A Failed Battleplan


Richmond – Twickenham – Richmond – Hammersmith – Green Park – walk – Waterloo – Richmond

During the recent election Transport for All published their 7 Demands for Accessible Transport  and encouraged all disabled and older people to raise the issue with the candidates. The last demand invited the candidates to come on a trip to see for themselves the reality of public transport for those with access needs.

I wrote to the candidates in my constituency, Richmond & North Kingston, with mixed success. Fortunately one of the people I did get a supportive response from was the eventual winner, Zac Goldsmith. After the election I contacted him again in the hope that I could persuade him to take the trip. In the event he needed no persuasion at all. We set up the meeting for today. In the meantime he announced his candidacy for the Tory nomination for London Mayor which made the trip even more relevant.

I wanted to plan a route that included as many forms of transport as I could. Also Zac had helped me with my campaign to get ramps installed at Hammersmith so I wanted to actually show him what exactly the issue was there. In the end I planned what I thought was the perfect route that would start out poorly with access getting better and better.

That’s not quite how it turned out.

We met at Richmond station. The first stop was Twickenham. With its notoriously unreliable stair lift and major refurb under way, which cuts the width of the platform, I was confident that something would go wrong. In the end I was wrong. Both getting on at Richmond and getting off at Twickenham went without a hitch. Of course the stair lift did take so long that three other trains came and went before we could leave the station so a point was made about both the assistance needed to travel and the extra time it takes as a disabled person.

As short walk took us to the next leg of the journey, a bus back to Richmond. Again, a potential problem was averted when the parent who’s buggy was occupying the wheelchair space kindly got off the bus to let me on. Even the ramp worked perfectly. This trip really wasn’t going to plan, though again a point was made about the wheelchair/buggy debate.

Back at Richmond we headed down to the Underground platforms. Since Hammersmith still doesn’t have a ramp for District line trains I’d planned ahead and brought my own. Amazingly the driver stuck his head round the door to check where I was getting off. This is the first time this has ever happened and I was both impressed and encouraged. I assumed he wanted to know so that he could pay particular attention and make sure I got off okay. It seems I was wrong. As I left the train at Hammersmith the doors closed on me. Of course a wheelchair makes an extremely effective doorstop which gave me the upper hand, and time to get onto the platform, but it leaves me wondering what the point of asking was.

The final leg of our trip I’d intended to demonstrate just how things should work. TfL have creatively designed a new style of ramp for the Piccadilly line at Hammersmith, amongst other stations, and Green Park is step free to the train. The trip was supposed to finish on a flourish. Yeah, right.

With no staff on the platform I used the customer help point. It took a little while but eventually help arrived, a ramp wrangler and someone to let the driver know where I was going. While we waited for the train I talked with the wrangler about Green Park and the need to be in the correct carriage for the raised platform. Although he seemed knowledgeable and confident my suspicions should have been raised by the way he handled the ramp. I’d love to describe it to you, but I have no idea what he did or how he did it. Somehow the end result was a solid manifestation of an Escher drawing. A flat ramp, placed between two flat surfaces ended up balanced on two opposing corners. Whilst this looked decidedly uncomfortable we were running to an increasingly tight deadline by this point so I crossed my fingers and launched myself on to the train, fortunately successfully.

All that remained was to wheel smoothly off the train at Green Park. Sadly, despite our discussion, the Ramp Wrangler at Hammersmith had put me in the wrong carriage which meant there was now a significant step to overcome. Had I not been carrying my own ramp I would, at best, have ended up at Kings Cross.

Just to properly cap the journey we made our way through the tunnels and lifts to emerge into a sun drenched London where we parted ways.

Rather than head back underground I decided to wheel through a very poorly named Green Park, bleached a sandy brown colour through hot sun and too little rain. I made the most of the weather and battled through the tourists in St James Park and across Westminster Bridge, eventually arriving at Waterloo, where I picked up the train back to Richmond. Of course, now no one was watching, both getting on and off the train went without a hitch.

As it usual with these trips the adage of Helmuth von Moltke applies, no plan survives the first engagement with the enemy. However, it’s also true that these trips are always both educational and worthwhile. This was no exception.


On the Tuesday following our trip Zac was interviewed on LBC Radio, and made reference to our journey together. You can watch it (yes, you can watch radio!) here  The relevant bit is at 18:35.


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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