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London Public Transport - A Nightmare for Wheelchair Users

Published: 2019-04-12
Author: Bolt Burdon Kemp | Contact:
Peer-Reviewed Publication: N/A

Synopsis: Going the Extra Mile experiment highlights accessibility issues revealing how hard it is for disabled passengers to navigate the London public transport system. Transport staff are often unprepared to offer assistance. On average a London wheelchair users' commute takes 49% longer than an able-bodied person's.


Main Digest

In an effort to highlight accessibility issues, a new travel experiment sent wheelchair users and able-bodied people on five of the busiest London commute routes, revealing just how hard it is for disabled passengers to navigate the public transport system.

This article is part our digest of 22 publications relating to Public Disability Transport that include:

By enlisting the help of five wheelchair users, we tested five popular commuter journeys in London, starting from the same point and time as able-bodied commuters. The results showed:

Journey 1
Journey 1

It's the busiest commuter city not only in the UK but also in Europe, with 1.3 million journeys made by people with disabilities in London every day. Although the Mayor of London website states accessibility on London's public transport is one of the best in the country, disabled users paint a dire picture. Specialist solicitors Bolt Burdon Kemp conducted a travel experiment on London's busiest commute routes to reveal just how hard it is to navigate the capital's transport system.

The 'Going the Extra Mile' experiment enlisted the help of five wheelchair users who tested five popular commuter journeys in London. The study pitted wheelchair users and able-bodied commuters against each other, with each starting their journey from the same point, at the same time and finishing at the same destination. The experiment was carried out in an effort to raise awareness of accessibility issues on public transport.

Longer Commutes and Restricted Access to London's Transport Network

Journey 2
Journey 2

With only 77 out of 270 stations fully accessible for wheelchair users, London's transport options are often very limited for people with disabilities, making their journeys longer and filled with challenges. The five commuter journeys carried out during the course of this experiment took wheelchair users a combined total of 3 hours and 5 minutes to complete - 49% longer than able-bodied participants.

A simple 9-minute commute from Liverpool Street to Kings Cross took an astounding 32 minutes for the wheelchair user, whose only option was taking a single bus route - bus 205, between the two central London stations, due to the lack of accessibility of the underground.

Wembley Park to Westminster, another popular commute route, took 83% longer than what the 'step-free access' option on the TFL journey planner estimated for wheelchair users. Jennifer, who tested the Wembley Park to Westminster route, avoids public transport altogether in her daily life:

"Today was the first time I'd used public transport since [getting injured]. I probably won't use it again".

Journey 3
Journey 3

Despite living close to 5 underground stations, Karl, another participant, revealed he is limited to using buses 90% of the time, a less than ideal scenario as "buses are unpredictable so it can get really difficult". Travelling from Victoria to Oxford Circus - a journey that can take a mere 4 minutes for an able-bodied person - took Karl 73% longer because he had to use a bus route instead.

Planning the Journey - A Challenge in Itself

Throughout the travel experiment, wheelchair users flagged the difficulty of planning their public transport journey as a recurrent problem. Cross-checking several different apps seems to be the norm although participants find most of these unreliable or inaccurate. They state that, ultimately, their own experience is most reliable:

"I usually use Citymapper to plan my journeys," reveals Karl, "but I tend not to rely on it".

Journey 4
Journey 4Other wheelchair users disclose the meticulous work involved in planning a journey: "I use Google Maps' satellite function to determine the state of the pavement I'd need to take" and the unforeseen obstacles that can frustrate them and delay their journeys: "If the bus stops at an awkward place, it can be a struggle wheeling up".

What is more, official apps and tools consistently fail to cater to wheelchair users' individual needs. For the Westminster bound journey, the TFL journey planner suggested a change at Finchley Road to use the Jubilee line, in a similar manner to the able-bodied passenger. In reality, staff at the starting point of the journey advised this was not possible, as the gap there would be far too large for an electric wheelchair. It transpired that the route recommended by the journey planner would have only worked for a manual wheelchair user, potentially leaving any electronic wheelchair users stranded had they taken the recommended route.

London Commutes Paved with Obstacles

Journey 5
Journey 5

Despite carefully planning their journeys for the experiment, wheelchair users still encountered unforeseen obstacles and challenges, some of which they say are a regular occurrence on their commutes on public transport:

These are only a few of the dreadful obstacles wheelchair users face on a regular basis on their London public transport journeys. We must bring attention to these facts, as there's so much more that can be done to make public transport more accessible, reliable and pleasant for wheelchair users.

Primary Information Source(s):

London Public Transport - A Nightmare for Wheelchair Users | Bolt Burdon Kemp ( Disabled World makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith. Content may have been edited for style, clarity or length.

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Cite This Page (APA): Bolt Burdon Kemp. (2019, April 12). London Public Transport - A Nightmare for Wheelchair Users. Disabled World. Retrieved August 10, 2022 from

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