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17/7/15

Richmond – Clapham Junction – Shepherds Bush – Clapham Junction – Richmond

Two things have occurred to me when thinking about travelling as a wheelie. Firstly, and it’s kind of obvious, that the more changes are involved in a trip, the more likely it is that something will go wrong. The second thing, and this is just a feeling without any evidence, is that irrespective of the staff involved, some stations are consistently better than others. Today felt like it might provide some evidence to support, or otherwise, these hypotheses.

The first bus I can’t really complain about. Not that it would do any good if I did. The ramp was a bit reluctant to come out to play, but did appear after a quick dance of the Hokey Cokey (in-out, in-out).

My experience at Richmond station wasn’t quite so good. I checked in with the Ramp Wrangler with five minutes to spare before the train and went to wait at the right part of the platform. When the train arrived, the wrangler didn’t. A brief kerfuffle ensued, but since all the station staff had evaporated it was left to the guard to get me on. He told me later that the staff had been “doing a blind person”. It sounded to me like a mugging, but he assured me assistance was being rendered.

Clapham Junction is one of those stations with a bad reputation. It might have something to do with it being staffed by three different companies but whoever you talk to, guards or passengers, the expectation is that assistance won’t be where it ought to be. However today, to be fair, I was met efficiently by a wrangler from South West Trains and then boarded on to my next leg by a wrangler from London Overground.

I don’t use Shepherds Bush very often but whenever I have done they have been on the ball. For a small station with few staff they seem switched on. They fetched me off the train as soon as it arrived, and for the return journey it is good to still have an open ticket office to go to for help. I asked for the help, made my way to the platform and, unlike Richmond earlier, the wrangler turned up with plenty of time to get me on the train. This does seem to be a model of how assistance should work.

No matter what help is provided to me (or otherwise) by the transport operator, I’m always interested by the actions of the rest of the travelling public. The vast majority of this reaction is supportive and/or helpful, sometimes too helpful, but every once in a while there’s a numpty.

The train arrived at Clapham Junction and everyone poured out of the doors as this was the terminus. The ramp wrangler was waiting (that’s two for two today, endangering Clapham’s poor reputation) but rather than wait 30 seconds for me to get off, some be-suited businessman with a briefcase practically clambered over me to get on the train. He can’t possibly have thought the train would leave with the ramp still attached could he? Unlikely, but I suppose it has happened before.

The final stop on my day’s tour was back at Richmond. On a positive note there was a wrangler waiting on the platform. On a not so positive note he was at the wrong end of the train. When he couldn’t find the expected wheelchair he put the ramp back in its housing and began to leave. If I hadn’t put the chair between the closing doors then my journey would have been much longer than I hoped. Fortunately, I did get off the train, even if it did cause a delayed departure.

So there was lots of scope for things to go wrong today and, apart from a couple of relatively minor hiccups, they didn’t. That really goes to the core of the problem of travelling as a disabled person. The unpredictability of it all means you just can’t be confident of how it will end up, or whether you need to start out with a backup plan.

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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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