If this is your first visit, check out the community guide. You will have to Join us or Sign in before you can post.

Tackling public transport as a wheelchair user

shonalouiseshonalouise Posts: 15Member Courageous
edited June 26 in Guest blogs

Public transport, it’s something that is a part of many people’s everyday lives and perhaps something most people don’t give much thought to. They just hop on and off the bus or train and get where they need to go with minimal problems, minus delayed services. But, when you’re disabled public transport can easily be something you wish to avoid or even something you fear. We’ve all heard, if not experienced, the horror stories of assistance not arriving to get you off a train or being denied access to the wheelchair space on the bus. Unfortunately, these situations do happen and can be off putting but I wanted to share some of my tips today of how I tackle public transport as a wheelchair user to hopefully make things seem a little less daunting!

The first time I got the bus and train as a powerchair user I was terrified but now almost 3 years on I’m using public transport every week with confidence and that’s what plays such a big part for me. Growing confidence takes time, the more you do something the less intimidating it is, that doesn’t mean things stop going wrong it just means you have more experience to deal with it. Trust that in time the journeys will become less daunting.

A London Bus

Working in conjunction with that is planning for the worst but hoping for the best. Now this won’t work for everyone, but I find planning for the worst-case scenario helps to calm some of my anxieties. For example, if I’m on a train and my assistance doesn’t arrive at the other end I stop the doors from closing with my footplate (mine is sturdy but still breakable so this isn’t particularly advisable but works for me) and ask another passenger to find a member of staff for me. I find the anxiety about these situations happening is worse in the build-up than the actual event. When things go wrong, I tend to switch into ‘okay, let’s fix this’ mode very quickly now!

I also recommend educating yourself on your rights, learn some of the language of the law that you can use when situations like a buggy being in the wheelchair space on a bus happens. It’s not easy speaking up for yourself and asserting your rights but they are your rights and we shouldn’t be afraid to let people know that. I know in practice sometimes it’s not always possible and I’ve definitely stayed quiet before out of fear of starting an argument but again, in time it becomes easier.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to complain when things go wrong, progress happens when we speak up and say something is not good enough. Of course, we don’t always have the energy to complain about everything, I know I certainly don’t but always remember that it’s okay to say something isn’t okay. We don’t have to be grateful for or accept less than systems like public transport could be doing better.

Do you have any tips to share? Have you had any recent positive journeys using public transport?

UK Disability and Lifestyle Blogger
Marfan Syndrome Advocate
www.shonalouise.com
@shonalouiseblog

Replies

  • Connie00Connie00 Posts: 135Community champion Pioneering

    Hello @shonalouise

    My Name is Connie00 :)

    I am one off the community Champion’s here at Scope.  I am a wheelchair/powerchair user myself

    I have never though of using Public Transport, more for the reason that I just didn’t think it be an acceptable thing to do.   I love to go on trains and I love London, but I always look on the side of

    I can’t do that now because, but after reading your Blog I have seen life to be very different, I can plan my journey better and challenge, where perhaps no option is supported. Thank you very much for sharing that information

     

     


  • AilsAils Posts: 567Community champion Pioneering
    Hi @shonalouise,
    Thanks for sharing such a helpful post with us.  These tips are great and will help a lot of people using wheelchairs themselves on public transport.  I am glad that you have grown in confidence over time with this and I really like your "thinking ahead of any situations" mode, that is so good to calm the nerves before travelling.  I myself haven't used public transport in ages, preferring to either use my car or a taxi to get around.  I suppose I have got it into my head that it is more bother than it is worth me using it as I live in a rural area and use my wheelchair outdoors (crutches indoors).  However, when I used to work in Glasgow, I would take the train to work most days and found even on my crutches that it could be difficult at times (the steps onto trains are so high)!  So I admire anyone in a wheelchair tackling the bus or train as it is no mean feat!  Anyone thinking about doing a journey on public transport and using a wheelchair should definitely read this to prepare themselves.  All the best.  :smile:
  • Matt_scopeMatt_scope Posts: 48Navigate Pioneering
    Hi, I am a wheelchair user who works for Scope at Navigate in Cardiff, I catch the train each way, each day without difficulty,  Its the same for me with buses and taxi's in too if I chose to use them, I rarely if ever have issues.  I also regularly catch trains to Nottingham and Sheffield without issue and tbh, I never book,   I plan everything on the day giving stations long enough to react to my needing a ramp and it works.  I am very mobile and I have been doing this each day for many years and I am aware that the most important thing to realise is that this is not the same for everyone, however, I always get surprised, by how reluctant other wheelchair users in a similar situation to myself are to use public transport.  therefore this thread really interests me and this is an area which I am getting increasingly interested in.  It will be really interesting to here experiences from others that are different from my own, I really want to identify why this is the case and what can be dome to change it for everyone.   Thanks for raising this issue shonalouise
  • April2018momApril2018mom Posts: 1,738Member Disability Gamechanger
    Hello

    My 2 year old boy is a full time wheelchair user. Whenever I go to a restaurant I phone or email to check that the place can safely accommodate a wheelchair. If we are using public transport or flying I tend to contact the airline to ask if we can bring a wheelchair. I always make sure that they know he is non ambulatory. This is a important issue for me too. 
  • AlexW_ScopeAlexW_Scope Posts: 204Scope Team Scope community team
    Hi, everyone - We have just produced a lot of new content about using public transport. There's useful tips about planning your journey and what to do if things go wrong. Please take a look and give us feedback. Happy travels! Alex
  • Ami2301Ami2301 Posts: 5,291Community champion Disability Gamechanger
    Great tips @shonalouise! I too plan for the worst case scenario. I would love to use public transport more but living in a rural area where buses are very hit and miss, and every 2 hours, it's difficult to plan anything.
    You're a fighter. Look at everything you've overcome. Don't give up now!
  • GarzaGarza Posts: 52Member Courageous
    I am a wheelchair user and so glad I am able o drive, most buses only have one space for a wheelchair and similiarly trains tend to have one in standard class and one in first, this means that if i want to go anywhere with my friend who also uses a wheelchair we cannot use public transport.

    I think London is in a unique position in regards to access to public transport too, money spent on upgrades for the 2012 Paralympics etc, I think it is much harder in the rest of the country and especially as another poster pointed out in rural communities.

    With regard to having pushchair, luggage etc in the wheelchair space,  didnt someone challenge the refusal of drivers to ask people to move in the courts and lose? 


  • shonalouiseshonalouise Posts: 15Member Courageous
    Connie00 said:

    Hello @shonalouise

    My Name is Connie00 :)

    I am one off the community Champion’s here at Scope.  I am a wheelchair/powerchair user myself

    I have never though of using Public Transport, more for the reason that I just didn’t think it be an acceptable thing to do.   I love to go on trains and I love London, but I always look on the side of

    I can’t do that now because, but after reading your Blog I have seen life to be very different, I can plan my journey better and challenge, where perhaps no option is supported. Thank you very much for sharing that information

     

     


    I think a lot of disabled people assume that public transport is not accessible to them, or it's a lot of hassle but things are always improving and most of my experiences are positive. It's just unfortunate that the negative ones are talked about more to try and create some change, although it's definitely important to give praise when things go well! 
    UK Disability and Lifestyle Blogger
    Marfan Syndrome Advocate
    www.shonalouise.com
    @shonalouiseblog
  • shonalouiseshonalouise Posts: 15Member Courageous
    Ails said:
    Hi @shonalouise,
    Thanks for sharing such a helpful post with us.  These tips are great and will help a lot of people using wheelchairs themselves on public transport.  I am glad that you have grown in confidence over time with this and I really like your "thinking ahead of any situations" mode, that is so good to calm the nerves before travelling.  I myself haven't used public transport in ages, preferring to either use my car or a taxi to get around.  I suppose I have got it into my head that it is more bother than it is worth me using it as I live in a rural area and use my wheelchair outdoors (crutches indoors).  However, when I used to work in Glasgow, I would take the train to work most days and found even on my crutches that it could be difficult at times (the steps onto trains are so high)!  So I admire anyone in a wheelchair tackling the bus or train as it is no mean feat!  Anyone thinking about doing a journey on public transport and using a wheelchair should definitely read this to prepare themselves.  All the best.  :smile:
    I'm so glad you found it helpful! Public transport in rural areas certainly has a lot of catching up to do, even in the small city I live in, in the evening it's difficult to get around and I don't fit in many taxis so there is definitely improvements to be made outside of the large cities. 
    UK Disability and Lifestyle Blogger
    Marfan Syndrome Advocate
    www.shonalouise.com
    @shonalouiseblog
  • shonalouiseshonalouise Posts: 15Member Courageous
    Hi, I am a wheelchair user who works for Scope at Navigate in Cardiff, I catch the train each way, each day without difficulty,  Its the same for me with buses and taxi's in too if I chose to use them, I rarely if ever have issues.  I also regularly catch trains to Nottingham and Sheffield without issue and tbh, I never book,   I plan everything on the day giving stations long enough to react to my needing a ramp and it works.  I am very mobile and I have been doing this each day for many years and I am aware that the most important thing to realise is that this is not the same for everyone, however, I always get surprised, by how reluctant other wheelchair users in a similar situation to myself are to use public transport.  therefore this thread really interests me and this is an area which I am getting increasingly interested in.  It will be really interesting to here experiences from others that are different from my own, I really want to identify why this is the case and what can be dome to change it for everyone.   Thanks for raising this issue shonalouise
    I'm so glad that things go smoothly for you and I hope we all have that same experience soon. It sadly only takes one bad experience to put disabled people off public transport, to many of us (for example) it is terrifying to be left on a train with no knowledge of whether you'll be able to get off or not when assistance doesn't arrive. 
    UK Disability and Lifestyle Blogger
    Marfan Syndrome Advocate
    www.shonalouise.com
    @shonalouiseblog
  • shonalouiseshonalouise Posts: 15Member Courageous
    Hello

    My 2 year old boy is a full time wheelchair user. Whenever I go to a restaurant I phone or email to check that the place can safely accommodate a wheelchair. If we are using public transport or flying I tend to contact the airline to ask if we can bring a wheelchair. I always make sure that they know he is non ambulatory. This is a important issue for me too. 
    I do a lot of research myself too, something I wish I didn't have to do but I've turned up to too many places expecting them to be accessible to be met for a very different situation in the past! 
    UK Disability and Lifestyle Blogger
    Marfan Syndrome Advocate
    www.shonalouise.com
    @shonalouiseblog
  • shonalouiseshonalouise Posts: 15Member Courageous
    Ami2301 said:
    Great tips @shonalouise! I too plan for the worst case scenario. I would love to use public transport more but living in a rural area where buses are very hit and miss, and every 2 hours, it's difficult to plan anything.
    Thank you! I can only imagine, rural public transport really has such a long way to go! 
    UK Disability and Lifestyle Blogger
    Marfan Syndrome Advocate
    www.shonalouise.com
    @shonalouiseblog
  • shonalouiseshonalouise Posts: 15Member Courageous
    Garza said:
    I am a wheelchair user and so glad I am able o drive, most buses only have one space for a wheelchair and similiarly trains tend to have one in standard class and one in first, this means that if i want to go anywhere with my friend who also uses a wheelchair we cannot use public transport.

    I think London is in a unique position in regards to access to public transport too, money spent on upgrades for the 2012 Paralympics etc, I think it is much harder in the rest of the country and especially as another poster pointed out in rural communities.

    With regard to having pushchair, luggage etc in the wheelchair space,  didnt someone challenge the refusal of drivers to ask people to move in the courts and lose? 


    I have this same problem when I want to go to the theatre with a friend who is a wheelchair user, no where seems to be equipped to deal with more than one of us! Or sometimes not even equipped for one wheelchair user. 

    London definitely improved after the Paralympics but not as much as most people believe I think, I still find it incredibly hard to get around London, especially the further you get out of central. There are so many stations I want to use that I am unable to and have had to turn down countless plans as a result.

    Someone did, but the issue remains a grey area and is not enforced properly often. 
    UK Disability and Lifestyle Blogger
    Marfan Syndrome Advocate
    www.shonalouise.com
    @shonalouiseblog
  • jbeesfanjbeesfan Posts: 3Member Listener
    Last year i had to travel from York to the O2 Centre in what was formerly the Docklands, for my son’s graduation. I was born and bred a Londoner and did not leave until 1989 when i was still fully bodied. Over the years i developed severe osteo arthritis which has necessitated me to use a wheelchair for the past six years. My husband who is ten years older than me 65 at the time also suffers from a knee injury. We found the East Coast mainline- after being notified in advance waiting for our arrival, they were kind, friendly and helpful. The problems started at King’s Cross. We arent completely stupid and together with my son who had been living in the former docklandsfor four years, had done our home work. In short it was a nightmare. The tube stations which claimed to have lifts either didnt or were not working. It wasnt a particularly busy time but no one helped us or off the tube except on one occasion when a tiny skinny girl in a full hijab helped my husband on whilst being pushed around by big burly men..we thanked her profusely she was so tiny, and i’m convinced she was smiling. The docklands railway was empty thankfully but very difficult to get on and off. We finally found our hotel in a sea of depressing empty concrete ( i’m old enough to remember the docks before closure). Getting to the hotel was difficult. We could see it but had to keep going back and forth and in circles to find a kerb low enough to get down. It took about 15 minutes. The O2 was fine but there is nothing to do there except hang around for five hours until dinner time. We contemplated the wheel but my husband suffers from vertigo and was convinced we’d get stuck plus my son said it was exthortionate and only lasted ten minutes. Luckily the weather was fine but the ‘wheelchair friendly’ restaurant i’d booked on Tripadvisor had two flights of chairs. Luckily we found a charming little Italian restaurant good prices and lovely food with tables outside. At nine we made the nightmarish trail back to the hotel. Following day was a disaster. We overslept missed breakfast and only had 2 hours to get to King’s Cross. Again the DLR was ok but the tube was a nightmare. We had to change three times because they didnt have lifts, lifts werent working and had to back track twice. My Yorkshire born andbred husband said couldnt we just sit on the Circle Line until our station ‘came round again?’. Through gritted cockney teeth i told him that would probably take two hours and we would miss our train. After frantic searching ( what happened to the TFL staff?) we found some kind elderly Asain man who travelled back with us to the nearest station with a lift. He was on the point of retiring and said that in over forty years this was the first wheelchair he’d come across. Push chairs yes, wheelchairs no. We tried to pry a tip into his hand but he wouldnt have it. I wish the man a full long happy retirement. We got to King’s Cross with twenty minutes to spare she looked a bit peeved. It wasnt until we got to Peterborough the ticket collector told us she’d put us in the wrong carraige. 
    I love my son very much: he is only working part time cant get a lot of time off. We rarely see him and we always pay his fare. He now lives in Poplar (im a SW London girl so that’s foreign territory for me). We need to visit him, it’s only fair. I would rate our experience 10/10 for the staff, 0/10 for the tube infrastructure. It’s hopelessly out of date andterrible
  • dkb123dkb123 Posts: 40Member Connected
    I use the Bus ,tube and Trains nearly every day and I can empathise with the problems ,that have been mentioned in this Board, My best advice is that if you don't have the confidence in making your journeys always seek out a member of staff, at the gateline or ticket barrier and ask them to accompainy you on to the train , I also love the River Boat services and find the staff very helpful, Bus Drivers are on the whole helpful bt you do get the odd grumpy ones , but that's  life , also expect your journey to take at least twice the time of a walking route and always complain if things go wrong ,but do it to a Supervisor not an ordinary member of staff ,they can't change much and you will only get frustrated by their response , and don't get angry ,or they will just ignore you 
    Happy Journeys 
  • swilberswilber Posts: 24Member Courageous
    Hi, I am a wheelchair user.  My daughter won an award last year so I needed to go from Gloucester to the Great Hall in London.  I found GWR trains have a dept where someone will book your tickets and ensure someone meets you at the train with a ramp and takes you to a suitable seating area.   It worked so smoothly it was wonderful.  Our trouble came when we wanted a taxi!  I cannot recommed how to solve getting a taxi from a rank.
  • dkb123dkb123 Posts: 40Member Connected
    Hi Swilber,
    I use Cabs from COMCAB company they are black cabs and  they have a bullseye symbol on the front , they  operate the capitals Taxicard scheme so they are always accessible and have helpful drivers, if you are at a mainline station just ask the taxi Marshall in charge of the rank ,that you need one and they will get one for you 
  • Jammie1967Jammie1967 Posts: 2Member Listener

    I have had very good experiences and some really bad ones. The good ones are bus drivers who see me trying to get to the stop and actually stop the bus and wait till I get there. The bad ones are especially on trains when getting access to the platforms can be an absolute nightmare.


  • Grumpy1954Grumpy1954 Posts: 44Member Courageous
    Hi, my name is Ian, I've been disabled since 1997. I can walk, with at least a stick, but not far or fast. To be fair, I was never a fan of public transport even when I was fit, though growing up in South London it wasn't too bad.
    Since then I've lived and worked (when I could) in the country, where public transport is far less convenient. For my PiP assessment, the directions were something like "walk half a mile+ to the nearest bus stop, get the bus to Telford Centre station, then walk 1/4 of a mile to the assessment building" which, as I can just about manage 15 - 20 metres with walking aids, was just daft. Till then, I had a Motobility car, they told the usual pack of lies, had to return it, as I've had a full motorcycle licence for decades and locally the roads are full of yellow lines, roundabouts and traffic lights, bought a motorcycle with a low enough seat for me to climb aboard, adapted it to carry my walking stick(s) and when possible (weather) use that. My wife still has a motobility car, so she takes me places when I can't use the bike.
  • jbeesfanjbeesfan Posts: 3Member Listener
    I dare not even attempt buses in a wheelchair. When i moved to the dales national park we had a post bus service which delivered the post and went to the local town - 5 miles away. These were run by the Post Office and were basically over large red painted transit vans seating around 15. The two elderly drivers would get out and help me in with my toddler son and pushchairs. The fare was 50p and a god send to isolated villagers and well used. So of course two years later they were discontinued. Many years later i moved to York and able bodied at first discovered that all bus drivers had obviously attended the London Transport/British rail charm school. Before i had to use a wheelchair i observed pensioners pushchairs wheelchair users with the same degree of contempt and although my condition had deteriorated that i had a free bus pass, would try and help them myself. 
    We are now situated in housing for the disabled and live 5 miles out of town. We cannot drive so are regular taxi users. Our local firm know us well and give us a discount. Even so, it is a £20 round trip into town where all the health services are. And i have to access these services at least twice a week. Even though i am on the highest mobility rate it doesnt come near to cover it. As soon as the hospital find out you are in receipt of this benefit they do not allow you to use their own free transport services. Subsequently we are pretty much house bound. Luckily we have a good parade of local shops nearby. Otherwise life would be an expensive nightmare. We cannot join family celebrations, birthdays etc in town because it is ridiculously expensive. So apart from a trip to the shops twice a week and the frequent hospital/doctor visits we are housebound
  • NortherndjNortherndj Posts: 7Member Connected
    I use buses but will never use a train as it a discrimination in any other EU country I can run on at any station with out a ramp, they keep hiding behind the Victorian buildings  why should I have to book help in advance. 
    Buses are ok i avoid taxis as the drivers are rude and the cars are not acsesable i have bought my own van  just so i can get out , but parking is a night mare and due to get worce 
  • dkb123dkb123 Posts: 40Member Connected
    whether you are receiving any state benefits are not really the concern of the NHS ,they should not ask you and you are not required to tell them , If you need Hospital transport you should be provided with it , no matter your financial circumstances , if you are denied this service then that is the base for a complaint 
  • NortherndjNortherndj Posts: 7Member Connected
    One thing I have found is everything seems to eminate around London and assume if London has it the rest of the uk has well ...... No 
    Buses are old they have manual ramps with one space at the front but the uk is 20 years behind the EU now we could be leaving and this government that would prefer to see us in work houses then being aloud to live 
  • jbeesfanjbeesfan Posts: 3Member Listener
    Of course they’d rather see us back in work houses - my great granfather died in one in 1910 - this shows how we are going in a circle. A lot of people who are disabled are on government benefits - the pittance they give us to live off and will be reduced further if the Tories get another term. I dont use public transport, even though we have a bust stop at the top of the road and as I’m disabled and my husband is a pensioner. But we live in a community specifically accomodated for the elderly and infirm. The bus comes every twenty minutes or so by which time there are usually a dozen of walker and wheelchair uses. I cannot face the scrum and i’m 20 years older than most of these people. So we rely on taxis. My PIP doesnt cover our weekly taxi fares by a long way. And i cantsee them raising it significantly any time in the future. We have a community bus which takes mainly elderly residents free to Market Towns 30-40 miles away. You sure as hell cant bring your shopping home on that. Thank God we can afford to use Internet shopping
  • GeorgiaVineGeorgiaVine Posts: 14Member Connected
    Great read @shonalouise I have previously got a new wheelchair and I'm aware that I need to start using it more on public transport but I do have my worries, so thank you for this insightful post I will most certainly refer back to this when the time comes! 
    1st Year OT Student at Sheffield Hallam University| Course Rep| Social Media Officer for ShOuT-OuT |Disabled activist| Ambassador for @cpteensuk| Writer for The Occupational Therapy Hub| Disability Game changer| [email protected]
  • Adrian_ScopeAdrian_Scope Posts: 3,039Administrator Scope community team
    Thanks @dkb123. Very interesting!

    Brilliant blog as always @shonalouise! :smile:
    Senior Online Community Officer
    Scope
Sign in or join us to comment.