So this is how commuters feel.

23/11/15

Richmond – Hammersmith – Liverpool Street – Westminster – Richmond

Being in London I often hear about how bad public transport is through the news and twitter. People are only too eager to complain about delays, cancellations and overcrowding. I am sympathetic, but as regular readers will know I have my own problems resulting from my own set of circumstances. Using a wheelchair on public transport is troublesome enough without having to fight my way through crowds so wherever possible I schedule meetings and my life to avoid busy periods. For the most part I’m quite successful.

I have a weird kind of thought conflict, therefore, when I get caught up in delays. Just like everyone I’m frustrated at being held up, at being powerless in the hands of some great deity of inconvenience, but there is a perverse pleasure in being subject to the same inconvenience of every other traveller on the network, this is how it feels to be ‘normal’ (yes, I know ‘normal’ is not the right word to use as it implies that us disabled folk are somehow not normal, but I didn’t want to spoil my chain of thought by pausing to think of something more appropriate. Of course writing this aside has now completely derailed that train and the carriages are lying on their side all over the embankment of… no, stop, get back to the narrative..)

So having checked TfL’s journey planner, as usual, I set off to my meeting. The first leg was 20 minute bus trip to Hammersmith. Knowing the the Hogarth roundabout is usually log jammed (local knowledge you won’t reliably find on journey planner) I instead opted for a route through Barnes.

(For new readers – Why not take District Line to Hammersmith? There’s no ramp at this otherwise step free station. grumble grumble )

Sadly, this pre-emptive planning helped not a jot, as traffic was almost gridlocked through Barnes meaning an additional 25 minutes. Fortunately the trains from Hammersmith to Liverpool Street run every few minutes and are step free so I just wheeled on and waited.

It didn’t do me a whole lot of good. We left roughly on time but had barely gone half a dozen stops before being held at a red signal. The driver was very good about it, one of those cheerful, off script types who apologised and hoped our day, up to this point, had been good, and left you with the feeling that he really meant it. Somehow, over the next 45 minutes as we were repeatedly stopped and the delays got worse, he managed to maintain his sincerity, at one point imploring us passengers to be good to each other in an announcement that left me feeling like an extra from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

The upshot of all this was that by the time I got to Liverpool Street a journey that should have taken 55 minutes had taken just over two hours once you include the waiting and transfers. As usual I’d allowed extra time, the benefit of experience I guess, but nowhere near enough. I was late, but thanks to the driver felt perversely good about it. There was irony in the fact that the meeting I was late for was with TfL to talk transport.

Liverpool Street Underground is step free, but only in one direction, which is an accessibility issue I’ve not touched on before. Rather than planning a journey and them simply reversing it to make the return trip, sometimes it’s necessary to plan two entirely different routes. More importantly, it’s always necessary to check that you don’t have to. Even on regular journeys that aren’t usually a problem, a broken or out of service lift can mean a major replanning.

Fortunately, the Circle line makes this particular reroute relatively straightforward. The only spanner in the works is changing at Westminster. If you enter the station here then it’s relatively simple to seek a ramp wrangler at the gate line. But what if you arrive on the platform? Circle line trains are step free to it’s easy to get off the train, but as more than half of District line trains aren’t, a ramp is necessary to continue. The good news is that there’s almost always  a member of staff on the platform, usually telling up to ‘mind the gap’ or ‘stand clear of the doors’. We know these things. You’ve been telling us for years. How about telling us something useful, like the nearest place to buy ear plugs (damn that Westminster platform is noisy) or a pair of scissors to cut the headphone cable of that annoying person opposite who has their volume up too loud!

What is incomprehensible to me, and it’s happened a few times, is that these platform staff are not routine trained in ramp usage so need to call for an official ramp wrangler. Training is simple and quick, after all it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to unlock a ramp, carry it to the train and lay it, black side up, so that one end is on the train and the other on the platform. I have asked the question of TfL’s customer service desk. I’m not optimistic of a helpful response.

Other than a minor delay waiting for assistance, the return journey was rather dull compared to the outward, but I wouldn’t want you to think that’s any kind of complaint. Despite the title of the blog ‘dull’ is the goal because dull will mean equality.

 

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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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