In the first of a series of special reports on No Go Britain, Katie Razzall looks at a growing campaign by disabled passengers pushing for a better deal on public transport.
What’s your worst experience on public transport? A long delay? A cancelled train?
You’re unlikely to beat this. Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, a Paralympian who won 16 medals during her career, told Channel 4 News that only a few weeks ago she was left on a train at midnight and forced to “throw my chair off the train and then crawl off”.
Her story isn’t unique. We have spoken to individual disabled travellers and disabled charities about the experience they have of using Britain’s public transport system. What they describe is shocking and has spurred us to begin a series we’re calling No Go Britain. It’s an investigation into the state of Britain’s transport network.
We’ve been told of wheelchair users refused access to buses and left in the cold for hours; blind travellers stuck on trains because no member of staff arrived to meet them; one man with a learning difficulty went missing for three days because he got lost after ending up on the wrong train when his platform changed.
The law says that transport companies must make their networks accessible so that disabled people aren’t “discriminated against or harassed in relation to the use of transport services”. In other words, that they can take buses and trains like the rest of us. In practice, that often doesn’t happen, for a wide variety of reasons, from the cost of upgrading networks to bad driver training.
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But some disabled people are fighting back. Channel 4 News has spoken to a group of bus passengers in the north east. The “Darlington 16” are taking their local bus company, Arriva, to court in the first case of its kind. They claim they are being discriminated against because ramps on the buses are often faulty, people in wheelchairs are often left waiting at bus stops and they say drivers aren’t trained properly.
One of them, Antony Wilson, told us: “Arriva Buses are getting worse and worse… I go to college in Durham and I have to leave an hour and a half early to get there on time… I’m fuming because I want my independence, I want to be able to go out and find work but I can’t find a job because I have to travel so I have to look for jobs close to home and they’re just not there.”
We filmed Antony Wilson as he headed home from Darlington. His journey was eventful. The first bus that arrived had a faulty ramp so he couldn’t get on. The bus company told us the bus was “functional” apart from that.
With the Olympics and Paralympics almost upon us, Britain’s ageing transport network will be laid bare.
Arriva told us it’s well ahead of targets to bring in wheelchair accessible buses and has spent £23m. The company says: “We strive to ensure all our passengers have the best possible experience with our bus services and would encourage anyone whose experience falls below that to contact our customer service teams… While there are times where we cannot guarantee every single bus will be wheelchair accessible, we do not believe these examples are representative of the experience of the vast majority of wheelchair users or other people with reduced mobility.”
With the Olympics and Paralympics almost upon us, Britain’s ageing transport network will be laid bare. We’ve been promised the most accessible Games ever. But much of Britain is far from that.
On Tuesday, the campaign group A2BforAll will demand something is done. They want better training of transport staff when it comes to disability issues, a centralised register of complaints to ensure the problems of disabled travellers aren’t ignored and a new regulator – funded by the rail industry – who can take those complaints into account when deciding about franchises.
For the moment, though, much of Britain’s transport network remains a no go zone for all except the most hardened disabled travellers.
Channel 4 News has launched an investigation into how easy it is for disabled people, and those with reduced mobility and visual impairment, to use the UK’s public transport system. No Go Britain will ask disabled viewers and users for their experiences of public transport across the UK. The project will engage with public transport users, charities, transport companies and policymakers.
We will bring disabled travellers together with transport bosses, and show a series of reports that investigate the state of the network through the stories of its disabled users.