Have ramp, will travel

  • 20/12/14
  • Richmond – Hammersmith – Taxi return

I’ve been ‘discussing’ with London Underground the possibility/practicality of having ramps at Hammersmith for over six months now. It is, after all, an otherwise step free station. The discussions are involved but can essentially be summed up by the following:

Me “yes, you can”
Them “No, we can’t”
Me “yes, you can”
Them “No, we can’t”

This discussion is interesting, but not actually helpful, especially when I and others need to get to Hammersmith. Whilst the Underground journey takes 15 minutes, and is cheap, the alternatives are less palatable, namely a short but expensive taxi ride or a 40 minute bus ride with a 50-50 chance of all the thrills and spills of Alton Towers latest offering where I can expect to be thrown around like a rag doll in a washing machine. I might be lucky and get a smooth and considerate driver, but by the time I find out I’m already fully and irrevocably committed.

Being a creative engineer type (and stubbornly independent) my solution has been to buy my own portable ramp which I can carry on the back of my wheelchair. Usually I just get on with it, boarding and ‘detraining’ without involving the staff, but this always leaves me with a nagging doubt that the doors will close before I’m off the train so today I decided to involve the Underground staff.

I started by asking Richmond to put me on the train and call ahead to Hammersmith to meet me. This caused a brief debate about the lack of a ramp at Hammersmith which I could quickly quash by producing my own, magician like from the back of my wheelchair. After much admiration, and observation how much easier their job would be if every wheelchair user had their own ramp(*), I boarded the tube and began.

I must say these District line trains are awful. If they ever did have suspension then it’s pretty much gone now, and I’m reasonably sure from the rattling that the train was made from meccano and is now missing quite a few bolts, though you’re never short of nuts on the tube! There are new trains on the way, accessible trains, but not until 2016. Can’t come soon enough.

Anyhow, I was met 15 minutes later at Hammersmith by two very nervous looking LU staff members. They’d clearly been told I was coming, and that a wheelchair was involved, but they obviously had no idea how to handle the situation. The mixture of confusion, bemusement and relief on their faces when they saw I had my own ramp and all they needed to do was stop the train leaving was a picture. It did rather leave them at a loose end not quite knowing what to do, so they both spent the time talking about how great my ramp was, and more importantly how lightweight it was, and how great it would be if all wheelies carried them (*).

That got me to the gig, which only left getting home. I’d already decided to make life easy and take a minicab, the problem is arranging one. Cab companies only have a small proportion of accessible cars in their fleet, if any, and these are often busiest on the ‘school run’ or ferrying customers to and from day centres. This pattern has two effects. Firstly these jobs are block booked, leaving little scope for Ad Hoc work like my trips. Secondly the drivers usually work from 8am until 6pm meaning if you want to go out in the evening you’re just out of luck.

Fortunately I’ve found a company and driver who works evenings, and is both a nice guy and competent to boot. Sadly he does need booking at least 24hrs in advance.This is a bit of a problem for gigs and shows when you don’t know when they’re going to finish. Book the journey for too early and risk paying waiting time or worse the car leaving, book too late and risk standing on a street corner for ages in the cold and, possibly, wet. Of course when you’re in the gig your phone is either off or it’s too noisy to hear any text messages. Besides, who wants to spoil your fun by phone watching? Fortunately this driver often arrives early, and we’ve now built up enough trust that he knows I won’t let him down, so he’s happy to wait (or at least he keeps insisting he is.)

Tonight the gig finished early than I expected, much earlier, and yes it was dark, cold and very wet, but no sooner than I’d contacted the cab firm to see if the cab was available than he’d arrived and I was heading home to get some sleep and do it all again tomorrow.

(* – I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to identify the pitfalls and problems with this proposal)



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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