From Able Magazine #109 (January/Februrary 2014), by Tom Jamison
Although it gets regularly swiped at, London’s public transport system is easily the best in the UK with plenty of options for disabled customers and lots of progress to report from the last few years in particular. In many ways it provides the template for what other towns and cities should be looking to achieve.
Go By Bus
Can I take my mobility scooter?
Bus passengers who use wheelchairs, mobility scooters or mobility aids can now apply for a special card to help improve their bus journeys and avoid any confusion over whether their mobility aid can be taken onto a bus.
The Mobility Aid Recognition Card, launched by Transport for London (TfL), is designed to remove uncertainly for both the holder and the bus driver on whether a mobility aid is permitted on the London bus network, giving passengers more freedom and confidence to travel around the Capital.
Primarily aimed at passengers who use mobility scooters, the scheme may also be used by people with manual and powered wheelchairs, mobility walkers or shopping trolleys, where these are used as a mobility aid.
Passengers on London buses make around 6.4 million journeys on a typical weekday, with around 2.3% of those journeys made using a Disabled Persons Freedom Pass it is hoped this new scheme will encourage more passengers to take the bus.
TfL carries out a regular Mystery Traveller Survey, which seeks to track performance on accessibility issues. In the most recently published survey (2011/12) 94% of those surveyed found that staff interaction was ‘correct or appropriate’ and 98% got on the first bus.
Guidance for Bus Drivers
TfL has issued new guidance to bus drivers to help improve journeys for wheelchair and mobility scooter users and other bus passengers with accessibility needs.
The guidance is contained in the latest version of the Big Red Book, a practical guide to every facet of being a bus driver, which is issued to all 24,500 drivers in London.
Training for Bus Drivers
TfL requires that all London Bus drivers receive thorough and comprehensive training before they are allowed to drive a bus and carry passengers, and are trained to recognise how best to meet differing passenger needs, which includes stopping correctly at bus stops to ensure the ramp can deploy fully. In addition, TfL requires every bus driver to pass a bespoke BTEC qualification within their first year of service, aimed at raising standards of driving and improving customer service skills.
Groups representing disabled and older bus passengers are brought together at a forum to share experiences and work on how accessibility can be further improved across London’s bus network. This work will continue and the results will help inform future guidance and revisions to policies to improve the journeys of disabled passengers.
London already has the most accessible bus fleet in the world. All of its 8,500 buses are low floor, wheelchair accessible with regularly checked hydraulic ramps. All buses have the iBus system, which provides passengers with audio and visual next stop information that is of particular use to people with sight or hearing impairments.
Wheelchair Priority Spaces
The priority wheelchair space, usually located in the middle of the bus, is the only place in which a wheelchair user can safely travel. The campaign aims to ensure that all passengers know and respect this.
Buggy users and other passengers may use the wheelchair space, however if a wheelchair user wants to board the bus, other passengers and buggy users will be asked to vacate the space or fold their buggies.
On many buses the space is big enough for the wheelchair and buggy to share the space, but the wheelchair user does take priority and must be correctly positioned in order to travel safely. In some circumstances buggy users may be asked to fold their buggies and wherever possible fold their prams.
Guidance has also been provided to bus drivers to help them deal with this issue. When a wheelchair user wants to board the bus, and the wheelchair priority space is occupied by a buggy or pram, the bus driver will use an automated iBus message and if necessary the PA system to alert passengers.
Extra time will be given to allow passengers with a buggy or pram to move out of the way or to fold the pram/buggy to allow the wheelchair to gain access to the space. On many buses it is possible for the buggy/pram to move back into the priority space, alongside the wheelchair, as long as it does not block the gangway. Bus drivers have been instructed not to move off until both wheelchair and buggy/pram are safely positioned.
71% of the capital’s bus stops are now fully accessible
Bus stop accessibility has improved dramatically over the last few years – rising from 29% in 2008 to the current (71%) level. An injection of £18m in additional funding will ensure that at least 95% of bus stops will be accessible by 2016. Making stops accessible means ensuring the kerb is at the correct height, ensuring that the bus can stop parallel to the kerb and removing any street clutter from where the bus doors open.
TfL has worked closely with its local authority partners to achieve this – as a significant proportion of the capital’s 19,500 bus stops are not on the Transport for London Road Network (TLRN). More than 90% of London residents live within 400 metres of a bus stop, and the vast majority of these can be used by all bus passengers, including wheelchair users.
Helping disabled Londoners to make the most of public transport is the philosophy behind Bus Days – a joint service offered by Transport for London’s Travel Mentoring Service, the Metropolitan Police Safer Transport Team, local borough councils and local bus companies. The Westminster/Camden Bus Day is one of five similar programmes held throughout London.
The Bus Days programme provides disabled Londoners with a safe and controlled introduction to independent travel. A dedicated London bus follows a pre-planned route with passengers getting on and off the bus along the way. They are accompanied by TfL travel mentors and Metropolitan Police Safer Transport Teams.
The travel mentors show participants how to use all the information at a bus stop – the routes, the bus numbers and local maps. Passengers are shown how to board the bus and stay safe while on the bus. Passengers in wheelchairs will be guided through using the bus ramp to get on the bus and their safety while they are on it.
During the session police officers act out real life scenarios that passengers may encounter on their journeys, both on the bus and on the street, and advise them how to handle those situations. This may include dealing with instances of anti-social behaviour or ticket inspections.
TfL has launched a Travel Support Card for people with hidden disabilities such as learning and communication difficulties to help them use public transport more easily.
Showing the wallet sized card will alert members of staff that the passenger may need support, and will help people with invisible disabilities have more confidence in asking for help. TfL worked with disability charities in developing and launching the new card, which can be printed from the TfL website. It includes space to write anything that could help transport staff to give the right support, and for customers to include their names and a number to call in times of an emergency.
Countdown Digital Sign Service
The Countdown Digital Sign service provides a new way to deliver tailored live bus arrival information to a range of public locations, such as hospital waiting rooms, schools or shopping centre foyers.
The introduction of the Digital Sign service follows a successful trial in four locations, which included: Oaks Park High School in Newbury Park, Loxford School of Science and Technology in Ilford, Redbridge College in Romford and Gracefields Gardens Health and Social Care Centre in Streatham. The trial demonstrated that the signs worked well delivering clear, easily accessible information about local bus services, utilising existing IT and display equipment in public locations.
All buses have the iBus system, which provides passengers with audio and visual next stop information that is of particular use to people with sight or hearing impairments.
Audio-visual ‘next stop’ announcements making bus travel easier, iBus, the state-of-the-art system which provides passengers with useful information about their bus service, has now been fitted on all 8,500 London buses.
The on board ‘next stop’ announcements that the system delivers mean passengers know exactly where their bus is and what the next stop and final destination will be, even on an unfamiliar route. This enables passengers to feel confident travelling in new parts of the city.
On board journey information is great news for anyone with hearing or visual impairments or people travelling in an unfamiliar part of town. And Londoners who know their bus routes like the back of their hand will benefit just as much from more reliable services thanks to the information iBus provides to operators.
Significant improvements to signage have now been completed at 15 stations. This distinctive new accessibility signage, developed in conjunction with disabled people, is positioned at locations and heights that are easily viewable from wheelchairs. It provides better information about how best to navigate stations, including Westminster, Waterloo, Kings Cross and London Bridge.
A Twitter feed @TfLAccess gives advice on getting the most out of the transport network, to update disabled passengers on improvements to their services and to advise customers of any planned changes on the network – such as to lifts, escalators or stations – that may affect their journeys.
A world-leading customer information system has now been introduced on the entire Victoria line. For the first time this gives real-time disruption information to help people with hearing loss who may miss announcements from the driver.
Go By Tube
166 Tube stations have been refurbished and since 2008, 16 additional tube stations have been made step-free.
Boarding ramps – used to bridge the gap between platform and trains at tube stations have been introduced to all remaining step-free stations (where it’s feasible to deploy them) during 2013.
The ramps were retained at 16 tube stations in September 2012 after their use during London 2012 and will now be introduced at an additional 40 platforms at 19 additional stations.
Currently, 66 stations on the network are step-free from street to platform, but the gap between platform and train has meant that wheelchair and mobility scooter users can struggle to board. The new deployment of ramps will mean that, of the platforms that are currently accessible step-free from the street, 76% (149 out of 195) will now be accessible to wheelchair and mobility scooter users through the use of the ramps, raised platform sections, low floor trains and other improvements.
Introducing ramps to more of the tube network was one of the commitments outlined in the Mayor and TfL’s ‘Your Accessible Transport Network’ document.
65 tube stations are step-free from street to platform. This includes key stations like Stratford, Southfields (for Wimbledon tennis), Green Park, King’s Cross St Pancras and Blackfriars.
Increasing Step Free
TfL plan to deliver step-free access at a further eight stations by 2018 (Paddington H&C, Vauxhall, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Ealing Broadway, Whitechapel, Victoria, Wembley Central). Work is already underway at a number of TfL’s busiest interchange stations: Paddington (by 2013), Victoria, Bond St, and Tottenham Court Road by 2018.
Wide Aisle Gates
More than 250 wide aisle gates have been installed on Underground stations to provide easier access for wheelchair users and assistance dog owners.
Tactile Station Platforms
All tube station platforms have tactile paving for people with visual impairments.
Safety and Information
335 electronic visual display boards have been installed at 250 stations. All stations have CCTV, clear large signage and Public Address systems.
London Underground’s train fleet is being replaced – boosting accessibility. The Victoria line now has new trains and raised platforms at stations to make it easier for wheelchair users to board trains. New rolling stock has been introduced on the Metropolitan line, with the Circle, Hammersmith & City, and District lines following suit by the end of 2015/16, providing greater wheelchair space and other accessible features.
There are plans to have level access at more than a hundred more platforms as part of the upgrade of the District, Metropolitan, Circle and Hammersmith & City lines.
All front line staff working in tube stations receive disability awareness training, and undertake a refresher course every year.
This service provides approximately 9,000 accompanied journeys a year with a travel mentor to improve the confidence of disabled people in using London’s public transport system.
In 2011 TfL changed the Byelaws to make it easier for some assistance dog users to use tube stations. Assistance dogs that have been specifically trained in how to use escalators (and carry the appropriate identification) are now able to use escalators.
Nearly 40% of all stops and stations across London’s rail based public transport network are currently step-free, up from around 30% in 2008. TfL expect the number of step-free stations to rise to 50% well before the end of the decade.
Go By Docklands Light Railway, Tram Or Overground Services
Docklands Light Railway (DLR)
All DLR stations are step-free.
All tram stations are step-free.
Go By Taxi
The entire taxi fleet of 22,000 vehicles is wheelchair accessible. Dial a Ride made a record 1.3 million trips in 2010/11, an 18% increase on 2007/08 with 200,000 more journeys; Taxicard trips have gone from 1.4 million trips in 2007/08 to 1.9 million in 2010/11 – an increase of 35%.
Go By Boat
All London River Service piers are step-free at all states of the tide, allowing access for passengers with mobility impairments.
Thames Clippers’ boats are accessible at all piers.
The disabled Freedom Pass continues to benefit disabled users, providing over 170,000 journeys per day.