Bad Planning, Bad Advice & Failed Technology.

21/3/15

Intended – Richmond – Waterloo – London Bridge – Canary Wharf – Return

Actual – Richmond – Waterloo – abort

The objective for today was a simple one, a little touristy sight seeing round the new Crossrail station at Canary Wharf and a little foody indulgence at Borough Market. It all seemed simple and straight forward, even if the day was a little chilly.

The day started well. The wheelchair space on the first bus was occupied by a buggy, but as is so often the case the mother happily moved to let me on. I remain convinced that mostly the “conflict” between buggies and wheelchairs is created by the policies of the bus companies and the actions of poorly trained drivers. A little consideration and cooperation usually allows the two to co-exist quite amicably.

My other piece of good fortune was that although it was a Rugby day, I was travelling against the flow of the human throng, so caused me nothing but mild amusement. The advice from the Ramp Wrangler at Richmond was that so long as I didn’t try returning before 5pm then I wouldn’t be involved in the pre-match scrum. (note – remember this, it becomes relevant later) That was fine. It matched with my plans perfectly.

Thing started to head downhill when the Ramp Wrangler that met me at Waterloo couldn’t place the ramp correctly. You would think placing a flat ramp on a flat train would give a flat surface, but somehow this one ended up like a pitched roof. I quickly performed a Health & Safety assessment that a Brussels Bureaucrat would be impressed by and decided that the risk involved was less than the hassle and delay of trying to get the ramp replaced with the correct one for the train. It turns out I was right and I made it to the bottom without serious incident.

The next step was to head for the underground to catch the tube to London Bridge. I knew there is major development work, and therefore disruption, at London Bridge Rail station so before I set out I checked that the underground wasn’t affected, which it wasn’t. I quickly discovered that my research wasn’t thorough enough however when I found the sign outside the lift announcing to the world in general, and right now me in particular, that London Bridge Underground Station was out-of-bounds between February and August for the lift to be replaced. This raises 2 questions;

  1. Why do lifts always take 6 months to replace on the Underground and
  2. Why in the name of all that’s holy are they doing this work to coincide with the disruption at the rail station?

Stopped in my tracks I sought advice from the nearest LU Staff member. He consulted with a colleague who disappeared to do some research (at least I assume that’s what he went to do) before returning and pointing me in the direction of two buses, RV1 and 381, that would do the job. I set off to find the bus stop feeling quite positive, but my mood quickly darkened as the cold wind whipped between the buildings. It was one of those lazy winds, too lazy to go around so it goes straight through you.

A wheel down the road and round the corner found me at the correct stop and I was even on the correct side of the road, or at least the side I’d been told was correct. To pass the time as I waited I counted the number of buses going the other way. I realise this offers as much mental stimulation as a Saturday evening TV game show, but it was something to do. For the record it was two RV1s and a 381.  After about 10 minutes an RV1 appeared in the distance and duly pulled up at the stop. The driver checked with me where I was heading, fortuitously as it turns out, and perhaps through bitter experience. It seems, and I have since checked this because I found it hard to believe, that outside Waterloo the RV1 and 381 go in different directions to get to the same destination. The RV1 I needed to catch to get to Borough Market actually heads away from Borough Market! Remember those 2 RV1s I’d counted? Yup, I should’ve caught one of those rather than standing in the cold like a chump.

I now have a decision to make. Cross the road and catch the bus, potentially missing the next 381, or wait here and miss the next RV1 going the other way. There is of course only one thing to do, the pragmatic approach. It’s important to accept that in a situation like this when presented with a 50/50 choice the decision that you make will almost inevitably be wrong. I dug deep, channelled my inner Zen Master, and focused on the approaching traffic. Although I probably made the wrong decision, by studiously not watching for other buses I at least wouldn’t have my stupidity confirmed.

So I spent the next 5 minutes staring down the road in a state of imagined tunnel vision, or it might have been the sharp wind causing my eyes to water and create actual tunnel vision. Either way I was pleased when the bus did finally arrive. My relief was cut short when the ramp failed to deploy in the increasingly familiar hokey-cokey routine of in-out in-out. As usual in these situations the driver tried repeatedly, before moving the bus forward a few feet and trying again, but to no avail. The ramp stubbornly refused to stay out and it was obvious to both him and me that I wasn’t getting on this bus. He apologised profusely, promised to report the fault, closed the door and drove away, leaving me standing forlornly at the curb.

By this time it was clear that standing in the wind was taking it’s toll. A stroll round the market, if and when I got there, wasn’t going to be either pleasant or comfortable so I reluctantly made the decision to abandon the trip and return home. The problem was it was now getting on for 3pm. Remember the Rugby I mentioned at the start of this blog? 70,000 people were now trying to get to it, and a good many of them wanted to be on the same train as me!

I returned to the concourse at Waterloo, this time by the direct route. From the sea of people flowing towards the train it was clear that there was no way I was going to be able to fit on it. I also made a calculated guess, based on past experience, that the train after that was also an unlikely candidate. I settled on a train leaving in 20 minutes and headed of to the platform to find a Ramp Wrangler.

I got on the train easily to find it empty but it didn’t stay that way for long. There are two things worth noting about being on a crowded train in a wheelchair. Firstly, you have your own safety cage, people can only get so close meaning you have a limited amount of personal space which those around you don’t have. However, you are sitting down in a crowd of standing people. Depending on the height of those around you this means various arm pits, cleavages, bums or bags are pressed into your face. This is not pleasant at the best of times but believe me when I say a rugby crowd is particularly aromatic.

The train filled up quickly, and got more packed at every stop on route. Normally this would concern me as I need space to move when it’s time to get off, but I knew many of the passengers would be getting off at Richmond with me. When we did finally arrive at Richmond there was plenty of space by the time the Ramp Wrangler had found me and laid out the ramp.

Today’s trip was complicated by, and failed entirely due to the access requirements created by the wheelchair. But more than that is the additional time required to get assistance from LU staff, delays whilst buses fail and needing 20 minutes to catch a train rather than just quickly hoping on the next one. I’m not complaining, it is what it is, but time is one of the hidden things that gets stolen when you’re a wheelchair user.

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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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