Braving the underground on my scooter
Northampton-based PH patient Sarah Marshall visited London with her scooter and oxygen. Here, she shares how she got on.
With additional needs, catching the underground is complex. Every stage has to be planned carefully. Luckily my friend Madi, who travelled with me for a girly get-together, lives in London so researched our journey, and even emailed Transport for London (TFL) to double check. They sent back a helpful route description.
Shockingly, only around 25 per cent of stations on the underground are classed as accessible. Furthermore, half of those ‘accessible’ stations are not actually suitable for wheelchairs, due to ‘the gap’ between carriage and platform.
The majority of fully wheelchair accessible stations are on the outskirts; there are very few in the centre, in fact just four in Zone One. This suddenly restricts the number of places that disabled people can easily visit in London. It also makes our journeys longer and complicated as we can only change tube lines at fully accessible stations. The UK is one of the most disabled friendly countries in the world, yet the centre of our capital city is off limits if you need wheels to get around.
For our trip, a direct route was not possible, and we had to meander. Even after going the long way around, the nearest accessible tube stop to our final destination was 2.5 miles away, so we had to catch a cab for the last part of the journey. Getting from Ruislip to our destination at The Langham Hotel in Marylebone for an able-bodied person involves one train, and takes half an hour. As a disabled person, it took two different tube lines, a taxi, and took us over an hour.
Despite the worry the night before and the panicked conversations with Madi in the lead up, it all went swimmingly.
Each station had a wide barrier for me to enter and exit without trouble. The trains on the Central line were wide and empty, with disabled bays so my scooter didn’t cause a blockage in the carriage.
One of the trains on the Jubilee line was very busy, but luckily my fellow passengers were very accommodating, and didn’t push or moan at me despite my scooter taking up a lot of floor space in a narrow compartment. And happily, not one person looked at me in alarm or panic when they saw I was using flammable oxygen in a train!
As I was unable to use the escalators, we had to keep looking for lifts to get us from one platform to the next, or to the street. Luckily, they were all fully signposted, so easy to find, but it did add extra time to the journey, and wasn’t as easy or quick as running up the escalators like the rest of the passengers.
In the end, there was only two incidents in the whole of the journey. On one outgoing train, there was a raised gap between train and platform: we managed to lift the scooter off safely, but it wasn’t ideal, and I couldn’t have done it on my own. We were surprised as it was a fully accessible station from carriage to street.
However, in some older stations, only sections of the platform have been updated and made accessible, and although clearly signposted, we’d not noticed. We didn’t make that mistake twice! We also made a faux pas by deliberately exiting at an inaccessible station; the nearest one to Madi’s house. Luckily my husband met us at the platform, so retrieved my scooter from the train, and carried it down the 50 stairs to the street, as there was no lift.
Braving the underground was an accomplishment. I returned home full of pride, like I’d had a glimpse again of the normal adult world, a reminder of my life before illness. Maybe this will be the first of more train journeys.
- You can follow Sarah’s blog at www.wecanadjustthesails.wordpress.com