which means I am not independent when accessing the train. I also have to be at the station 20 or 30 minutes before my train in order to be sure of assistance. It’s pretty bold to assume I don’t have things that ‘I’d rather be doing that just sat in a train station waiting room for 20 or 30 minutes for what should be a 5-minute task, are we assuming here that disabled people don’t have lives and other things to do? SOME train companies have trains now with ramps that extend out from the train, but that’s only on SOME train routes with  SOME companies. Independent access to trains shouldn’t be a lottery depending on where you live and which company runs your train lines. Then once I’m on the train there’s the stress of whether someone will be there to disembark me or if I will be abandoned on the train, yelling for assistance and hoping it doesn’t set off again with me still onboard.

There is also the issue of inaccessibility on trains themselves.  There was legislation passed which stated that all trains were to be  accessible by 1st January 2020, but at least 8 companies missed this deadline. Again, accessibility shouldn’t be a lottery depending on where you live and who runs your trains.

I also want to end by saying that, whilst the Leonard Cheshire report focused on the impact a fully accessible rail system could have on employment, It would have a wider impact too. This isn’t solely about employment, because disabled people (and people in general) are not just workers, we have social lives which would be greatly improved by a fully accessible rail system too.

Please support the effort for a fully accessible (or at least fully step free) UK rail system before that ridiculous 2070 predicted deadline.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Hidden Aspects of Travelling with a Disability (Collaboration with Alex Ramzan from The VI Critic)

FINALLY, a new blog post! This one’s on the hidden aspect of travelling with a disability from my viewpoint as a wheelchair user. And even more excitingly, it’s a collaboration with Alex Ramzan from The VI Critic, check out his post on travelling with a disability as a visually impaired person.

It’s Time Consuming

The first thing is that travelling as a wheelchair user is waaaaaaay more time consuming. And it’s time consuming in 2 ways, both before a trip and on the day of the trip. Before a trip, there’s a bunch of hoops to jump through, firstly, I have to check if the stations I want to travel through are wheelchair accessible, then I have to check if the trains I want to travel on are wheelchair accessible (because THAT’S not always a thing) then I can book my train tickets, then I have book assistance through a phone call with the train company I’m travelling with, THEN I’m finally set to travel.

On the day, I have to turn up AT LEAST 20 minutes before my train and wait in an assistance lounge, then I have to wait to be taken to train by a staff member, then I have to wait for a ramp to enable me to get on the train, then I have to sit on the train for however long, then I have to get to the other end and wait for another ramp to appear to enable me to get off the train. You see all that waiting? That’s TIME.

It’s Exhausting

Travelling as a wheelchair user is also exhausting. See point 1 about travel being time consuming, travel as a wheelchair user takes so much more time than it does as a non-disabled person, there’s a lot more hoops to jump through like I talked about above. And anything that takes more time also takes more energy. And so, travel as a disabled person takes so much more time and energy which makes it entirely EXHAUSTING.

I Travel Before I Travel

Another thing I’ve found is that I take the trip in my head before I take it in reality. There are a lot of “what ifs” when travelling as a wheelchair user: What if the lift at a train or tube station breaks down? What if the assistance doesn’t turn up to get me off the train or tube? What if I’m on the bus in London and the automatic ramp breaks and I can’t get off the bus? What if there is luggage in the wheelchair space on a train and I have to make an issue to get it moved?  I’m one of those people that focuses on the “what ifs”, but I feel like disability, and specifically travelling with a disability,  intensifies that, there’s a lot of extra “what ifs” that disabled people have to consider and find solutions for. So, I’m always taking a trip prior to actually going, because I’m constantly coming up with the “what ifs” and figuring out solutions before they happen so I don’t meet a situation where I’m stressed and lost on what to do next. And to draw back to point 2, that feeling and situation is FLIPPING EXHAUSTING!

It Makes Me Wary of People

I’ve also become very wary of people through my travels as a wheelchair user. I’m often on edge about how other people will react to me as a wheelchair user on public transport. Will they try to  “help” me and end up potentially doing more harm? Will they offer to carry my electric wheelchair off the train if the assistance doesn’t turn up? (Don’t do that it. It’s too heavy you’ll just hurt yourself and potentially break it), will they try and push my electric wheelchair (Don’t do that either, it won’t move and you’ll potentially break it) Or will people make accessibility issues seem like my fault? ( (Like asking “did you book?” when assistance doesn’t turn up to get me off a train). I’ve just become very wary of people and am much more likely to see the issues they may give me rather than the good they’ll do. And I’d really rather it not be that way.

Knowing the System like the Back of my Hand isn’t Cute, it’s a Necessity

I have also found that I almost HAVE to know everything  about accessibility when I travel, I have to know which are the accessible tube stations, which are the accessible train stations and how to get around in between stations if I cannot go directly to my destination using an accessible station, particularly when travelling across London.  I feel like I have to be like that because either a) no one else fully knows about accessibility enough and b) if they do, I’ve had enough wrong information about accessibility from other people that I’m not ever fully confident in others’ accessibility knowledge, and I’d rather not end up somewhere inaccessible.

So those are the hidden aspects of travelling with a disability, specifically from my viewpoint as a wheelchair user. Be sure to check out Alex’s post for his viewpoint on this issue as a visually impaired person.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Travel Bucket List: Top 5 Longer Trips I Want To Take

Again, it seems odd to be writing about travel with half the world currently on lockdown from COVID – 19, but alongside my Top 5 Bucket Cities I Want to Visit post, I wanted to share 5 longer trips I’d also like to take (road trips or whole country visits rather than specific cities) So, here they are!

Interrailing

Those of you who know me personally or have been long time readers will know I spend a good amount of time on a train and love a good train ride, so interrailing seems like a nice extension of that and way to combine it with seeing the world (I could more than likely tick off a few of the bucket list cities this way). It would also be a good way to compare the accessibility of European railways to the variable experience I’ve had here in the UK. Plus falling asleep on a train out of one city and (intentionally) waking up in an entirely city (or country) sounds like magic to me.  I’d probably go to Paris first as it’s the easiest trip from London, then onto Madrid before finding a way to double back through various countries and get to Prague, or maybe I’d just interrail through Scandinavia specifically (Norway, Sweden and Denmark and maybe more) and make sure to visit Copenhagen, I’ve never imagined a set route so who knows!

Greek Islands Tour

Island tours just have a sense of something special about them for me, which is why this is next on the list. I guess that love for islands properly started on our Sicilian road trip, and since I’ve already been to Kos and Rhodes somewhat, a Greek Island hopping trip sounds like a good next plan. I always figured I’d just grab a plane to Athens and then spend a month or so (maybe less) hopping between different islands.

Ireland Road Trip

Next up is a road trip around Ireland (yes there’s a road trip/island hopping theme to these). Aoife and Ellie, 2/3 of the Invincible Women from whom this blog is named, did a road trip around Ireland not too long before we went to Sicily and I was slightly gutted not to get to go. So I’d like to get to see what the country has to offer, starting in Dublin of course, my #2 bucket list city

Balearics Road Trip

I spent many a childhood summer holiday in Mallorca, one of the Balearic islands, and found it to be wonderfully accessible, so it would be nice to explore the rest of the Balearic islands, both to see how they are as islands in their own right and to see how they compare in accessibility to Mallorca (and other places of course). Now of course I know there are many islands in the Balearics and it’s quite impossible to see them all in one whole trip, so I’d probably start by going to Mallorca, or maybe I’d start with one of the other islands I’m not too sure. Let me know if you have any specific recommendations!

Sri Lanka

Right, I’ll be honest here, this one’s on the list to prove a very specific point. There was a school expedition to Sri Lanka when I was in sixth form (so like 17/18 for those international readers who don’t know the UK school system) which I would have been interested to go on. However, the itinerary amongst other things made it seem like it wouldn’t be possible to adapt things to involve me in most activities, which has always irked me slightly. So, I’d like to go and explore Sri Lanka just to see how much of what I thought and was told was not accessible could become accessible with a little ingenuity and #InvincibleWoman thinking! I would probably most like to see Adam’s Peak and Sigiriya which I’m pretty sure were part of the original expedition itinerary, just to prove I may have been able to access them.

I hope this gives another little insight into where I plan to go when this is all over!

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Travel Bucket List: Top 5 Cities I Want To Visit

Now it may seem odd to be writing about travel with half the world currently on lockdown from COVID – 19, but this lockdown just has me thinking about all the places I’ll go when it’s all over. So, with that in mind, Here’s my Travel Bucket List of the top 5 cities I want to visit when this ends.

Prague

This idea came from my Dad who visited Prague a few years back, I believe he spent the Christmas/New Year period there. All I remember hearing about before he left and after he returned was him imploring me to go and repeatedly telling me how much it was something I NEEDED to see, and I knew it HAD to be good if he was suggesting it. His suggestion took on a different level of importance after he passed away. I remember him discussing the Old Town and Charles Bridge and how, even if I might struggle with the cobblestones in my wheelchair, it was an absolute must see! From all that, seeing sunset or sunrise at the Charles Bridge has become this moment of magic in my head and an absolute bucket list must do.

Dublin

Next up is Dublin. It definitely seems like a very vibrant place with plenty to visit and see, which is certainly my kind of “exploring” holiday vibe. Plus, given that Aoife herself is Irish, I may end up travelling with a “local guide” of sorts, which could lead to finding and exploring some hidden gems not found in travel guides. The only thing that could make any trip better would be being able to pair it with seeing an MMA show if I could coincide the two? OH what’s that I hear? UFC Dublin in August if COVID 19 eases by then?! I guess we have a potential date for a Dublin trip then.

Copenhagen

Now Copenhagen’s one of the places I should have already been. I was supposed to visit a friend who was studying there at the time a couple of years ago, but that trip was cancelled when my dad fell ill. So I kind of feel like I have unfinished business with Copenhagen even though my friend is no longer studying there, like I HAVE to go there to do the trip I had planned.

Madrid

Again, Madrid is one of those places I was supposed to have been already. I was booked to go with my dad, but we were supposed to fly right around the time he got ill so obviously that trip was cancelled. When he passed away, I promised him I’d do our trip someday, the visit to the Santiago Bernabéu (dad was a Real Madrid fan), eating so much tapas (including from the famous San Miguel market) and seeing what the place had to offer. So again it’s a sense of unfinished business with Madrid, completing a trip that was already planned and honouring my promise to my dad.

Paris

I know I know, what a cliché bucket list trip, but this is yet another instance of “I said I’d do it so now I’m going to”. All throughout my time living in London I talked to friends about how I’d love to be spontaneous, jump on an early morning Eurostar to Paris with a mate for a girly day, explore the French capital, and be home in time for supper. So that’s what I intend to do when this is all over.

I hope this gives a little insight into where I plan to go when this is all over!

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

London Underground Accessibility Interview: Transcript and Further Thoughts

A little while back, I did an interview with Colette Little from Colfessions about the accessibility of the TFL underground system in London! In today’s post I thought I’d run you through what we discussed, what I said then, and anything else I’d add, with what I know now.

In what ways do you think London transport needs to become more accessible?

What I said then:

The major problem is step free-ness, particularly with the tube, because 23%, around a quarter is step free, and that’s just not good enough. They advertise that as well – like that’s not something to advertise. If you think that’s good enough, that’s not. I think the other major issue is communication, because a lot of the times where I have issues with the tube, is that someone has put me on the train, and then not told whoever they’re supposed to tell, and there’s no one to get me off the train at the other end. Or the train terminates, and they don’t know I’m on it. Basically, they’re supposed to tell the line controller, who’s supposed to know, and they’re supposed to tell the station that I’m getting off. And either the station that I’m getting off at doesn’t get told so if I need a ramp to get off the train at the other end I don’t get it, or if the train terminates, and they haven’t told the line controller, if they know I’m on the train they’re supposed to stop it so I can get off and they can terminate it properly, and a few times they’ve stopped it at a station that isn’t accessible so I can’t get off, so I’ve been sat there at the door screaming or someone to get me off. Obviously in my manual chair, which is the other chair I use, I can’t get off the train myself I can’t wheel myself or anything, and in this, trying to get off a gap that’s say 4/5 inches, this would break (My electric chair that I’m currently sat in.) So, I would be sat at the door screaming and screaming and screaming for someone to get me off the train and it would take a good 10/15 minutes for them to figure it out, figure out that I’m on the train, and sort it out. Obviously in terms of my mental-ness it’s terrifying – the fact I go on the tube every single time and think will I be able to get off the train, will I be able to use the lift, will the lift work, will I have to go some weird way around to get to a lift that works. You always constantly think about that and you can’t just get on a train and think ‘its fine’. Unless I’m going to Kings Cross which is a station which I regularly use so I can roll on and off, and mentally, it’s draining frankly.

What’s changed:

I don’t think that much has changed since that interview, in regard to this question. I know there’s been a raft of new lifts put in and stations redesigned, so that quarter of stations wheelchair accessible figure is likely to be much higher, but the TFL website still says a quarter so I can’t be sure on the new figure. Those constant questions I mentioned about whether I’d be able to use lifts (or if they’d work) still exist, but I have to answer them less frequently now as I no longer live in London so only have to tackle the tube infrequently when I visit from Birmingham now.

Do you have any positive or negative specific instances, like stories, that you can tell me about?

What I said then:

The longest and most detailed story I can give you is we were coming home from a trip to Birmingham on the train. Got home to Euston, we were like ‘yeah we’ll get on at Euston Square and then Euston Square goes straight back to Uxbridge. Metropolitan line, the easiest trip you could make.’ No. We got the Euston Square and the lift was out, and my friend was with me, and I had to get my friend to go down the stairs to find someone to get them to call me a taxi because the policy that they put out is that if the lift is broken, or it’s not accessible somehow, TfL policy is that they’ll whether call you a taxi to take you home, or to the nearest accessible station – whichever is closest really. So, I was told they were calling me a taxi to Kings Cross, and I know it’s like a 10-minute walk, but we’ve walked all the way from Euston Square and if they owe me a taxi, they owe me a taxi. And the guy was like “that’s not the policy” so I had to screenshot the policy from the website and show it to him, and he was like “I’m going to get my manager because you’re lying.” And I was like “I’m showing you the website but okay.” So, his manager came up and was like “why have you dragged me here, she obviously is right, you know the rules, phone her a taxi.” We sat there and waited like half an hour for this taxi, and at that moment I was waiting on principle. Got in the taxi, we were told it has been paid for by TfL, so they prepaid it so we could just get out and wander off. Got to Kings Cross, got out the taxi, went to wander off, and he was like “no you need to pay me.” I was like “No, TfL have paid you, we’ve been told TfL have paid you” and he literally held us to ransom basically and wouldn’t let us leave until we had paid for the taxi and I was like “fine, just have your money.” Got to Kings Cross, and the Piccadilly line was broken from Kings Cross to we couldn’t use it and they’d already closed the Metropolitan line because it was a Wednesday and they close it at a certain time from Wembley onwards. So, then they had to put me on a Piccadilly line that went somewhere else. Stuck me on the Piccadilly line, so my friend had to change her plans and go to a different station to where she was going to go to because obviously a different lines, and then I was like “it’s fine, I’m getting a friend to pick me up from Uxbridge station anyway, so you can get off where you need to get off and I’ll just sit on the train that goes to Uxbridge and I can sit on a train by myself fine.” And this is when they terminated it at a station which I couldn’t get off at. So, I was by myself in my manual chair and there was no one else in the carriage and everyone just got off and I was there screaming for them to get off the train. And I had to keep texting and calling the friend who was picking me up and just say “this is how it is, this is how it is”, to the point where the guy at Uxbridge station was calling the line operator yelling at him about this whole situation, and ended up letting my friend through when I got to Uxbridge, letting her go on the platform without a pass or a ticket or anything because they knew I’d be in bits about this whole situation. It took, I think, four hours to get back from Euston with all that faff. It’s mad. There were very many different things, if one thing had happened it would be fine but there were about ten different things that went wrong. It was an interesting evening.

What’s changed:

Not much has changed here either, this is probably still the worst access experience I’ve had on TFL. However, what has changed is that I’ve FINALLY written that Euston/Euston Square ordeal up as its own blog post!

By 2024, TfL aim for 38% of underground stations to be step free. Do you think this is enough stations, and is it soon enough?

What I said then:

I think it’s sooner than I expected it to be. It’s still not enough stations, we’re always aiming for 100%, but it’s movement and that’s good. I’m trying to be as positive as I can here. I think there’s movement in the right direction, and it’s at a speed quicker than I thought it would be, and there’s definitely stations in the past four years or so that I can access that I couldn’t when I moved to London. There is movement, and it’s at a decent pace, but it’s not quick enough. I’m still glad that there is movement and they are working towards something, but they could just be like “no that’s it, 27% is enough.” It’s fast, it will never be fast enough frankly until it’s 100% step free, but there is movement and I’m appreciative of that.

What’s changed:

I think I was way more delicate with this answer than what I was probably actually thinking. While I’m appreciative of the fact that accessibility and redesigning stations isn’t instant. There’s no way the redesign is happening fast enough or at enough stations. NO. WAY. AT. ALL. I’d also be interested to see if that 8% figure and timeline is still going to be hit. Given that the website still says a quarter and we’re in 2020, I’m not holding out hope for the timeline to still happen.

How do you find out that a station has newly become step free, or there’s been a new lift installed?

What I said then:

Basically, I follow al the TFL lines on twitter because that’s the easiest way to find out if the lifts are broken. They tend to announce on there “the new plan is this” and they’ll announce a whole press release of this station by this year, this station by this year, or it just happens that I check the TfL journey planner and it gives me a new route which gives me a new station that I wouldn’t normally use. And I’m like “oh – they have step free access.” Also, the TfL access for all group I follow them quite a lot, so they seem to announce new places first because they have connections with TfL so it’s mostly social media.

What’s changed:

I see and know less about the new lifts and step free access at tube stations because I don’t live there anymore so I’m way less likely to just randomly wander into a newly step free station these days, my routes tend to focus on places I’ve already previously been. One way I find out about new station access that I forget to mention was Geoff Marshall’s YouTube channel, that was specifically how I found about the Bond Street lifts and new entrance, back when those were new.

Finally, with the definition of accessibility encompassing blind people, deaf people, people with autism, people with dementia etc., do you think a 100% accessible London is foreseeable in the future?

What I said then:

No, I don’t think so. I think it’s going to be 100% accessible in terms of step free, I think that’s a possibility, but I think in terms of accessible in terms of all disability I don’t think that’s going to happen, just because I think that for people with autism and stuff like that it’s a lot about crowds, and obviously with it being London, in particular the central stations, it’s always going to be busy. So that’s going to have to be the way that it works. I’m not saying they have to put up with that, but I think that’s a fact that you can’t really get away from, the fact that particularly central London – I’ve been through Westminster in rush hour, and it’s too busy. I don’t think you can ever get away from that and I’m not sure how they would work to make that accessible. I think step free accessibility, 100%, it’s a possibility. I’m not going to say it’s going to happen because you know – TfL. But I don’t think full accessibility for everyone it going to happen. I would like to see it happen, but I don’t know.

What’s changed:

I think this is the answer I wanted to change most since the interview. I feel like maybe it could be read like I was creating a pedestal for step free access and saying, “step free access has to happen and well nothing else is possible” and if that IS how it comes across, I want to make it clear that’s totally NOT what I meant. I just meant more in the fact of access for all is obviously the goal but, having watched TFL make an absolute farce of improving step free access, I’m not holding my breath on them being able to achieve access for all without making a mess of it.

I hope this is an insight into my views of accessibility on the London underground as a wheelchair user, thanks to Colette for interviewing me. If you want to read more of her blog you can check out the link I put right at the start of this post.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

How NOT to Travel From Euston to Uxbridge as a Wheelchair User

Those of you who’ve been with me for a while will remember my post about my first train trip up to Birmingham for Cage Warriors 98. Now what I didn’t tell you is what happened AFTER we got off the train, between Euston and Uxbridge. Well here’s that story, strap in and prepare because it’s a whole roller coaster ride!

On Train

It all started while we were still on the train back to Euston. I saw on the Metropolitan line twitter that the Euston Square tube station (the station I intended to use to get home) lift was broken. That was fine, as I’d just roll on to Kings Cross, which wasn’t that much further. I then saw on a different twitter account that the Euston Square lift was fixed so I reverted back to the Euston Square plan as I originally wanted to. On arrival at Euston, after my incredibly sarcastic answer to “do you need a ramp?” (I mentioned that in the other post but it’s the sassiest I’ve ever been so I shall forever mention it), we made our way out of Euston. In hindsight, we should have probably waited for clear concrete confirmation that the Euston Square lift was working before heading off, but they say hindsight’s 20/20.

At Euston Square

On arrival at Euston Square, we found out that the lift was actually still broken. So, with that knowledge, I told the staff I needed a taxi to the next accessible station as is the rule in these situations. I was then told this was not protocol, something that I continued to be told even after I’d shown the staff member a screenshot from the TFL website, and so that staff member disappeared to locate their manager, convinced I still wasn’t telling the truth. Granted, at this point, I probably should have just walked on to Kings Cross about 10 minutes away but I was quite annoyed about being told I was incorrect and essentially lying about being entitled to a taxi to the next accessible station, so I decided to stand my ground. Eventually, the manager returned and said yes I was entitled to a taxi (I knew THAT) and we waited like an hour for said taxi.

In taxi and at Kings Cross

Before I hopped in the taxi, I confirmed that TFL were paying for it, and this was confirmed for me, because the taxi company had a contract with TFL for these kind of trips from an inaccessible station to an accessible one. However, when we got to Kings Cross, the driver requested payment from us, despite already being paid by TFL as far as we knew, and wouldn’t let us move away until we gave him money. So I had to pay £10 I knew I didn’t owe him personally, to be able to go get the train.

At Kings Cross – Metropolitan and Piccadilly line

Once we were actually inside Kings Cross, we first tried to use the Metropolitan line, but that was out of service between Kings Cross and Uxbridge, so we had to use the Piccadilly line for the same route. This meant my friends phone died and she wouldn’t be able to tap out on exit despite having tapped in on her phone.

On Piccadilly line

When we finally get on the Piccadilly line, I was aware my friend and I were exiting at 2 different destinations, However, that was fine, even though I was in my manual wheelchair, because I knew I was going straight to my destination on a single train and had someone to meet me there. EXCEPT, it didn’t happen like that, the train terminated early at an inaccessible station, even though TFL are not supposed to terminate trains early at inaccessible stations when they KNOW they have a wheelchair user onboard! Luckily, I was able to contact my friend Nikki who was waiting for me at Uxbridge so she could let them know and have them coordinate the situation with the station I was at on my behalf (shout out Uxbridge station for always being super helpful with access in my 4 years living there, and particularly in this situation). I was then then taken off the terminated train and put back on a different train going all the way to Uxbridge, and EVENTUALLY made it back to Uxbridge about 4 HOURS after I left Euston

Hopefully, this gives some insight into what is probably the worst inaccessibility debacle of my time in London

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Travelling from Birmingham New Street to Darlington as a Wheelchair User? Here’s How I Did It

Photo Credit: Nikki Barker

Another train travel blog, this time Birmingham New Street to Darlington and back with Cross Country Trains for a visit with my friend and editor extraordinaire Nikki!

Outbound

Ticket Buying & Getting On at Birmingham New Street

I bought my tickets on SplitYourTicket.com which as the name suggests is a train ticket splitting website where you can split a long train journey into multiple shorter journey tickets. This meant that while I only took 2 trains (one each way) I had 8 tickets in total. However, it was way cheaper than a single direct ticket, so definitely worth a look if you want to save money on travel. I then booked my assistance via the Cross Country travel assistance phone line. On the day, I arrived at the Birmingham New Street assistance lounge 20 minutes before departure and was taken from there to the train by a staff member.

On Train

I had the usual issues that I have on Cross Country trains: A steep ramp onto the train, a tight corridor to navigate and a small wheelchair space even for my standard electric wheelchair. It must be said though, the accessible toilet had many more transfer bars (i.e. bars I could use to help me transfer between my chair and the toilet) than West Midlands Railway, so that’s a slightly odd sounding plus point.

Disembarking & Leaving at Darlington

On arrival at Darlington, the assistance and ramp to get me off the train was already there when we arrived (we’ll forget that I mentioned needing a ramp and assistance off at Darlington to every single staff member that would listen several times throughout the 3 hour trip). A quick little praise point for the accessible toilet at Darlington station; it’s a radar key toilet which is self-opening (put the key in and wave your hand in front of a sensor and it’ll open without having to touch a handle). The inside was huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge, I’d dare say there was more than enough space in there for equipment to make a Changing Places toilet and still have a separate accessible toilet. I’m very aware I’ve spent half this blog post talking about toilets but hopefully that shows how important these kinds of things are to accessibility!

Return

Getting On at Darlington

When it came time to leave Darlington, Nikki was allowed  through the barrier to wait with me while I waited to get on my train. We  were directed to a waiting room directly next to  the platform my train would arrive on. About 5 or so minutes before the train arrived I was collected from that waiting room by a staff member and put on the train using a much larger, wider, more suitable ramp than the one I was used to at Birmingham New Street.

On Train

The problems on the train were the Cross Country usual. Although the ramp wasn’t so steep this time, I still had to navigate a tight corridor and small wheelchair space. There was also luggage in the wheelchair space which was thankfully cleared by staff before I got on. It was also quite a packed train so I thought it may be difficult to get out of the carriage and off at my stop.

Disembarking & Leaving at Birmingham New Street

Thankfully, my fears about problems getting off the train were unfounded and I was able to disembark the train at Birmingham New Street and leave the station with no issues.

I hope this gives insight into what it’s like to travel between these 2 stations as a wheelchair user

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)