Travelling by train is meant to be a relaxing experience, sitting back watching the world go by out of the window whilst getting from A to B. Recent headlines though illustrate the opposite for people with a physical disability.
The most recent issue to be raised is when a comedian with dwarfism, who uses a mobility scooter, was embarrassed by Great Western Railway (GWR) when they announced she was delaying the train. Due to issues with online booking Tanyalee Davis was not able to reserve a disability space on the train, when she turned up to the train she was informed that there was no disability space in the standard carriages.
She was offered the disability space within First Class as it wasn’t reserved, however if a wheelchair user came on she would need to move. Basically, even though she was on first, GWR prioritise wheelchairs over mobility scooters. On this occasion however, a different problem arose during her journey.
An hour into her trip a lady came onto the train with a pram. Instead of asking the lady to fold up the pram, the train guard asked Tanyalee to move her mobility scooter. She states “it would have been fine if another wheelchair user had booked the space, but it was a baby [and] a pram. It was really frustrating.”
She was told if she did not move her scooter then the train guard would phone the police, and then announced over the speaker that the train would be delayed due to the “lady in the mobility scooter”! This left her humiliated and resulted in her crying most of the way home.
Tanylalee travels from city to city trying to make a living and provide laughter in peoples lives, however she feels “I don’t know what it is about this country, they really make you feel disabled.”
Our Marketing Manager Claire travels by train a reasonable amount and even though she does encounter problems, they are always resolved by the brilliant staff she encounters at the train stations. Claire always reserves a wheelchair space on a train due to the fear of any problems arising, however even after doing this, there are still times she doesn’t get on a train.
This is usually because of trains being too busy due to strikes or football matches. Fortunately, though she has always been able to get home after staff have arranged for taxis to travel in instead.
Claire has come across another problem recently when seeking to travel with her friend who is also wheelchair user. The two friends were not able to travel together as they weren’t able to verify that there would be two spaces until the day of their travel.
This inability to book in advance like any other traveller, means they ended up having to reach their destination separately. In a modern age, with online booking systems, this seems an archaic approach being offered to those with additional mobility requirements.
Everyone’s customer experience should be equal and online booking systems should offer the same flexibility and security that each traveller would expect to receive. Simple planning to be fully inclusive would help ensure that the booking system allows multiple wheelchair spaces to be booked and importantly ensure this is communicated to the train and rail station staff.
We hope stations and train operators all take note and look to make the small changes that can make the big difference to people’s travel planning and enjoyment of using the train as a means of transport.