Archive for the ‘Transport’ Category
Recently, my husband said “I’d like to cycle the Dunwich Dynamo”. This is an overnight ride of 120 miles from London to the coast, taking place on the July weekend nearest to a full moon. In 2012, so as to avoid a clash with the Olympics, it takes place on 30 June into 1 July.
“Ok” I said tentatively “If you are really sure you’re prepared, then I will be happy for you to go”. But as I’m someone who tends to worry (as opposed to my beloved, who is generally pretty confident) I spent time searching the internet on how one should prepare for the Dunwich Dynamo, or DD, or Dun Run.
I couldn’t find all the information in one place, so I thought I would document it. Here, then, is a list of all the info I’ve found about the Dun Run, which I hope is useful for my beloved – as well as a useful reference for other cyclists. I’ll be passing this info on to my husband, but I’d love to know what I should amend, in order to make it more useful. Also, if you have anything to add to this list please leave a comment.
I should start by saying, it was generally suggested that anyone in good health and used to regular cycling (e.g. commuting) can manage the Dun Run without any particular training. After all, it’s not a race, not a sprint, but a stamina challenge. I’ve learned that the main challenge as you cycle through the night will be mental, not the physical effort.
I’m not physically able to undertake this kind of trip so I am posting this blog from a mental point of view, hoping it will help my husband. It’s not something I could ever consider, but I hope to provide information so that my hubby – and others – will be able to do the trip. Here, then, are all the tips I have learned.
Wear proper padded cycling shorts – even if they go under tracksuit trousers. And don’t wear pants under your shorts – that’s not how they are meant to be worn! Get decent padded shorts, and go commando. This is the way to manage cycling for several hours!
Use cream on your private parts, and the seams of your shorts too! Assos Chamois Cream is recommended but sudocrem (nappy cream) will do just as well. And if it was me I’d try E45 cream. These will all do the job, but make sure you’ve planned it so there is no chafing!
Have a good solid meal the night before. For example, a good pasta meal, or a steak. On the day of the run, have porridge for breakfast. Make sure you’re boosting your carbs!
Don’t drink alcohol or over-do things in the days immediately before the run. A few people suggest having beer at the pub before you set out, and that may well be a fun thing to do, but sensible people seem to recommend taking it easy and not drinking too much for a few days beforehand. You can always have beer to celebrate once you are home. Take it easy in advance.
Take food with you. Although there is food laid on at the halfway stage, the queues are long and not everyone will get fed, or you may get cold waiting. Don’t rely on it, or expect it. No matter what you take to eat, but you must take enough food and drink to replace the energy you are using – several thousand calories. This is one way to avoid the “bonk” of hitting the wall a few miles from the end. Pasta meals are good. Sandwiches are also popular. High energy foods like sunflower seeds make excellent snacks. Take a range of foods so that you don’t get bored with what you’ve brought; a stash of buttered Malt Loaf will be useful but get boring after a while. Include sweets for a sugar rush. Plan to be self-sufficient and to have enough food to eat regularly. Eat every hour even if it’s just a snack, and stop to eat properly on a regular basis (although be careful not to get too cold when you stop).
Drink lots. You should drink 500-1000ml an hour and should urinate every 2-3 hours (men have it easy – women might like to carry a ‘she-pee’ for calls of nature in the countryside). You can drink squash, but dehydration causes cramp (as does a loss of salts). Ideally carry Lucozade Sport powder and reconstitute it with water to make up drinks for the journey. Otherwise drink lots of water and bring salty foods such as crisps and marmite sandwiches! But don’t simply think “you will manage” or that you know best – it’s important to replace what you sweat, and to plan to have energy for the journey. It will be a long run of stamina, and it’s important to have planned appropriately. So if nothing else take Marmite sandwiches!
Carry some caffeine based drinks to revive you for the last push at about 20 miles out.
Take layers to wear. Lots of layers. You need to ensure that you are prepared for the chill at 3am. Even if you’re warm while cycling, have something ready to slip on while you are taking a break, so you don’t get cold. You may also need layers to wear while you’re waiting to go home, particularly if you are waiting for the coach, or for a train which can accommodate your bike – both can take several hours. And this is before you consider the chance of rain… you may get wet and miserable!
Make sure you have waterproofs. Don’t forget caring for your map – bring a waterproof bag to keep it dry. Don’t just think you will manage, it will be miserable to get wet through and you will want to know where you’re going.
Do some training runs. Although regular cyclists should be able to manage the DunRun if they take it slow and steady, it is still good to do at least two types of preparatory run:
1) Around 60 miles – because that way you will know you can cope. If you find things rubbing, or other issues, at least you discovered this on a shorter run rather than the DD! And it will give you experience of finding a way to force your legs to keep moving when you feel that you have already hit your limit. After all, why commit to 120 miles when you don’t know how you will feel after 40 or 60? So make sure you are confident on a 60 mile run before committing to the Dun Run.
2) Overnight – not necessarily a long run, but it is important experience in order to find out how cold you will feel at 3am and to learn how many layers you need to carry – even if you think you will already know! You may think summer will be easy. I know from festivals that it’s possible to shiver at night just a few hours after you were sweating and applying suncream. Southwark Cyclists have an overnight run on the summer Solstice which may be useful experience: http://southwarkcyclists.org.uk/events/midsummer-madness-summer-solstice-wednesday-20-june-2012 – There is no harm in being over-prepared!
Break the journey into manageable chunks. For example, view it as four trips of 30m each. That way you only have to look forward to the end of each section rather than seeing the whole journey as a seemingly unending trip. It makes things much more realistic and bearable.
Plan for regular rests. Some people suggest that you stop for no longer than 5 minutes at a time (so you don’t get cold) – others suggest that you stop halfway through and kip in a hedge! Although how you break will be a matter of personal choice, be careful not to get cold when you stop, and not to lose momentum or to let yourself stiffen up.
Lights – at a minimum, make sure you have new batteries in your lights and you have spare batteries in your pocket. Ideally, get a decent and powerful beam so that you can see where you’re going on dark, potholed country roads. Although you can tuck in behind someone with a good light, it’s best if you have a decent beam yourself. If you’re used to commuting in a well lit environment, you should now buy a decent beam so you can see your way on quiet country lanes.
Give each other space – ride slowly and steadily in groups. Don’t get too close.
Don’t set off too fast! If you find you are going too quickly, hang back a bit and wait until a slower group catches you up. Pace yourself – so that you can take it easy and have enough energy to make it to the end. Use an easy gear and a speed you are comfortable with. This is not a race. You want to be in one piece at the end. Chat to those around you, to keep yourself sane and awake.
Take spares – a couple of inner tubes, a chain tool, and so on. Be prepared to do repairs as necessary. Look out for your fellow cyclists (although be aware that you probably won’t have time to stop for others who might need assistance). Be independent – there is no support vehicle!
Carry ibuprofen. If you become sore or stiff this will be a godsend. Change position regularly as you ride (for example, how you hold the handlebars) to avoid stiffening up. Take ibuprofen during the journey to make things easier.
Take a couple of wet facial wipes, ready to freshen up and if necessary, wake yourself up.
Finally “do not see not finishing as an option” – this will get you through.
I’m told the trip should be beautiful as you pass candles in jam jars early on, and as the sun rises later on in the journey. Work with it and appreciate your beautiful surroundings.
Once you’ve completed the trip and made it to the beach, if you are still awake, go for a splash in the sea. This requires a bit of advance planning – a change of shorts and a towel so that you can enjoy the water when you get there. You never know if you will fancy it so give yourself the option. Be protected with some suncream in case you need to sleep on the beach, too.
Good luck! I hope that everyone undertaking the Dun Run will have a fantastic experience – including my husband, of course!
My last blog post drew a few comments to which I wanted space so I could respond in full. So here we are! Tilly and others, here are my responses to your questions including why I don’t carry the Step Free Guide, why I didn’t know about the maintenance, and so on.
Firstly I should say that Transport for London have called me. They were apologetic and recognised that being unable to access the tube step-free at Paddington in the usual manner kicked off a chain of events which went from bad to worse, which could not have been predicted (a bus driver who trapped me in the door, a taxi driver who blatantly took the piss out of me) but were not acceptable. They have said they will learn lessons from my experience. However, there were some good questions raised by readers…
Why don’t I travel with a copy of the Step Free Guide to hand?
I don’t like the Step Free Guide. It contains lots of information I don’t need. If I’m travelling between two or three stations, on a trip I’ve made several times a year, I don’t need to check the access – it’s only useful when planning a route that you’ve never done before. In terms of carrying a printed copy, it wouldn’t have told me about the maintenance (and I wouldn’t have had room for it in my small under-chair box in which clothes were rolled up and secured with a rubber band and so on to ensure everything fitted neatly – it runs to several pages when printed legibly).
What about using Journey Planner to check your trip beforehand?
What, every time? How about when I travel between one accessible station and another, should I really check that they still exist?
Even the caller from Transport for London agreed that Journey Planner is really aimed at people who don’t know the route they will take, and need to look it up. This doesn’t apply to me as a regular traveller, on a route I’ve taken many times before. And in any case I was visiting my mother’s house where there is no phone signal – I’d have needed to consult Journey Planner before I left London a few days previously – at which point the maintenance hadn’t begun and wouldn’t have shown up when I checked!
Had I known about the maintenance preventing me from accessing the tube at Paddington, I wouldn’t have had many more choices. I could have known in advance about the bus trip, and got going sooner rather than spending time exploring options and then needing to rest. That in turn might have meant I didn’t end up on the tube at a busy time, although as my account shows, the tube (when I could get on it) was the least of my worries.
I couldn’t have prevented the need for the bus trip, but when I realised (earlier that day) that I was exhausted, I could perhaps have rung ahead for a minicab. Then again, who’s to say any of them would have quoted less than £42?
However, it would certainly have helped to know about the maintenance in advance and so I would argue that Transport for London needs to do a better job in that regard.
I think TfL needs to do better with their publicity. The previous week, I’d been on the tube recording a trip for Radio 4. We were particularly paying attention to announcements, signage, advice given etc. and there was nothing warning me that there would be no access to Circle and District lines at Paddington for a month. Similarly on day, other than at Paddington there were no signs and the staff said TfL had given them very little and “most of what you see, we did ourselves”. Later, on the tube part of my journey, which included the circle line, I still didn’t see any signage about this.
Perhaps there also needs to be a more permissive policy about providing black cabs for disabled people who are stuck because of maintenance. Current policy is that where one bus route runs between the closed station and the next accessible station, the traveller should use that. Otherwise, London Underground should lay on a black cab for them. In my case I could get a single bus, but I was then a) exhausted from the act of getting uphill to the bus stop b) running late because the bus takes so long c) travelling through an area I didn’t know, so I wasn’t sure when to get off. If TfL won’t lay on a black cab to the next accessible station then perhaps they should lay on a direct shuttle bus, so nobody has to fret about which bus stop to use or how to know when they’ve arrived, and the travel time isn’t extended by too much.
Like everyone else, disabled people want to travel. Sometimes they won’t know the route and will look it up online, at other times they will be very familiar with the journey and will just set out, expecting to complete it. Wayne Trevor, Accessibility and Inclusion Manager for London Underground told me (for Radio 4) that they expect disabled people to know they will face additional challenges and to plan their journeys, which is fine up to a point. But what if I want to be spontaneous? I could just jump on a tube to join my husband for dinner after work, or to see friends. I live in London and there are certain routes that I travel regularly and would never dream of checking every single time I set out – assuming that I had internet access at the time.
London Underground needs to provide better publicity for their maintenance so that we can avoid getting stuck in the first place, but also a more flexible black cab policy if someone shows up, exhausted and stranded.
A simple change to a regular journey can reduce a confident traveller to nothing. That’s what happened to me when my train pulled into Paddington this week – and I ended up exhausted and on the verge of tears just from trying to get home. Transport for London, what went wrong?
I turned up at Paddington expecting to take my usual route home (onto Circle / District line, change to Hammersmith & City line at Edgware Road, change to Central Line at Mile End, arrive at Stratford, taxi from there), and this is a good route as although there are 2 changes there is a long rest in the middle.
On arrival at the tube station I was told access to the Circle and District line had closed 2 days previously, and there was no accessible alternative. This was apparently planned maintenance, but I hadn’t seen it advertised anywhere while travelling the previous week, and nor had friends – so it took me completely by surprise.
I asked the staff for a copy of the Step Free Guide so I could plan an alternative route, but nobody had a copy.
One helpful chap (Ben) rang up his manager for me to see if they could authorise a taxi home for me, as has happened before when my usual route was closed. Sheepishly he told me he’d “got an earful” for asking and said he’d been instructed that I should get on the Bakerloo line. This has a long and steep escalator. I took one look and said no way! Ben offered to hold my wheelchair on the escalator but I was having a bad day with my knees and didn’t think I could stand up safely, all the way to the bottom.
I sat briefly in the concourse and rested. It was now 45 minutes since my train had pulled in, and I should have been nearly home by now. I talked to my friends on twitter:
District & Circle lines closed for a month at Paddington. No alternative step free route home! Was told to take big escalator in my chair(!)
I genuinely feel stranded, don’t know what to do. And phone nearly out of juice.
So that left me trying to get a minicab home; I went to Station Reception at Paddington where the Network Rail staff were very kind and let me use their phone. I tried 6 minicab companies and no luck except for one which MIGHT arrive in half an hour, charging £42 (was he joking? I paid £27 for the same journey last week).
This left me no option but to get the bus to Kings Cross and pick up the tube from there; but I wasn’t sure I had the energy to propel myself out of the station uphill to the bus stop. I was already tired and my journey had yet to begin! Still, seeing the bus approaching gave me the incentive I needed to push hard, so I could get on board and rest as soon as possible.
The bus stopped and I pressed the button for the ramp to be released. Nothing happened. I ended up pressing the button four times before the doors opened – but no ramp! So I got my feet on board, and dragged my chair up the step into the bus behind me, at which point the driver slammed the doors closed onto my chair. With me in it. Nice.
I was released, although the bus promptly pulled away while I was still manoeuvring into the wheelchair bay, wheee! Plus I was now facing backwards into the bus with no knowledge of where I was. The visual descriptor was above my head and for some reason the audio announcements were off. I had to rely on other passengers to let me know when we arrived at Kings Cross.
Fortunately those same passengers advocated my presence to the driver, and the ramp was put down so I could leave the bus. I now had to push myself to the underground station, negotiate two lifts and a passageway, but I boarded the tube with no trouble – other than having hit rush hour thanks to all the delays and diversions. This meant that the tubes were crowded and people tripped over me, stuck in the vestibule / doorway space with nowhere else to go.
At Stratford I was SO pleased to arrive, now all I had to do was get a taxi home. I waved my taxicard and was directed to the first Com Cab in line, where I said “Don’t worry about the ramp, I can get out and we can lift it in.” The driver turned to two others and said in a mocking voice “Ooh, we can get out apparently”. So I got in the taxi and said “please can you be careful when you lift my chair, there’s a box underneath…” to which the response to his fellow drivers was “Ooh, there’s a BOX underneath!” This mocking continued with everything I said. Eventually I burst out “PLEASE just LISTEN!” and he turned to his friends saying “Oh, got to LISTEN, that’s what YOU’ve got to do…” I just said “No – YOU!” then gave up and sat back (trying not to cry, well, it had been a bad day).
After a bit more banter with his mates, my driver became bored, lifted my chair into the taxi, and entered the driving seat. I asked “Why is the meter up to £3.80 already when we haven’t gone anywhere?” His reply: “because it took so long to load you”. I was speechless.
Ten minutes later I arrived home and could collapse – not relax – for a while. Two days later I am still feeling the exhaustion in my limbs, and an amplification to my aches and pains. I had planned for a routine tube journey, but thanks to un-advertised maintenance, I ended up with a terrible trip, pushing myself further than expected, and taking an extra two hours to get home.
Thanks friends, I’m fine, just REALLY exhausted. Had a bus driver shut his doors on me, heaving tubes, then a taxi driver who laughed at me.
I am so exhausted I feel like bursting into tears, am also furious about my journey home, everything hurts, angry letter to TfL coming soon.
I wonder what Transport for London will say in response? Watch this space.
The variety of train providers across the UK creates a problem; the services you take for granted on one service may not be offered on another. Knowing what to expect can be difficult, but if you’re a wheelchair user, it’s even more varied and you’re certainly not equal to other passengers. Let’s take a closer look…
John arrives at the station, buys his ticket, picks up a sandwich from M&S and spends a minute pondering coloured ties on a stall. Then he checks the departure screens, and strolls down Platform 2. He identifies coach D, and takes his seat at a table, by the window, ready to watch the world pass by as he eats lunch and works on his laptop. Ah, train travel is so easy.
If John had arrived in a wheelchair, it would be another story. After checking in with the assistance counter, he would be told to stay there, left for ages (unable to go shopping), then just as he was starting to worry that he’d been forgotten, an assistant would walk over, grab the handles of his wheelchair (without asking), push him briskly to the platform, bundle him up a ramp, and leave him in an open space next to the toilet.
John decides to go for a coffee, after all his ticket entitles him to a free drink and snack. Meanwhile, John’s wheelchair using counterpart waits, hoping that a staff member will come through to check tickets, so he can ask them to go to the buffet for him. Until he can access food and drink, he can’t take his painkillers. It’s usually an hour before anyone comes through. John, blissfully unaware, sits down, peels the foil from his milk and adds it to his drink. He inhales happily and relaxes as the world rolls by. What could be more calming than a trip on the train?
This is not just about “John” and his counterpart. I’ve attended various forums and focus groups recently; I know that it’s not just me who has a hellish experience purely because they are disabled.
My needs are simple, and the same on any train. I require a ramp to board, I would like to sit in a wheelchair bay at a table, ideally one with a power point. I need one of the train staff to come by after I’ve boarded, to check I’m ok and see if I need food (e.g. to take medication with). I also request that nobody pushes my wheelchair without asking me first.
The experiences between first and standard class can vary, and also between train companies, so no two trips are the same – I always have to ring ahead to find out what’s on offer.
On board with First Great Western – a standard class carriage, so I am next to a power point, aid call button, and accessible toilet.
I regularly travel with First Great Western. They treat you well – as long as you are in standard class! Recently I was told “I’m afraid there’s no space left in standard so we would like to offer you a free upgrade to first class” – for most people these words would be a relief, a chance to have a larger seat in a less crowded carriage for no additional charge. However, I have a concern. The entrance to first class is narrower. My new wheelchair only just meets the measurements – I hope it will squeak through the doors, else I’ll have to get out and take the wheels off in order to get inside!
Also, I won’t be able to show my ticket at the buffet to claim a free drink and snack – because I can’t get to the buffet. But, unlike in standard class, there’s no aid call button. And although every other seat has access to a power socket, frustratingly the wheelchair bay doesn’t. But I need to charge my phone, in order to arrange a lift at my destination. Never mind, I’m in the quiet carriage where phones are forbidden… This doesn’t make sense to me, as a disabled person is likely to need to make arrangement for their onward travel, since they are the least able to walk into town or stroll to a bus stop. Yet First Great Western forces first class disabled travellers to sit in a quiet zone.
Worse still, the only accessible toilet is in standard class. So if I’m “promoted” to First on a long journey, I’ll have to hold on…
Still, at least I know First Great Western will be able to accommodate me. With Southeastern, it’s another story.
Last autumn I visited Hastings with my choir – a 111 minute journey, so it’s as long as London to York, for example. I called in advance to find out about the difference between first and standard – so I could ensure I booked a bay with power socket – but I received a confusing response about “the space”. I didn’t understand, so I said I’d work it out later and buy my ticket on the day.
When I arrived it was explained to me that there was no wheelchair bay in first, just a large space in standard, which is where I’d be placed. Once I was on board my contemporaneous tweets told their own story:
- Now I know why the Southeast Trains lass was stumped by my q. about the diff between 1st & std. All wheelchair users go in a pit by the loo.
- WHY did I say train travel is underrated? Already I’m dirty & can feel my soul ebbing away. Not even any power points & my phone’s abt to d..
You get the idea. And I was stuck with a drunken idiot who used the toilet and then laughed “ah! You’re downwind, at least it wasn’t a number two!” Charming. He then sat in a flip down seat next to me and then proceeded to interrogate me about my disability throughout the journey, and although I made polite excuses about reading my book I couldn’t physically escape, so that is how my entire journey was passed…. I’ve never had such a horrible trip and was glad to return home by car.
The space I was forced to use in my wheelchair on Southeast Trains – next to the toilet.
Since I’ve been accommodated adequately by First Great Western, Virgin, Eurostar and others, I had never imagined that wheelchair users would just be left in an open plan space next to the toilet! If I had bought a first class ticket, I wouldn’t have been able to use it.
What have I learnt from this terrible experience? Well from now on, I am adding to my list of requirements: “at least one sliding door between me and the toilet”.
I have followed up to several stories I reported in the last year. Here are the updates.
The new Routemaster – if this is the future, I’m not on board
I revisted the Routemaster on 27 January and found that two poles had been moved so that it was now possible to get into the wheelchair bay more quickly. However, it was still a tight fit and there’s a lot of work to do! Transport for All attended and recorded my thoughts for the video in this article by BBC London News.
Life at Glastonbury
I received some lovely comments about my Glastonbury diary but I’m afraid I won’t be going to Glasto 2011… nor any festival, at this point. The fact that my powertrike broke at Glastonbury is part of it – if I want to go to a festival I’ll have to spend a lot of money on a power adaption for my wheelchair so I can no longer book tickets on a whim. I still hope we can go camping in 2011 instead.
Purple, blue or green?
Despite everything I said about my preferences for the green hotel, I regularly end up staying at the blue one because it’s on the same estate as a bus stop, supermarket, and pub – the others are just off the motorway and have no other facilities on site. The blue hotel still doesn’t hoover around the edge of the room. I am tempted to sprinkle glitter to see if they notice.
A guide to the Wii Fit for disabled people
These articles were very well received. I released a new video on 18 Feb 2011 showing two more games you can play sitting down and how to do so. In general, when playing an aerobic game sit on the edge of a chair and tap your feet; when playing a balance game, sit on the board and lean!
Kidnapped by the council
At last a good news story and one I am delighted to report – on Christmas Eve, Steven Neary went back home to live with his dad Mark – hopefully for good.
Usually, access improvements benefit both wheelchair users and parents pushing baby buggies. So why is it so awkward when both parties meet on a bus? Is there any common ground, or will they automatically resent each other’s presence? Sophie, pregnant mum to a toddler, and Lisa, a wheelchair user, explain where they are coming from.
The wheelchair user
I regularly travel on the buses, but if I could be on the tube for a journey that takes half the time, then I would be. I’m only there due to lack of alternatives.
When I see a buggy on board my heart sinks because I know that either the bus driver won’t stop to let me on; the bus driver will tell me they’re not letting me on because there’s already a buggy there; the driver will ask the parents to fold the buggy and the parent will become verbally abusive; or the parent will fold the buggy but because it takes time everyone else on the bus becomes hostile towards me for making their journey longer. Whatever happens I feel that I’m going to end up hated by someone just for being a wheelchair user.
I can’t fold my chair, because it has a rigid frame. Some bits are removable but that’s far too complex for doing on a bus.
I’ve shared the bay, and it’s not big enough for two!
I wish that… there were both buggy bays and wheelchair bays, like on London’s bendy buses. Signage and awareness are, of course, key issues too. A lot of parents think of the space as “the buggy space” despite the fact that its designation actually is “wheelchair space which may be used by buggies if it’s not needed by a wheelchair user.”
I would like buggy users to remember that they can choose whether to buy a buggy that’s difficult to fold or doesn’t fold at all. I had no choice in the matter.
The buggy pushing parent
I regularly travel on the buses, travelling distances of between 2 and 35 miles. I use a lightweight single buggy, for my 22 month old son. However, I’m expecting my second child soon and will be using a much heavier, bigger double buggy.
When I see a wheelchair on board I dread getting on the bus. It’s nothing personal, I just know that I’ll have to collapse the buggy and then control my son for the journey! On longer trips this is daunting and a bit exhausting.
I can fold my buggy, but being 7 months pregnant, it’s not ideal! It’s hard having to hold a small person while doing it.
I’ve shared the bay, and it was a bit of a squeeze. The bays on most buses have a metal column against it, which is very difficult to manoeuvre round, especially in a hurry (and bus drivers do like driving off when you’re trying to get out of the bay!)
I wish that… the bays were bigger. I also wish the drivers would stop longer at ‘halts’ if they know a buggy user is getting off or on – I’ve often had to sway up a moving bus, because the driver can’t hang on for 30 seconds. Or they have driven away from the stop while I am still trying to get the buggy into the aisle to get off.
I would like wheelchair users to remember that it is not always easy transporting small children and that the bus service is a community service, for everyone.
Sophie and Lisa were speaking to Flash Bristow
I raised my hand to speak. “I was really excited about viewing the new Routemaster today, showing off to my friends that I’d seen it – but having been in it, I’m really upset. I just feel that I’m not going to be able to use this bus, and that makes me so sad.”
I’d been one of a lucky few to have a look around the “New bus for London”, along with other disabled people, thanks to Transport for All, and of course our hosts Transport for London (TfL) at their Acton Museum depot.
The tour got off to a great start as we surveyed the outside of the bus. The exterior is beautiful, with round eye-like running lights, and a glass swoosh along the stairwell which will let in plenty of light and make the space feel bigger and safer. We were talked through several innovative features, such as bonded windows, light weight materials, and a focus on clean, low energy use. Most ingenious is the way that the back platform is open while there’s a second staff member on board, but it can be converted back to operate as a regular door under driver control as necessary.
Then, as we were admitted inside the bus, my excitement and optimism fell away. It quickly became clear that in order to accommodate the iconic rear platform, the interior is full of compromises. Seats in the back half of the bottom deck are high up, as they are above the wheels and other mechanical parts. The step to those seats is equivalent to me stepping up onto my sofa – something a small child will not be able to do, nor people with knee or hip problems. There are some level-access seats around the middle door by the wheelchair bay, but even these pose problems.
Transport for London representatives told us that they wish to have 10 seats on the level floor area. Therefore, five benches were squeezed into place – and the first thing I noticed is that all of them have something immediately in front, be it a barrier (by the door), another seat, or the wheelchair bay. This leaves nowhere that someone would be able to sit with their legs extended even partially – a problem for many ambulant disabled people. I asked what would happen for someone who cannot bend their knee, or who has a leg in plaster to which the reply was “how often would someone in plaster get the bus anyway?” I found this a flippant response; when I was once in plaster from the top to bottom of my leg, I carried on with my daily life. In any case, there are many conditions which mean it is painful and difficult for people to bend their knees. When I use my stick to get about I need to keep my legs out in front of me while I am seated. Why should I be forced to use my wheelchair if I want to travel on this bus – when there might be steps at my destination? Several of us suggested removing certain seats, perhaps rotating them through 90 degrees, or replacing them with flip down seats, but this would break TfL’s magic number of 10 seats – something that is not realistic given the limited space available.
The level-access seat positions exposed another problem – it was nearly impossible to manoeuvre into the wheelchair bay. We were assured that the space met “minimum standards” but it seemed pretty small to me, and this was aggravated by the position of poles, intended to ensure the wheelchair is contained safely within the bay. In order to move into the bay I first had to push right into a row of seats – if anyone had been sitting there, they would have had to move into the aisle. Then I attempted to reverse into the bay, but due to the position of a pole which trapped me, I had to make something like a 7 point turn in order to finally fit within the bay – by which time, a real bus would have driven off! I lent my chair to a member of TfL staff so he could see how hard it was to access the bay – so he would realise that we were not just picking holes but that even in an “active user” wheelchair (one of the smallest types) – there simply was not enough space.
TfL have already accepted that they would need to alter the poles, but realistically they will need to take out the bench behind the wheelchair bay as well – throwing their ideal of 10 level-access seats out of the window.
As for meeting the minimum standard for bay size – that’s not enough! This Routemaster is branded “A new bus for London”. It is supposed to be revolutionary – leading the way in design and setting the bar for others to copy. I had dared to hope that it might have room for two wheelchair users, so that I could go out with a friend. Instead, I am concerned that it will struggle to accommodate just one of us. It is a bus full of compromises which is in danger of suiting nobody.
If this is the future, I’m disappointed. I had hoped that this would be a Routemaster style bus that I could access, but as it stands I don’t feel I could use it, and that has left me upset.
Of course, I’m grateful to TfL for allowing us access and for testing their bus with real people; they have heard us, and now it’s over to them to make changes. I’d be happy to work with them to find a solution, and I hope I’m invited back when they’ve worked out a better way to include disabled travellers.
View the inside of the bus (showing 8 of the 10 level-access seats) on the Guardian website. The two photos above are by Mike Bristow.