Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Raw Deal Going Underground

My, how times have changed.

A few years ago, the thought of wheelchair users being able to access the London Underground would have been laughed at, but today, whilst travelling on the Circle and District Line I noticed the addition of the little, blue 'Wheelchair Man' on the tube map. There he was, reclined cosily on his wheel, hardly a care in the world, his little, featureless face nonchalant. In case you don't know what I'm writing about here, try this artist's impression -

There: now you recognise him.

But the more I looked at the map, the more concerned I became. The extract of map displayed in the carriage was for the Hammersmith & City , and Circle & District lines: the only two stations shown to have access for wheelchairs were Barking, and five stops away, East Ham. Wow, some opportunities there for disabled people to get a job and get to it on public transport!
I decided to check the full tube network for access (sad, aren't I?) and it's grim. Take a look at the map for yourself - Transport For London Tube Map

Regular tube users will know that it's hard enough moving through tube stations to change line on foot, but in a wheelchair it would, in the main, be impossible. The only line that seems to cater for disabled access to any degree is Docklands.

It's a sad state of affairs when this country has legislation against inequality at work, but the public transport system doesn't provide the means to get there. Just to add insult to it all, the London Underground Conditions of Carriage state that wheelchair users must "bring enough assistance to ensure you can make your journey safely". How do you get a wheelchair into a tube anyway - the doors are never open long enough to manoeuvre into the carriage, even if there were a full pack-horse team on hand; plus there's that gap ("MIND THE GAP") that in most instances is just the right size to trap the front wheels of the chair.

CONCLUSION: wheelchair users need some kind of assistance to navigate and travel around London by tube. Probably a team of four assistants would be sufficient, but I'm not sure how one would get a wheelchair and user up and down the escalators. Maybe a spring loaded chair is required ... maybe Transport for London should display this notice -

A raw deal, I think.