Yesterday, to mark International Day of Disabled People, Jon Hastie and I, supported by a team of… well, a few, set about visiting every step free tube station on the London Underground. Our quest was inspired by The Tube Challenge, partly to show just what is possible for disabled people travelling in London but also to highlight the restrictions and the fact that only 78 stations have step free access. You can read about, and sponsor, our effort at stepfreetubechallenge.co.uk.
Spoiler Alert, we succeeded, and did manage to visit every one of them although it was closer to failing than I expected. I really thought towards the end that I’d run out of time, and we certainly made mistakes along the way.
I wanted to capture some thoughts while the experience is still fresh, some might say raw, in my mind. These are in no particular order.
- It was fun… ish. 11 hours 18 minutes is a long time to spend on the London Underground but having a purpose, a focus makes it pass quickly. So quickly I didn’t get time to do all the social media I wanted to. You can see a timeline of highlights here.
- Make a plan, and stick to it. Every time I varied I screwed up. Thanks most to Tomas for the route, and Jon for picking up my Caledonian Road cock-up.
- Having said that, the unexpected happens and the environment is not perfect, for anyone. Be prepared to be flexible and adapt.
- Greenford station has an innovative new incline lift. It hasn’t always been reliable but it has got better. It is very clever.
- The Underground, especially the deep tube when crowded is hot and unpleasant. Travelling in December meant my feet were cold all day, but I could breathe and put a scarf on.
- I was really nervous of Oxford Circus and how busy it would be. As I got delayed and realised I’d arrive at rush our my apprehension increased. In the end it was full, very full, but with help from a TfL staff member and a bit of patience there were no real issues.
- With one exception the assistance staff during the day were all great. The exception was at Oxford Circus where he didn’t get the ramp despite being asked and insisted on holding on to me. This ‘handsy’ invasion of my personal space made it both uncomfortable and difficult to steer. It’s no excuse but his actions were motivated by a misplaced desire to help.
- I’m naturally an independent person, but this escapade wouldn’t have succeeded without the combined efforts of a great team. Have a good team and trust them. They know who they were.
- Stanmore is technically a step free station, but it’s dreadful. The route is long, steep, with an uneven surface and dreadfully signposted. Without someone with me I wouldn’t have succeeded.
- Heathrow is warren of platforms, lifts, travelators and corridors. The (heavily armed) Police Officer I asked for directions got it badly wrong. Don’t go to Heathrow without being prepared.
- The best comment of the day from a staff member was “Oh, you’re the ones doing that thing”. The internal TfL staff comms clearly worked.
- The Bakerloo is the line from hell. So bouncy that my wheels actually left the floor.
- Step free is in eye of beholder. Some of those steps and gaps are pretty big. The entrance to TfL Rail and Heathrow Express trains are a very dodgy combination of 2 steps and a gap. Sometimes I need speed, and sometimes care to board a train. Getting that wrong could get very messy indeed. Know your chair, have a plan and stick to it.
- Buses are the glue that fills the gap. They’re essential for both this challenge and in daily life. They were also the source of both Jon and my biggest slip ups. Caveat Emptor.
- Make sure you have no plans for the day after the attempt.
Will we do it again? We’ve proved it can be done which was our first objective. I think we can do better than 21 hours and 23 minutes. I do have a number in mind, but I’m keeping it to myself for now. Can we resist the urge to do better.
Want to know more? You provide the audience and I’ll bring the slides.