As some of my readers may be aware, I have recently started a campaign against disability-based discrimination. We are called World on Wheels (WOW) and are starting by campaigning for a better London bus service. If you would like to join us, please follow the link to the right of your screen, which will take you to our Facebook page. Alternatively, feel free to comment on any of my posts and I will get back to you.
To give you a flavour of what WOW does, here is the letter I sent today to TfL’s customer services.
I am writing to you as the founder of World on Wheels (WOW). We are a campaign promoting equality and fairness for wheelchair users in all aspects of life.
The experience of wheelchair users on London’s transport network is of great concern to us; and as a wheelchair user myself I am often shocked by the lack of ease in getting around the city. As I am sure you are aware, a pitiful 63 of London’s 270 Tube stations are step-free from entrance to platform. This figure is abysmally low and does not even take into account other factors such as the distance between the platform and the train, which often creates a barrier for wheelchair users.
As a Londoner, I am fully aware that the Tube network is aging and in need of modernisation, regardless of wheelchair access problems. I am also aware that making the remaining Tube stations accessible and adjusting the distance between train and platform is almost technically impossible and would involve sums of money that City Hall simply does not have. Therefore, WOW is not campaigning for a fully accessible Tube network. However, it must surely then be reasonable to expect the bus service to make up for the lack of other options?
Sadly, it is far from fulfilling this role. As I have reached the latter half of my teenage years, I have attempted to use the bus service as a means of increasing my independence and saving money. However, I am constantly disappointed and angered by the way I am treated by your staff. It appears to me that many of your drivers simply do not want to make the effort to lower the ramp and let me on board. I ask you – is it acceptable that I have been left in the rain because of this? WOW is campaigning for new guidelines for drivers that require that a reasonable effort be made to get a wheelchair user on board.
I also often find that drivers are in such a hurry that they do not pull into bus stops properly, so that if they do lower the ramp it is at an awkward angle for me to get up. WOW believes that a little training and understanding would rectify this problem. Other wheelchair users have complained to me that ramps often fail. I can not imagine that maintaining the ramps is that costly, and I suspect a lack of attention rather than funding.
On your website, you clearly state that “If someone in a wheelchair wishes to board, and the wheelchair space is occupied by standing passengers or buggies, standing passengers will be asked to make room.” However, it is left to the wheelchair user to negotiate with other passengers from outside the bus. This is an almost impossible task (please appreciate that many wheelchair users also have problems with communication). WOW is campaigning for more help from drivers to alert other passengers and to ask for space to be made, perhaps in the form of an announcement. This would save wheelchair users much unnecessary anxiety and remove a barrier to the independence of many.
Many thanks for taking the time to read this letter. We look forward to your response.