Topical Creativity is very pleased to introduce its first ever guest writer, Alex Taylor. Alex and I share a few things in life, including wobbly feet and a love of journalism, so it only seemed right that I ask him to contribute here. So without further ado, I give you Alex Taylor:
I am lucky to live in the UK, especially West London. Even given the severity of the current economic crisis, things could be worse – just ask a Greek or Italian. Similarly, as a wheelchair user who has travelled abroad extensively, I have witnessed how comparatively well-equipped our transport network is at dealing with disabled passengers. My friends from elsewhere around Europe are quick to praise the ramp facilities for buses, trains and taxis: ‘we just don’t have this’, they swoon. The problem is: all too frequently, I don’t either. Just like a child window-shopping in the months before Christmas, TFL and other providers present great facilities but ultimately advertise a final product which flatters to deceive.
I have lost count of how many times I have waited for a bus, only to watch the ramp pitifully grind to a halt without making it to the curb. Moreover, because I use my electric wheelchair when I am out alone, lifting the chair on board is not an option – I simply have to wait for the next bus and hope I win the ramp roulette. If I am really lucky, I get on the bus fine but watch in horror as the ramp malfunctions when retracting, leaving me stranded on a stationary bus alongside some very angry fellow passengers…all looking for a scapegoat! I dread to think how many buses nationwide have been put out of service in this manner.
Given this the motivations for bus drivers to avoid wheelchair users by failing to stop late at night or during rush hour suddenly become much clearer. Indeed, during my most recent experience, the driver had to resort to frantically kicking the ramp in desperation. Unsurprisingly, it did not work.
In some ways, the situation is typically British. Instead of pursuing a long-term strategy that combines high standards with optimum efficiency, the focus is on getting ‘the job done’. The end result thus becomes superficial, lacking the attention to detail that makes such a huge difference. For instance, I highly doubt that stringent compliance-testing occurs; on some buses, the gradient at which the ramp stops is simply too steep for me to get up safety. Admittedly, the new generation of buses have addressed this fault but it will take many years for the old design to be phased out. If only basic testing had been carried out using a wheelchair, the problem would have been flagged up immediately.
Over the years I have lodged complaints but these are not taken seriously, with an air of complacency in the responses. Ultimately, my aforementioned German friend summed it up when he said: ‘we may not have all these ramps but if we did, we’d make sure they worked’.
Visit Alex’s own great blog at http://www.youknowthescore.net/ and follow him on Twitter @ykts_net