Flash Says…

Why I fear travelling on the underground: what happens when something changes

Posted on: 2011-07-27

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.


9 Responses to "Why I fear travelling on the underground: what happens when something changes"

Oh Flash! What a nightmare! People’s attitude and mockery add to the physical misery of getting from A to B
When you get enough spoons back, deal with everyone who was unhelpful, one by one.
I wish I was closer to give you a hand!


Urgh! No one should be subjected to crap like that. I’m sorry you had to deal with it and I hope you get some satisfaction from TfL.

Oh Flash, this is disgusting, all those people had no right treating you that way, what an absolutely nightmareish experience 😦 Those taxi drivers in particular should be punished and given training on how to work with people with disabilities in a respectful manner.

How truly horrible. I’ve been through similar situations before, and it is so hugely disappointing and stressful. Some simple things would make the lives of people with disabilities so much easier.

That’s pretty poor. That bus driver?!
WRT notification of line closures are you signed up for the emails? https://www.tfl.gov.uk/tfl/livetravelnews/plannedworks/default.aspx
Not that they have sent me any for the last few weeks and I don’t believe that’s because there weren’t any…
Is there step free access down to the Circle/District then? I’ve often thought it was a bit of a nightmare, especially westbound.

Yes, there’s a slope down to the platforms, I thought it was both but could be wrong as I always go eastbound (one stop, changing at Edgware Road as I’m forced to do now the Circle line is a teacup!) Direct Enquiries still says there’s stairs (it also mentions the stairs from street to ticket hall, but there’s definitely a lift!) so I guess it’s out of date now – even though TfL’s journey planner gives a link to Direct Enquiries for access info! Of course the TfL Step Free Guide (which I never use as it’s tiny print and full of lots of info I don’t need) currently says there’s no entrance / exit – not sure what it said before the maintenance began.

Thanks for the links to the emails, but I’d probably file and not read them so best I try to get in the habit of checking online before each and every trip… on Thursday I got stuck again making a regular trip to London Bridge, whereupon I found the lift was closed for maintenance…!

Hi Flash- why not download the large print Step-free Tube Guide from the TfL website: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/gettingaround/14091.aspx . It was designed by wheelchair users for wheelchair users, and is great for planning trips in advance or on the go.

Also it’s always worth checking the Journey Planner before you make a journey. It has all planned and unplanned service disruptions, so you know what to expect before you make your journey.

I began a reply but it ran to 700+ words (I got a bit carried away and began referring to other journeys and situations that have happened recently) so instead it will be this week’s blog post! I’ll try to finish it today, but if not it will be up very soon. I’ll post another reply once it’s up so you can go and have a look. Thanks for your comment and sorry to keep you waiting for a full answer!

I’ve posted a reply, it’s here: https://flashsays.com/2011/08/04/tfl-update/ – hope that’s helpful!

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