The Bus Replacing The Bus Replacing The Train

19/3/16

Richmond – Clapham Jct – Earlsfield – Return

Somehow I got involved with starring in a film about web accessibility for W3C and ended up travelling to a leafy suburb of Earlsfield. This seemed at first glance to be straightforward. But it’s always worth looking harder. Then looking again, just in case you missed something. Like I did.

I started, as always, by planning ahead and checking the station information on the National Rail website for Earlsfield. Great, full step free access. I then went to look at the detailed station plan. No lifts anywhere, just lots of stairs. Don’t you just love websites that contradict themselves. I threw caution to the wind and decided to rely on a spot of good fortune.

I set off on the bus, with one of the regular, friendly drivers (What a piece of junk) I’d left plenty of time, but he helpfully pointed out, as we got stuck in traffic, that there was rugby on at Twickenham. The five minute trip took nearly fifteen which meant I missed the train. This gave the ramp wrangler enough spare time to remind me of a spanner in the works that I’d forgotten. Engineering work meant that there were no trains running through Earlsfield. I debated giving up and going home, but decided to test South West Trains provision of an accessible replacement bus service.

I got to Clapham and was sent to the entrance where the buses were running from. As I reached platform one, part of the step free route to the exit, a helpful member of staff called me over to ask which train I was after. When I told him I was going to the exit he looked me right between the eyes and told me to go along the platform and down the stairs!

Thanking him politely I ignored him completely and went to find the lift.

The entrance could only be described as chaos. The three staff members propping up the wall were fending off an endless stream of “Where do the buses go from?” type questions, asked not 20 feet from a queue of people slowly and calmly boarding a coach. Sometimes you just have to admire the patience of staff serving the great unwashed public.

My arrival in a wheelchair clearly threw them. One of the three, I assume the most senior, took charge and informed me I was stuffed. He was of course much more polite than that, but that was definitely the message. The replacement service was using coaches and old buses, none of which were accessible. I pressed on and asked for a taxi. He didn’t actually refuse, but he was decidedly reluctant. At this point his colleague helpfully suggested the 77 bus. A fine idea, except I had no idea where to go to catch it. The third member of the trio, Jean, turned my day around by offering to take me to it. She was brilliant, not only taking me through the station and out to the row of bus stops, but checking each one until she was sure I was in the right place. If only all staff had this level of service ethic.

I made it to Earlsfield, and the shoot only 40 minutes late. I would have made better time but the pavements were awful. Leafy suburbs mean trees, trees mean roots, roots mean bumps and potholes which really slow down progress unless you want to be bounced unceremoniously out of the chair.

On the return trip I took the opportunity to pop into the closed station. Apart from really freaking out the staff member in the ticket office who thought I wanted to catch a train, I did learn that yes, there are lifts to the platform. Useful to know, but I don’t think I’ll ever go there again.

Going back through Clapham I saw Jean again, helping some other poor soul. Clearly she was having a busy day, but seemed to be happy and gave me a cheery wave.

It’s useful to be reminded that all over the transport network, buses, tube and trains, there are some really caring, thoughtful staff. Especially important to remember when you’re faced with an obstreperous jobsworth.

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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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