A wheelchair users guide to public transport: getting around above and underground – disability issues

My recent series of trips to London were a first for me in more ways than one.  I actually bit the bullet and used public transport for the first time in a long time. Certainly the first time since being a wheelchair user.  My findings were absolutely astounding and really genuinely surprised me.  I’d like to share with you the major ways of getting from one place to another as a wheelchair user, and the pros and cons.
My preferred method of transport, so I thought I’d tackle this first.  I am very lucky not only to be able to drive, but to have an adapted vehicle to help me do that.  It really is a great source of independence for me and I don’t know where I’d be without it
Flexibility – being able to go where you want when you want
Going straight from your door to where you are going, no transfers
No waiting
Comfort – you control the atmosphere, temperature and overall comfort in your vehicle
The almost prohibitive cost of fuel
Actually having to drive – it is very tiring for someone with chronic pain and fatigue
Train – Overground
Something I used to think of as a pretty swanky method of travel, especially living in the same town as the Watercress Line.  I have since changed my mind.
Access to places that preclude driving for one reason or another
Price – you have to pay for yourself, and for the person (carer) you need to accompany you, doubling your fare
Seating – people in wheelchairs and those with baby’s in buggies have to travel next to the toilets.  Not only do they stink as are rarely cleaned, but 8/10 people (I did a count on my last journey) do not shut the door after them.  It does not shut automatically
Train – Underground
Good for traveling from one major London station to another
Most stations are not wheelchair accessible.  The few that are are marked on the tube map.
Alot of trains have to wide a gap for wheelchair users to get on and off
A very pleasant surprise here.
Buses have an electric ramp they can extend to the pavement so passengers can get on and off
There is a wheelchair bay directly opposite
The bus drivers are very friendly and helpful
None as yet, as even waiting was capped at 5 minutes.  I haven’t tried buses outside of London, so will have to try this at some point soon.
‘On Foot’
When asking on twitter recently for a verb to describe ‘going for a walk in a wheelchair’ (I really believe there should be an official one). I loved suggestions such as ‘burning rubber’ and ‘going for a stroll’.  Whatever you call it, I am talking about ‘wheeling along’ while your compadres are on foot.
Good for short distances
Get’s you where you want to go with a little fresh air
Lack of dropped kirbs and ramps (this includes into buildings but that’s another story for another day)
Uneven pathways
The sheer volume of dog poo, oil and sick that you have to wheel through on most pavements – especially yucky in a manual chair
Pathways with a slant causing chairs to slide
Acute ramps which can cause you to slide into the road one way, or backwards (again possibly into the road) in another way
A very clipped version there – I could go on all day about the specifics of each particular choice, and the pros and cons of one against the other, but for today this is just a brief glance.  It probably won’t surprise anyone that my choice of transport is the car because of the freedom it gives me, even though it does have it’s drawbacks.  
In terms of public transport, my least favourite would be the train, in underground and overground permutations.  Underground because of it’s mind boggling inaccessibility for wheelchair users, and overground because of having to sit in the $hit carriage for the entire journey.  Don’t worry, I love you to much to share the pictures and horrendous stories I have about train travel in a wheelchair.
My most favourite is the bus.  The drivers were super helpful and it was very easy to board.  The hardest bit in fact was figuring out the timetable, but everyone has to do that.
Do you find traveling on public transport a trial with a wheelchair or buggy?  Have you had good or bad experiences when out and about?  How helpful have you found others when trying to get where you’re going whether you are disabled or able bodied?

8 thoughts on “A wheelchair users guide to public transport: getting around above and underground – disability issues

  1. Hi Vicky,

    Thanks for your blog and your review of travel in London.

    Travelling by bus is one of my favourites too, mainly because you get to see more of London, albeit, as we travel backwards, you get to see where you've been rather than where you are going! A big benefit for visitors to London – who are wheelchair users – is that travel by bus is entirely free of charge! My real favourite is travel by boat – though it can be costly!

    I desperately need to update my blog "BoldlyToGo" but you'll find there a map of wheelchair accessible stations on TfL's overground and underground system, as of 2012, if you want to know more about independent travel i.e. not reliant on booking staff and ramps well in advance.

    Happy travels,


  2. This is a very interesting post – I think the London underground really needs to get it's act together and get a lot more stations wheelchair friendly, it's great to see you were pleasantly surprised with the buses

    Laura x

  3. Excellently written Vicky. It is nice to know that you liked the bus service in London. I find it very convenient on most occasions.
    I am sure this post will be very useful to a lot of readers out there.

  4. It's insane isn't it – that the majority of the underground in our capital is not accessible to wheelchair users. I think the decent bus route is supposed to make up for it – but it doesn't change the fact that the tube stations are subverting basic building code. The problem is that the majority of the populous is not effected by it, so it's up to those who are to campaign for equal rights and fully accessible services

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