• 02/07/14
  • Richmond – Vauxhall – Return

Sometimes when you’re travelling you’re pleasantly surprised by success but the problems come completely out of left field.

When you’re heading out, do you get held up by things? Maybe you can’t find your keys, or the kids are being a pain about putting their shoes on. With a wheelchair you have a whole other plethora of things that can go wrong. Tonight’s was a doozy. I’m just about to head out of the door, and notice a piece of wheelchair frame swinging gently in the breeze. This is the wheelchair equivalent of having an eyeball sitting on your cheek, or a severed finger. It’s definitely not right, it’s likely an indicator of something seriously wrong, and you really don’t want to go any further without fixing it. A quick investigation revealed a severed bolt. But fixing it first required finding a suitable replacement and then stripping the chair down to be able to then put it all back together again properly. As a result my journey started an hour later than I’d intended.

Before I got any further it’s worth noting that Vauxhall station has only had operational lifts for about a year, and to be honest my experience hasn’t been good. Of the half dozen times I’ve used the station I can only recall having been successfully met once, so although I got on the train at Richmond easily enough I wasn’t optimistic about getting off again. It seems I wasn’t the only one. As we approached Vauxhall the guard appeared as if by magic, just like the shopkeeper out of Mr Benn. (Cultural reference for those of a certain age.) Although the words coming out of his mouth were confident and reassuring the look in his eyes suggested that he had only slightly more faith than I did that this was going to go well. I was therefore massively impressed when we pulled up to the platform and standing in just the right spot was Customer Assistance with a ramp. I almost felt guilty for doubting them.

The reason for this trip was to watch T20 cricket at the Oval, which I’d not done before but I’d highly recommend. It was quite a spectacle and fun even though we were late due to the aforementioned bolt incident. However, leaving an event with so many people is always entertaining in a wheelchair. People cease to be pedestrians and become stationary obstacles, or even worse, unpredictable mobile obstacles like some real life video game of MarioCart. Eventually things settle down a bit and everybody starts heading out in the same direction at the same speed, by which time hopefully I’ve not left too many casualties in my wake.

So it’s as part of this flowing sea of people that I arrived back at Vauxhall where again they unexpectedly surprised me by being incredibly efficient. But with so many people and a limited number of trains the only way I’m going to be able to squeeze on is if I get on first. Usually my fellow passengers swarm around the opening doors and fit themselves into any available gap like some human tetris puzzle, oblivious to what’s going on around them or any direction that may be given by rail staff. However tonight’s ramp wrangler directed the crowds like a Master Jedi, “Use the other doors please,” and most people listened and I was able to ‘jump’ into the train like a willing sardine, with the other sardines fitting in around me.

Subconsciously I knew it had all gone too well but I hadn’t expected Richmond to throw up a problem until the guard again magically appeared as we pulled into the station to tell me that Control had let him know the lift was out and I’d need to stay on the train until some unspecified point in the future when I could get off, turn around and return on the other platform. How would you feel if someone added an hour to your 20min train trip? No, I thought not. Fortunately I know Richmond very well and know about their ‘secret’ back door. Unfortunately neither the guard nor the platform staff did, so I had to do a little re-educating after which the platform guy reluctantly fetched the ramp.

As I’ve touched on before, there are many types of ramp and many types of train and it takes a rather complicated Venn diagram to work out which ramps work with which trains and under which circumstances. It’s fortunate then that it only takes a modicum of common sense and training to get it right. Tonight’s guy lacked either the training or the common sense, I’m not sure which because he not only deployed the ramp unsafely but insisted that it was okay. Fortunately between myself and the guard we managed to sort it, despite his continued protests, so I could get off and slip out the back leaving a grumpy customer assistance rep who was still convinced he was in the right.

Again, proof that what and who you know makes a difference to your chances of a successful journey in a wheelchair.



About Alan

I'm an Economist, Geek, Campaigner & wheelchair user who's been using all forms of public transport for 20+ years.
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