I think it’s important to note that before the wheelchair, I loved trains. I was very used to train travel. I knew what I was doing. I wasn’t a nervous traveller.
This all changed when I started to need assistance.
To illustrate, let’s start with the asking for help portion of the drama. There’s an online form to complete (you can ring but eek, phones.) and you fill out all the details of your journey, what help you need etc. It seems like it covers everything.
It’s not valid until they ring you back to repeat everything. And there’s no guarentee they will ring you. I’m travelling Saturday and as of yesterday, still no call. I have to ring them. Over 20 mins on the phone repeating everything again. The person mentioned three different databases she needed to check and didn’t seem to know how to use any of them. At one point she tells me she can’t book me a wheelchair space because it’s a different train line. They are supposed to be able to deal with your entire journey.
Upshot seems to be, I have to book the assistance with this provider but the space with another.
But it’s all booked. That’s that, right?
Just because you have booked assistance, followed the process and done so 48 hours before your journey – no spontaneous train trips for me – doesn’t mean the assistance will be there.
Take my most recent train journey, a simple York to Leeds trip. We turned up 20 minutes as required, we notified the information centre and were told to head to the platform. The train arrived early as it terminated in York then turned around. We waited on the platform. We waited and we waited and five minutes before the train left we managed to speak to a member of staff on the train – bear in mind it’s station staff that do the assistance. He thankfully had access to the ramp and we got on.
I made him aware that we were getting off in Leeds so that he’d be able to keep an eye out for station staff etc. We pulled into Leeds, no sign of anyone, not even the train staff member. My carer gets off and looks around – no one. Absolutely no one to help us.
I am in my manual wheelchair and have limited mobility. This gives us two options:
- Option a) stay on the train until we reach a station that’s got staff on the platform that my carer can get off and get them to help
- Option b) I get out manual chair, fight against crowd of people pushing to get on, stranger helps carer with chair then I fall off the train
The adrenaline of the situation helps me out with option b.
I complained about the lack of assistance to the appropriate people and got the following response:
London North Eastern Railway is very serious about offering our customers Assisted Travel. It forms part of our overall Disabled Peoples’ Protection Policy (DPPP) that helps us meet the needs of customers who are disabled or whose mobility is impaired. Our trains are for everyone and we’ll do everything we can to make each journey relaxing and enjoyable.
We’ve clearly let you down on this occasion and we’re sorry for any distress and inconvenience caused.
What we do to offer the best Assisted Travel experience
Our on-board and station teams have details of all customers who have reserved accommodation or arranged mobility assistance through Passenger Assist.
…a lot of stuff about how they support passengers in the case of delays which was entirely irrelevant…
We are also getting a new Passenger Assistance in soon which should help to improve the booking process for both staff and passengers.
The problem was not the passenger system. I was booked in as I should have been. The problem was that no one turned up. Either staff weren’t alerted to my journey or they just didn’t bother.
And you might well be thinking, yes but this is a one off, people get trains every day, you’ve been unlucky.
Well, no. I have been forgotten about, left on trains and treated disgustingly time after time. And if you don’t believe me, there’s plenty of other people out there who’ve had similar experiences. Then there’s the stories about broken disabled toilets. Lack of appropriate space. Staff who won’t move luggage out of the wheelchair space. Broken lifts. Rail replacement services which aren’t accessible. And so on and so on.
All of these things add up and mean that I have gone from being someone who was confident about, and regularly used, trains to someone who spends the entire journey wondering if I will actually be able to get off when we reach the destination. And if I can’t get off then what is the next stop and how long will I be stuck on the train if I have to ride it till it terminates. These are very real concerns.
The unpredictable service, the anxiety and the frustration all mean my travel is now significantly limited compared to my pre-wheelchair days. It’s 2019, we should be able to expect better than this.
Wish me luck tomorrow…