London Public Transport a Nightmare for Wheelchair Users
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 is often unprepared to offer assistance. On average, a London wheelchair user's commute takes 49% longer than a non-disabled person's.
To highlight accessibility issues, a new travel experiment sent wheelchair users and non-disabled people on five of the busiest London commute routes, revealing just how hard it is for disabled passengers to navigate the public transport system.
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:
- Longer commutes and restricted access to the transport network: With only 77 out of 270 stations fully accessible, wheelchair users' commutes took 49% longer than those of non-disabled participants.
- Planning is an exhausting challenge: Users stated official transport apps are both unreliable and inaccurate. From using Citymapper to plan journeys and Google Maps satellite to determine the state of pavements, transport apps are unreliable for wheelchair users.
- Paved with obstacles: Wheelchair users encountered countless unforeseen obstacles along the way, from unhelpful transport staff, lack of staff assistance, and difficult transfers at bus stations such as uneven terrain or uphill transfers.
It's the busiest commuter city in the UK and Europe, with 1.3 million daily journeys by people with disabilities in London. 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, starting their journey from the same point simultaneously and finishing at the same destination. The experiment was carried out to raise awareness of accessibility issues on public transport.
Longer Commutes and Restricted Access to London's Transport Network
With only 77 out of 270 stations fully accessible for wheelchair users, London's transport options are often minimal for people with disabilities, making their journeys longer and filled with challenges. The five commuter journeys carried out during this experiment took wheelchair users a combined total of 3 hours and 5 minutes to complete - 49% longer than non-disabled 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 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".
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 that it can get tough." Traveling from Victoria to Oxford Circus - a journey that can take a mere 4 minutes for a non-disabled 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."
What is more, official apps and tools consistently fail to cater to wheelchair users' individual needs. For the Westminster-bound journey, the TFL planner suggested a change at Finchley Road to use the Jubilee line similarly to the non-disabled passenger. In reality, staff at the journey's starting point advised this was impossible, 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
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:
- Transport staff are often unprepared to offer assistance.
One participant was left waiting on a bus arriving at King's Cross station as the driver closed the doors before she could exit using the ramp. She disclosed some bus drivers have difficulty activating the ramp: "It sounds ridiculous, but sometimes the driver might even ask me for guidance on how to activate it!
- Or lacking altogether...
On the Westminster-bound journey, Jennifer, the wheelchair user experimenting, faced an unexpected challenge, as there was no staff present to assist with setting up a ramp at the destination, despite assurance from the information point that this had been arranged for her. This left Jennifer with only one option: relying on help from a stranger to exit and navigate the station.
- Difficult transfers are another prevalent issue.
To get to the London Bridge bus station from the London Bridge underground station, the wheelchair user needed to traverse an entirely uphill transfer. "I'm a very active wheelchair user, but even I was tempted to stop for a minute to catch my breath," revealed Sau, who took part in the experiment.
These are only a few dreadful obstacles wheelchair users regularly face on their London public transport journeys. We must bring attention to these facts, as much more can be done to make public transport accessible, reliable, and pleasant for wheelchair users.
This quality-reviewed article relating to our Public Disability Transport section was selected for publishing by the editors of Disabled World due to its likely interest to our disability community readers. Though the content may have been edited for style, clarity, or length, the article "London Public Transport a Nightmare for Wheelchair Users" was originally written by Bolt Burdon Kemp, and published by Disabled-World.com on 2019/04/12 (Updated: 2022/08/19). Should you require further information or clarification, Bolt Burdon Kemp can be contacted at boltburdonkemp.co.uk. Disabled World makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith.
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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 October 4, 2023 from www.disabled-world.com/disability/transport/public/london-access.php
Disabled World is an independent disability community founded in 2004 to provide disability news and information to people with disabilities, seniors, their family and/or carers. See our homepage for informative reviews, exclusive stories and how-tos. You can connect with us on social media such as X.com and our Facebook page.
Disabled World provides general information only. The materials presented are never meant to substitute for qualified professional medical care, nor should they be construed as such. Funding is derived from advertisements or referral programs. Any 3rd party offering or advertising does not constitute an endorsement.