The Journal of a Transportation Human Trial

Planning a journey is hard enough – you have to know the times, then if you want to “guarantee” some help, book assistance – then find out how to book that assistance… its an endless stream of “how do I” and “where do I find out how to…”

Even if you know what to do there is the blind bit of faith you have to invest and hold there.  If you’ve had a bad experience before, this makes the journey before harder still.

Lets take my journey to Hampshire yesterday.  I was going to Havant for work. So, Wednesday night I phoned up the train booking system to book my journey outward – I didn’t know what time I’d be coming back though.  Book the journey – done.

Leaving my home station, they said they’d confirm to Stratford station where I was and that I was on-board.  Job done.  Or so I’d hope, as I arrived at Stratford and there was no one waiting to meet me.  Double whammy failure. Fortunately my manager, who was with me for his second taste of traveling á la Doink, helped me wheel off backwards. Note for Greater Anglia – it gets cold in the doorway of your old, 321 class stock. Really.

Next target for my own personal taste in fun was the Jubilee line to London Waterloo.  I had no problems with this line and scooted towards Waterloo.  There I did find a snag – the lift from Waterloo Road to Waterloo Concourse was out of action.  Fortunately there was a sign with a telephone number… and two “Metro” employees (venders) who were keen to shoe me away from their hiding hole.  Network Rail – take note please! 

Having summoned some help to get up to the concourse via the external route (the assistance people quite prompt – only 3 or 4 minutes in this case.) An aside, the reason for the lift closure I was told was that there was a cherry picker in the way. I am suspect of the truth of this but I reported it on twitter anyway. I then went to the desk, where the assistance service were expecting me and arranged for someone to provide a ramp to get on board my train – the 08:00 Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour. 

class-444-paul-biglandThis was slightly interesting.  My train, a 10 car “444-Class” train, split at Guildford.  I needed to be in the front 5 carriages to continue on to Havant.  So, we went to the front, where the Network Rail employee had issues trying to get the ramp out of the cupboard.  It took a good 5-7 minutes and when you are trying to get on a specific train – too much time to allow for someone to run back and get a platform ramp. Another hint for Network Rail? Get more ramps at Waterloo.  We might be out of the Paralympics, but disabled people traveling are going to stay (or leave, actually).

The guard aboard the train (South West Trains) was very courteous – he made a call there and then to Havant to ensure that they were expecting me and explained there would be a guard change at Guildford.  This is good to see – it could be unsettling if the friendly face you had seen earlier disappeared.  Come Havant, the new guard knew where I was going too, the station staff were ready and waiting – I exited quickly.

Outward (APRS booked) journey score:
Greater Anglia: 1 (Clacton Staff) 0 (Stratford)
TfL: 2 (It just worked for once)
Network Rail: 1 (for the prompt assistance appearance), 0 for the lack of ramps
Southwest Trains: 2 (Friendly staff, Ramp being there at Havant).

My return journey though was not booked. I turned up at Havant at about 15:20 – not bad timing (if you don’t mind a bit of liquid sunshine). There were no staff anywhere in sight but there was a help point with two buttons: Information and Emergency.

Now, slap me round the face and call me Mr Silly if you like, but my wanting to get the next fast service to London Waterloo is not an emergency in my book. An emergency is, you know – blood, danger, etc. So, I got my mobile out and instead made a call that ended up in me getting through to Portsmouth and Southsea (don’t ask). Suddenly, as if by magic – a staff member appears!  He seemed a little put out that Portsmouth and Southsea had called him but never the less, assisted me on the train (a 450, for the nerds out there) and promised to phone Waterloo.

Another friendly guard – he checked tickets and promised to return for Waterloo.  A bike appeared on board at Guildford and the catering staff advised them where to park the bike in the future (designated spaces on SouthWest Trains). Come Waterloo, there were very friendly staff waiting with a ramp – the guard also appeared and was ready to go with a ramp.

Next up – a trip to Liverpool Street via Green Park and Kings Cross.  I headed (still with my manager, the poor bloke!) towards the lift. No cherry picker but the lift stopped halfway between levels and no sign. There was also an older lady and her companion looking disappointed. 

A quick call on their behalf – I was feeling ok to take myself down the wet, dusk ramps – to get someone to assist them downstairs and I rocketed off via the street to Waterloo Road and the tube. I wish to disclose that I did offer my manager the opportunity to use the escalator and keep dry. 

clear-liftOn the tube – bit busy on the Jubilee; Green Park was tremendous fun, if not full of lazy people using the lift (running for it and diving in is a give-away); and Kings Cross – ever a maze but people keeping left a bit more.

At Kings Cross, apologising again for the monster I become to Clive, he said “Doink, I admire the way you go for it in the tube, but if there is a next time, may I pay for a cab?”

Back to the journey – Met line to Liverpool Street and out – making the 18:12. A quick call on the phone to Alpha 6 and he met me on the platform to get me on my train home.  He called Colchester to alert the guard who boards there (its driver only until Colchester) and then before telling the driver as well. Impressed.

Apart from a small delay and a draught down the back of my neck (the twitter control room have since promised to knit me a scarf, hat and gloves. Not holding my breath.), I got home at 19:45, the depot driver grabbed the ramp before the guard could and I left.

Score for the journey home (unbooked):
SouthWest Trains: 1 (Friendly train staff but lost one for lack of staff at Havant)
Network Rail Waterloo: 1 (Promptly there at the train but the lift, no signs? Lost points there)
TfL: 1 point
Network Rail Liverpool Street: 2 Points (For phoning and telling the driver)
Greater Anglia: 1 Point (Would have been 2 but for the draught).

That was my journey. Sorry its so long. Ultimately – not a bad day. However, it highlighted some shortcomings that still should not have been there. Lifts – the thing I ever rely on – and staff. Or lack of, in this case.

I’d like to know though – has my feedback been acted on. Comments welcome, either those on those stations or from Network Rail and Greater Anglia themselves. I promise I won’t bite.

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.

Boris’ Blunder Bus

 

Blunder Boris Bus

Its not a secret but I have never really said this:

I do not approve of the Boris Bus

Why? It looks iconic, it has DDA compliance and will be excellent for boarding and draw tourists attention… The routemaster was iconic for that and in its hayday people considered it to be the best for its job.

But that was its hayday. And this is now.

All London buses require dual doors, which means when they finish their working life in London, they need to be converted to single door and preferably have the access retained for wheelchairs.

But in some counties, dual door buses cannot be used on contract services. There is a firm requirement for single door vehicles, as the county may not support the infrastructure for dual door vehicles.

So, my worry begins to show – what will the impact be on future bus cascades? We are already beginning to see cascades of ex-London vehicles and this is only set to grow. The question is now, will Boris realise the greater impact for outside London and also the environmental impact of scrapping these buses after, instead of recycling them for a bit more life out of them?

Perhaps he can’t see past the vanity mirror on his own cab…

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