Oops, I Broke My First Bus.


Richmond – Twickenham – Clapham – Wimbledon – Mitcham -Wimbledon – Richmond

There are days when you know you should never have got out of bed. This wasn’t one of them, but definitely started out that way. It was cold, damp and windy, much more miserable than I realised so my initial decision not to wear gloves was definitely going to come back to bite me.

The first trip, by bus, from Richmond to Twickenham lulled me into a false sense of security. This was shattered when I arrived at my first meeting to discover the building, which houses adult social care services, wasn’t accessible. It’s true, there was a ramp, but there wasn’t space at the top for a wheelchair, and the threshold had a large step. After a brief discussion and apology from the staff in the biting wind I turned round to catch the bus, expecting my day to improve. Hope, it turns out, triumphing over experience.

After standing another ten minutes in the Arctic winds, the bus ‘shelter’ having being sadly misnamed, the welcome red shape of a single decker appeared round the corner and pulled up. The familiar siren broke the air as the ramp deployed. Without even touching the pavement however it gave up and retracted back into the bus floor, obviously no more keen to be out in the cold than I was. This is not uncommon, but another couple of failed attempts began to ring the alarm bells, if only gently.

The usual course of action at this point is to pull the bus up a few feet and try again. I’m unsure whether this is to find a better piece of pavement, to actually reset some sensor in the bus itself or simply the bus equivalent of hitting it with a hammer. Whichever it is, it had no significant effect, or at least no immediately obvious one. The next thing the driver tried was to ‘reboot’ the bus, ie turn it off and on again.

By this time I was attracting looks from the passengers, in equal measure frustrated on my behalf, and mildly miffed that their journey was being delayed. What none of us knew is that the situation had already got worse.

Having delayed the bus enough I decided to be considerate and suggested to the driver that he should continue on, and that I’d get the next one. Unfortunately, despite his best efforts he couldn’t do this. The bus simply refused to move, at all. No amount of restarting it, or redeploying the ramp made a blind bit of difference. The gears simply wouldn’t engage.

So it was that the next bus rounded the corner to be met with the sight of a broken bus and a pavement full of now ex passengers huddling together in the wind. We did all fit onto the new bus, though it rather had the crammed feeling common to a wet Wednesday afternoon rush hour, an experience obviously unfamiliar to this collection of mothers, pensioners and other daytime travellers. This was fortuitous as clearly being compressed so closely together was the only thing keeping some of the passengers upright, passengers who should most usually have been seated for their own comfort and safety had there been any free seats. The camaraderie and Dunkirk spirit, which always emerges amongst the British in such times of shared inconvenience and discomfort, lasted until I left the bus at the Twickenham centre to head for the train station.

As usual when I arrived there were no staff in sight so I went to the ticket window hoping to be able to pass a radio message to the platform staff. Not unusually I was directed to the assistance call buzzer at the top of the stairs. What was unusual was that the buzzer was fenced off, as was the platform lift used to get wheelchairs to and from the platform. For well over a year, in preparation for this year’s Rugby World Cup, there has been a lot of development going on at Twickenham. Previously, this has shrunk the size of the platform. Awkward and inconvenient definitely, but until now it hadn’t stopped me travelling. Not being able to get to the westbound platform was going to alter my plans.

I returned to the ticket office and explained that the accessible buzzer wasn’t. It took some doing but I eventually managed to persuade her to contact the platform staff for me. Since I obviously wasn’t getting to the westbound platform, I agreed to make my way through the car park to the rear entrance to the other platform, eastbound. Given how my day was shaping up it was predictable that my route turned out to be blocked by maintenance vans. I suppose I should be grateful that I was spotted quickly and, as if by magic, workmen arrived to shift the vans.

After 10 more minutes of sitting in the biting cold wind (no accessible waiting room) I was heading to Wimbledon, the long way round. However, this did give me time to thaw out. I’m pleased to say things improved, briefly, at Clapham where I was met with a ramp, but rapidly descended again when the promised assistance to get me on the Wimbledon bound train was nowhere to be seen. I have no idea why but the platform was packed so finding a Ramp Wrangler proved a challenge, but I rose to it and managed to get on the train.

Wimbledon again teased me with a little good fortune. I got off the train efficiently and headed over to the tram. I was slightly delayed at the lift as a pram squeezed in next to me. This meant when we got to the platform the doors to the tram had just shut. I was hugely impressed, and grateful, when the driver noticed us arrive and opened the door to let us on.

This is a transport blog, so I’m not sure this is strictly on topic, but I’m going to mention briefly that the pavements in Mitcham are appalling. The 15 minute wheel to my destination were some of the most uneven, cambered pavements with steep, angled drop kerbs that I’ve had the misfortune to use in London. So much so that I changed my route home, opting for a 30 minute bus ride back to Wimbledon over the 10 minute tram journey which involved retracing my steps.

My final two legs of the day, train from Wimbledon to Richmond and then bus home, I expected to have something go wrong, given the rest of my day, but the universe had clearly moved on to torture some other poor soul. I was simply left to get home, thaw out and ponder what could go wrong next time to top this.

I will of course let you know.


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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2 Responses to Oops, I Broke My First Bus.

  1. Ali Draper says:

    I’m exhausted just reading it.
    Question, if on business you reach a destination – at the bequest of the badly accessible venue – do you charge them by the hour for the total time spent travelling?

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