People Are A Problem


Richmond – Waterloo – Brixton – Return

I don’t believe in a great super powerful being overseeing our existence, but some days challenge that belief and lead me to think he has both a sharp sense of humour and a rich sense of irony. Today was one of those days, when I bumped into R from South West Trains. I’d previously taken a very interesting and informative trip with him, and I caught up with him at Richmond checking on one of the outcomes of that trip. We were both heading to Waterloo so had an opportunity to catch up, but I’m not at all sure R’s presence didn’t jinx the whole trip, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The journey started, predictably enough with a dodgy bus. This time it wasn’t the usual type of dodgy where the ramp won’t deploy. This time the ramp wouldn’t retract once I was on board, leaving the bus stranded. Fortunately the driver had attended the Advanced Vehicle Repair course and applied some percussive maintenance (he got out of the cab and gave the ramp a good kick). This worked and allowed us to get under-way, and gave the woman next to me the chance to share her opinion on the poor maintenance standards on local buses, opinions which I must admit I share.

It was on the platform at Richmond that R found me. I’d already spoken to the ramp wrangler when R turned the corner and almost walked right into me. I’d not seen him for some time so we had some catching up to do, which we were doing when the train arrived. Sadly, by this time the ramp hadn’t, so the train was held up while the wrangler did his thing, a state of affairs that definitely didn’t please R. Late trains mean big fines.

I had a really useful catch up on the journey to Waterloo, including hearing about some planned service improvements. We also had a chat about the turn-up-and-go trial, which was ironic as when we arrived at Waterloo there was no one there to meet me. R leapt off the train and grabbed the guard to fetch the ramp. He also stopped the driver, and passing platform staff so that by the time I got off the train there was an impromptu meeting of five South West Trains staff holding a post mortem into what happened and why. I made my excuses and set off to catch my bus.

I’d only made it across the concourse to the lift when my progress was halted in an highly frustrating way. I summoned the lift and after the usual delay it arrived, but then immediately disappeared without opening the doors. Something similar happened last week, so I tried to repeat that trick by calling the lift again and this time holding the call button. This had no noticeable effect and again the lift disappeared. Getting a smidge ticked off I sent my PA downstairs to fetch the thing. It took a little while but eventually she appeared through the glass window, rising from the depths of the earth, along with another passenger who it turned out was blind. My sea of optimism was dashed on the rocks of reality when again the lift disappeared without opening it’s doors. Clearly royally stuffed, as soon as my PA made her way back up the stairs we made our way towards an alternative, step free exit. She’d taken a little while due to helping her frustrated lift mate find the way into the station, there being a lack of obvious assistance and of course the woman’s guide dog couldn’t read any of the route signage.

As we made our way out of the station we again bumped into R and continued ruining his day by briefly telling him what had happened. Whatever he had planned for his afternoon was now, I suspect, wrecked by having to chase down all the problems I’d dumped on his plate.

Sadly the universe wasn’t quite finished with me. I arrived at my bus stop to find a school trip, which to my horror was heading in my direction. Although no one said anything, at least not that I heard, there was a distinct atmosphere amongst the other travellers as the first bus and most of the second bus was filled with 10 year old school kids. I was pleased to get on the third, kid free, bus, but the consequence of the preceding buses being full was that each time we stopped there was a queue of frustrated people waiting to get on. The bus got fuller and fuller as we got further and further. Whilst this is a common experience for commuters, it was clearly unusual and uncomfortable for this group of early afternoon and mostly rather elderly passengers.

After the journey out, I’m pleased to say the return was a comparative joy. The only tiny fly in the ointment was that on the early evening commuter train there were three wheelchairs, including me. This is never a good thing on a packed train as wheelchairs don’t easily move to let people on or off, and people tend not to move for wheelchairs. They fail to comprehend the limitations of forwards and backwards motion in wheelchairs and their entire lack of ability to move sideways. Also people fighting to board the train see air gaps and try to force those already aboard to move down the train and fill them, without understanding that the gaps aren’t gaps at all. On this particular train there was also a woman with a number of very large suitcases and a complete lack of spatial awareness. No matter how many times she looked at me and then the gap between the wall and her cases, one (me) was not going to fit through the other. Eventually, and under protest, she did move her luggage so I could get off.

The lesson to take from today is that almost all of my problems were created by people. Using people to solve access problems is relatively simple but has inherent possibility of failure. The sooner the environment has access solutions built in the sooner disabled peoples lives will be improved.


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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