The Cylindrical Psychosis

I had to psych myself up.  Take a deep breath. Work out if it was the most economical route or the quickest route or whatever but would it get me there, problem free.

Its not going by foot path nor bus – its tube – an arch-nemesis of the wheelchair user.  I’m going to use 3 different lines, change at two stations – to get to my train home.

Its not an impossible task – but its one that takes a little bit of judgement, a little bit of thought and a chunk of confidence.  And attitude – one of those that says “f*** you to people in your way.

I wasn’t alone either – I had my manager with me, so I had to do this properly or apologise in advance to him for the monster I know I can turn into.

Waterloo to Liverpool Street, peak Friday night rush hour.  Waterloo – Green Park – Kings Cross – Liverpool Street.  Flat access. I knew I could do it – I just had to go for it.

I kicked off on the Jubilee Line westbound for Stanmore.  Two stops up to Green Park on a mildly busy train.  It was warm but bearable.  Step free, totally.  Off at Green Park and up in the lift, my aim next was the Victoria Line.  Wheeling (keeping right) up the uphill stretch in the interchange tunnel to turn left to exit and the lifts – downhill.  This is at first gentle – for 5 metres – then steep for 5, then long and reasonable for another 150 metres.  I did the only thing any lunatic would do – I said excuse me to clear a way and ran humming the brakes down hill, hitting an easy 8MPH as my chair was allowed to succumb to the lure of Law of Gravity.  The Xenon rolls so much more quieter, smoother, neater than the old Quickie Q2 HP, less of a thump as I hit the gap between the tiles on the floor.

Slam the brakes on, turn left, roll through to the lifts – my manager had thankfully kept up.  On to the Victoria Line – the first train crammed and jammed and the second train little better.  But I got the second train – able to get into the wheelchair space and park too, a miracle in itself, as most people are surprised to find a wheelchair user outside of the Jubilee Line, let alone on the tube.

Jump off (not literally – flat access again) at Kings Cross and switch to the Met.  Using the long tunnels, people keep walking 6 abreast and slowly, causing me to get fed up – something I have to live with until a gap opens and I can get moving again, my chair taking little effort to get to speed to enable me to move swiftly to the lift, taking it to the exit and out to go to the Circle, Northern and Met.  Masses of people, most of whom don’t know where they are going.  Through the ticket halls and into the CNM, pushing now to get to the platforms, holding a position and letting others make their mistakes of walking into my path – that pre-meditated aim for the lift which takes me the lines where a Met train for Aldgate is waiting.

I rolled on board.  These trains are new. Flat access. Air conditioning. Success.  I took it to Liverpool Street – success bound for me as I am one train away from being on my train home.  And it all looked so easily done, written down.

But the pre-meditation, planning, thought, mental cajoling to get there was totally invisible.  But it was there.  Took me all of half a second to know I would go for it.  It was a round about way to get from Waterloo to Liverpool Street – but I did it. 

One small roll for me – one giant wheelie for my kind.

I got to Liverpool Street, my journey spend admiring how I could see the length of the train start to finish and rolled off, out and up the short slope to head for the exit gates – my train 10 minutes away and leaving me enough time to get something to eat and book my assistance onwards.

Proof too, that I have a new choice open to me instead of a bus or taxi.  Just like many others.

The Transportation Transition Experiment

I believe its probably fair to say that I get on quite well with Greater Anglia… in the most part. Sometimes I get a little frustrated with them when my train is late or when I buy my ticket in the morning and see, once again, that it is really just daylight robbery… that’s my opinion and I realise others – like Sheila or Bruce – might have other opinions.  However, sometimes I am out there on my own and I need to get on with it.

Like yesterday, for example.  I knew the signs were there that it was going to be a serious slog on the iron road.  Little things – trains being cancelled due to a fault, the day being a Thursday, signs saying “it’ll be a hard slog today” and so on.  Oh – and a train ticket that said “Braintree”.  I’d been asked to go at short notice – no time to book the journey there and definitely way of knowing what time I should return – this is not a slur on Braintree, just I’d not been there before.

To kick off, it seemed that Lady Luck (one of the guys at Witham) was on my side – I arrived in to Witham in the morning and in seconds… alright – two minutes – I was off the train, over the bridge and on to the next train out – they held it for me.  I was (and still am) grateful. 

I got to Braintree about 9:10 or so, assisted by a driver rather than the ticket office staff who were caught up in a micro rush. Coffee there, by the way – 80p more than Clacton station.  I got on and took some photos as it was a nice day before heading off to a school in Bocking for a Try a Bus Day.

I value these days – they help a lot of people spark that first step – often the next is travel training.  But that first introduction to the bus (or train) is a key element – done correctly, it sets the idea going that a person can travel.  I think its vital work. 

After this and a meeting (and lunch) I headed back to the station, my charmed existence running out by this time.  It was 16:15.  When I got to the station, I found it was unstaffed. Empty. Deserted.  Devoid of human members of the Greater Anglia fraternity. People had gone home. There would be no fandango.  Beeching had swung his axe. It was an ex-staff afternoon. There was no one there.  It is an unstaffed station.

Its in times like this that many people would either panic, sit tight and hope it would turn out ok or go home.

I turned to twitter.  “@greateranglia arrived at Braintree. No staff here! HELP!”  Bearing in mind that there had been an incident on two other lines – one involving a serious accident and another involving serious signals – I wasn’t hopeful.  But I regularly tweet them, so I crossed my fingers. And my legs. I might have been a little bit busting, as Monkey would say.

A few minutes later I got a reply: “Just calling them now”… and then, a message via the great unknowns of DM: “Call us – [number]”. 

This was new – but a quick way to sort it.  I called, established with them that there was no one there.  The guy on the phone – GK was also on the phone to Witham, who had put a ramp on the next train coming up with the guard.  This meant that i could get on my train with the assistance I need.

This does raise a question for me though – what if I didn’t know the Greater Anglia staff as well as I do? What happens if someone else finds themselves stranded?  Very few train operators leave their twitter accessed after 7-8PM, so what happens later at night?  If there was ever support for a business case needed – surely this is the key item to support it.

Some might argue I should book – but there is no requirement for me to book as I only require a ramp to access the train, therefore no actual other assistance.  Couple that with the unpredictability of my work travel and its rare I can and do book.

I got home bang on time – thanks to the quick reactions of the people on Twitter at Greater Anglia. It shows that once again Social Media is useful.  I just hope others have the confidence to do the same as I did in the future and that train companies react in the same way Greater Anglia did for me. 

The Disability Transport Consultancy Quandary

I don’t think its any secret that I work in Public Transport but also have a vested interest as a disabled person and a transport user.  So this post is closer to my work than usual but I must state – this is my opinion.

Since 1985 the Transport Act 1985 stipulated that there would a board dedicated to advising the Department for Transport (or whatever it is called at the time) about the issues being faced by disabled people and the ways to resolve these issues.  This board is known as the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee – DiPTAC.

DiPTAC have been hugely instrumental in making disabled peoples lives more independent.  Public Transport is a gateway industry – it enables people to access other services.  Health, leisure or chore – if you can’t drive or afford a car because all your money gets sucked up by other costs, public transport is essential.  Accessible public transport only came about because of the hard work of the panel and the standards they helped set out.

But following the various spending reviews, its been recommended DiPTAC be abolished.  I believe this to be wrong.  So I’ve been reading the consultation and I’ve got some strong thoughts and fears.

My first fear is that the experience of disabled people is going to be lost.  At the moment, DiPTAC is made up of disabled people and professionals.  However, what changes are made for one disability can negatively affect another.  For example, a lift could mean people who have claustrophobia may be unable to access a building or replacing a receptionist with an intercom could prevent a hearing impaired person from accessing the building unless it had a working loop.  On board buses, a wheelchair space and priority seating could mean that someone might have nowhere to sit with their guide dog.  Its vital that when making changes, every type of disability is considered and consulted with – and not lip service – proper consultation.

My second fear is that because such experience incurs expenses and costs to bring together and discuss, this will be used as an reason not to use face to face consultation or there could be no more than one meeting with a few people who may be based local to the department.  Recently, the Department for Transport were convening a meeting with just a few organisations about what disabled people wanted from public transport in the future.  They did not go to consultation as it was another department’s white paper.  However, this meant that a lot of voices were not heard and there is a strong risk that this could be the case again in the future on much more serious issues.

My third and final fear is that disabled people will not be made aware of legislative changes properly because there is a lack of pressure from within for the department to ensure they are targeting the right people in the right manner for information, views and consultation.  It might be that the department would commit to doing so, but should they fail to properly consult and carry out an Equality Impact Assessment, it is down to the public to take the department to court.  In the mean time, any changes carried out in law could have already had a negative affect on disabled people and at worst, could mean that disabled people are finding themselves unable to access public transport.

So, it is vital that you respond to this consultation.  I will not tell you how to respond – this is up to you.  But I implore you to consider carefully please the needs of not just yourself but those with other disabilities.  Share the word.  Ask your local council transportation department if they have responded.  I will also be responding in a personal capacity and I hope to share my views on here in due course.

The consultation ends in 14 weeks but you should consider your answers now.  If you want to discuss it with others, log on to twitter and use the hashtag #DPTAC.  But most of all – please tell others.

Consultation

The Electrical Multiple Unit Symposium

I think it is fair to say that I really enjoy my job.  I enjoy working with the public, even when it can be hard to explain some things to them. I also enjoy working with transport providers – no matter the mode – bus, taxi, train or even air or boat, I find it invaluable that we can call on their experience and opinion.  I have to say, although there are some dark days, most of them are pretty decent.  On this basis, today was legen – wait for it…

dary. Legendary. Flipping amazing.  And here is why.

One of our colleague providers is the rail company Greater Anglia.  I’ve worked with them and their predecessor for some considerable time – Sheila has been mentioned before in fact, as I will again now.  (Link back: This post.)  I know that when they received the new class 379 trains as I photographed in the previous post they also got a brand new sparkly simulator to train drivers on.  But I haven’t ever seen the simulator… until today.  Sheila invited me along to the Greater Anglia Academy to see the other side of what Greater Anglia do – the rigorous assessment drivers go through in order to remain on the rails, moving us from A to B.

We arrived at the Academy and the first thing to note – its not like school.  The lead manager came over and introduced him self, as did the manager who would be assessing me for the day.  This isn’t just general politeness, as Bruce explained – we’re talking about a livelihood here, they focus on the driver being relaxed and not feeling pressured. Train driving is not just a job but a career and the driver must remain fully competent in his role.  30 years ago, drivers were given some training and when passing out as a fully qualified driver, they were given their keys and not seen again by their assessors unless they did something wrong.  Now, when a driver is passed, they are reviewed every year, including a short exam and a simulated scenario or two – not a run of the mill trip but with some issues.

The exam covers rules and regulations – for example where you can or cannot walk on the railway, things you should do or not do or signs you might see.  I was half expecting a pop quiz but I gave this a go.  One thing to note – there is no pass or fail.  If they have concerns then they deal with each driver individually.  My score though was not as great as I would have liked to do but considering I had no revision – 30% correct.  D’oh.  But then I was also taken through the things I had got wrong and Bruce explained why they follow the regulations and what purpose they had.  Safe working distance from Overhead Electrical Lines?  2.75 metres.  And that bit of land to the side of the train track on the left between a field and the track? It’s known as the CESS or “Formally the 10 foot”.

Class 379 CabI was introduced to the Simulator too starting with a class 379, the train class I got up close and personal with about a year and a bit ago.  Fun fact – it takes about 6 or 7 high end computers to power the simulator.  The layout is much akin to the actual train – its a mock up cab.  Every button and dial is replicated, the touchscreen is a touchscreen; the CCTV for DDO is faithfully replicated; even the lights and wiper switches function.  Oh, and the seat moves!

The controller in the office – Bruce in this case – can change everything from the time of day, the weather, the windscreen conditions (dirt or a crack), the adhesion and even obstacles on the line.  The train functions are very realistic – AWS to cancel when approaching caution aspects or danger aspects and TPWS if I don’t cancel the alert.  A DRA button to set and reset at red aspects.  Dials telling me brake cylinder pressure.  And all I had to do was sit in the seat, keep my foot down (unless it bleeps when I have to lift up and push back down again).  Sound easy still?

379-cab-with-meSheila was stood with me and observing as I took my “train” through changes in the speed limit, encountering emergency speed restrictions, snow, rail, fog and a cow on the line.  In driving a train for an hour and 10 minutes, I had experienced the worst a driver could expect to encounter from the environment.  I was surprised to hear Bruce then tell me I’d actually done ok for a first timer, which was testament to Bruce’s short but very informative tutorial.  However, my head hurt – it had taken such a lot to concentrate to where to stop, what speed limits to adhere to and when to sound my horn.  I’d only been doing it an hour – imagine a two hour run from London to Norwich!

During a short break and a chat about how I found it, Bruce explained the other aspect about the assessment – pastoral care.  Driving in shifts is demanding work and drivers have to plan their life accordingly.  This means going to bed at the right times and alcohol intake limitations before their shift.

I was also shown the wall of SPAD fame – Signals Passed At Danger – which helps drivers understand the lessons to be learnt, and the latest initiative to help drivers who rotate patterns – DISH: Do I Stop Here?  Its clear that the Academy is there to help their drivers be the best by learning from every opportunity – as someone else pointed out, messing up in the simulator, you can have another go.  You don’t get that chance in the real thing.

315-drivingBefore I left, I was given one last run on the class 315 simulator.  I could hear another assessment going on in the background too, as I was shown a completely different cab and way to drive.  The difference between old and new is astounding – seating position, controls – even the way that you key in.  I found this harder, because the core difference is a separate brake to accelerator, compared to a single controller on a 379.  I know I went over the speed limit a few times by a little but I could feel my concentration begin to waver.  How the metro drivers do it day in day out I do not know.

I left the Greater Anglia Academy with a renewed respect for train drivers everywhere.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself but learnt a lot – not just about driving trains but the investment that goes into each driver.  I was awestruck at how the drivers are put into the deep end of a scenario, not to try and get some to “fail” but to help them to identify where they can focus on.  Above all, the experience was very useful, informative being an understatement.  I hope I can translate some of their skill set in to other areas I work now.

A big thank you to Sheila for inviting me along today – I won’t shut up about this for a while…

The Inter-Departmental Policy Ball Tournament

It has been brought to my notice that the Department for Transport are contributing to the Government’s “Disability Strategy – Fulfilling Potential” with its own disability action plan, to be produced by the Summer of 2012.  The aim is “to address some of the concerns that have been raised on transport for disabled people in documents like RADAR’s guide “Doing Transport Differently” and the Trailblazer’s Transport Report “End of the Line”.

They are organising a small workshop and have invited representatives from groups but concede that there will be no consultation nor will there be any involvement from stakeholders who do not regularly connect with such access groups – disabled people who are usually living their lives as parents, employees and socialites – and might not have the time nor the interest in the ins and outs going on around them – such examples might be a disabled student attending full time college and not in contact with social services or a disabled parent who can get themselves out and about and doesn’t interact with other disabled people or the organisations who represent their disability.

Because of this, the Department for Transport has said that disabled people are welcome to email them what they perceive to be:

  • The gaps that need to be addressed by the public transport industry
  • The priorities and practical solutions for an inclusive transport system

You can email these in bullet points to: elena.barcan@dft.gsi.gov.uk.  When emailing, please outline your disability and how it affects you as well as your method of mobility – wheelchair, cane user, guide dog, companion dog, walking stick, etc…

The idea is to give her the problems that you face in terms of the issue and how it prevents you from travelling – an example:

  • Lack of level access on rail station platforms to train
    • Prevents me from boarding independently
    • Makes me reliant on a member of staff
    • Prevents me from disembarking independently
    • Makes me reliant on someone else advising my destination of my impending arrival

Their deadline for this is around the 1st May. 

The Momentum Upon Steel Alloy Propulsion Formula

Its not often I’ll blog about a service unless I think its been something to note.  So, the following is a positive post about a recent journey – I paid for it, I made it and this is what happened.  Continue reading

The Champion Formula

011-SideSince I have been living with the Champion for a week, I figured a blog update was long overdue. Its been a busy week, so here you go – broken down for ease… I’m ignoring last weekend, as I was learning how it drove.  So, this is a brief outline of my week with it so far.  As an aside, I got back on Monday to find a cushion on my own chair and the brakes on – turns out Monkey had (and has been all week since) riding around in my chair with the cat – and running over her sisters. Continue reading

The Platform Positron

OK – following on from this mornings post, I have sorted one rail-related potential issue sorted.

Following a discussion with Sheila – yes, that one – my morning train will be switched a platform with less of a gap between the platform and the train floor (i.e. height).  Sheila and her colleague Kylie had a quick discussion and understanding my plight, Kylie has kindly arranged the change to help me out – even by a few inches.

Let it be said – there are some really nice people out there, who deserve cake.  Sheila and Kylie are two of them.

The commuter thesis

I think I have narrowed down my 5 worries or so. 5 is an arbitrary number and it might change – just bear with me.

1. I will have to re-educate myself and everyone else required in how to fold the new chair and listen to their bellyaching about how good the old chair was. I won’t care about the old chair if I’m given a chance to like the new one.

2. Travel. I will have to learn how to travel everywhere in a new style and way. This means ramps, buses, trains, the lot. I will need to learn my coping distances with the seat and how long before I want to transfer.

3. Speed. I am used to my ability to rocket off when I need to. I am used to being able to go really fast downhill. This could change and probably will change. This is the hardest thing for me to accept.

4. The girls. I don’t want Monkey, Nuzzle and Scratch to feel like they don’t recognise the chair, to get hurt by new chair or be afraid of it. Unlikely but they don’t really like kittens either so you never know.

5. MBW. I want her to be happy with my choice, with something she will have to look at, push, lift, fold and unfold. She has to put up with my sullen moods as I understand everything I worry about before penning it into this blog. I am glad she came along with me to the first try because as she got to feed in to the chair too – how it looks, colour, position, how I look. I think the MBW factor is always underestimated in new posterior transportation shopping. It shouldn’t be.

5 thoughts there. What have I forgotten? Probably lots but those kept me awake last night and the night before.

Keeping on track

172340-kidderminster

172340 stands at Kidderminster on Mon 4 Oct 2011

This morning I turned up at Kidderminster Railway Station to get a train to Birmingham International (via Smethwick Galton Bridge and Birmingham New Street).  Not a usual journey for me, considering I live in Essex.  I turned up and there, in the disabled parking bay – a white van with two railway cleaning contractors and no blue badge.  I asked them why and they said “there’s loads of spaces” (I found out they were meant to clean the station.)

A bit… well – its the principle.  Best way to complain?  Remembering London Midland are on Twitter, I tweeted them.

Coming home – the wheelchair access gate was locked, which it shouldn’t be.  If you know Kidderminster, you’d know there was no access to the ticket office.  And the lock was on the outside – which I couldn’t reach.  It was apparently to ensure that bikes weren’t stolen (but shouldn’t they be locked?)

Cue another tweet.

And then I looked at my replies:

@LondonMidland @daddydoink unacceptable, I agree. I have passed details to our facilities maintenance team.

@LondonMidland @daddydoink have passed info re gate to local manager. Contractors have been spoken to from this morning.

No wonder they win awards for customer interaction – a very prompt positive outcome.  But also – it demonstrates how seriously they take the input from customers.  I have to say – I am impressed.