20 Jun 2012

Paralympics transport ‘will make London look stupid’

As Channel 4 News hosts a debate between disability campaigners and representatives of London’s transport network, charities and disabled people tell us their concerns.

Since our No Go Britain investigation began, hundreds of disabled people have contacted Channel 4 News highlighting their own experiences of trying to get around on public transport.

Many have given up, others say they have endured humiliation. All want more improvements as London prepares to host the prestigious Olympic and Paralympic Games – with a number of people warning that the city could become a laughing stock.

Disabled people travelled to the capital yesterday to throw the spotlight on the extent of London’s public-transport inadequacies.

They protested in front of the Houses of Parliament and highlighted the sort of problems they face when wheelchair users were unable to board a bus because of a lack of ramp.

They had a strong message for transport policymakers.

Robin Surgeoner, a former Paralympian swimmer, said there had been little change in the 20 years since he began campaigning for better transport facilities.

“Access for the Paralympians is going to be an absolute nightmare,” he said. “It will make us as a country look stupid.”

Inconvenienced ‘all the time’

He said yesterday’s protest, during which some campaigners sat or parked their wheelchairs in front of the ramp-less bus, was essential to raise public awareness in order to increase pressure on politicians and transport bosses.

“It might inconvenience a few people for a few moments, but we are inconvenienced all the time,” he said.

We are almost at the end of our tether Maria Nash

Christine Chidzomba spoke to Channel 4 News while sitting on the road in front of the bus. She said accessibility inadequacies made a mockery of the government’s attempts to encourage more disabled people into work.

“I don’t know how disabled people are actually expected to be able to go out and look for work,” she said.

Maria Nash, who was also in a wheelchair, said disabled people felt driven to disrupt London’s rush-hour out of desperation.

She said: “We are forced to come out of our shells and come and demonstrate in the streets of London, for all disabled people – not only for us. For every single person.

“We are almost at the end of our tether.”

Faryal Velmi, director of Transport for All, acknowledged the investment that had been made in public transport for disabled people, which she said had been brought about through campaigning rather than political benevolence.

‘Not a minority issue’

But she added: “Now in 2012 we need more. We have got buses with wheelchair spaces, ramps, etc.

“What we need now is more improvements and also an understanding from politicians that accessible transport is not a minority issue – it is actually integral to any public transport network.”

Mike Brown, from Transport for London, John Major, of the Confederation of Passenger Transport, and David Sindall, head of disability and inclusion at the Association of Train Operating Companies, will be in the studio to face the questions.

Also in the studio will be disabled passengers Anthony Wilson Julie Thomas and Zara Todd, who have featured in our No Go Britain series.

Charities and organisations that have been contacting us have sent the panel a list of demands, including:

– Continuing training for public transport staff dealing with the public;

– A centralised complaints register to be considered when awarding and renewing franchises;

– Audio announcements on all buses;

– Accessible information at bus stops;

– Visual announcements in every train carriage for deaf passengers, and visible messages on platforms informing passengers of platform changes, train delays and cancellations.