This is the first in a new series of blog posts written by SCIL’s chief executive, Ian Loynes. We hope you enjoy…..
The first thing to say is that I am not a complete public transport virgin, I have used some public transport, trains to London, taxis, planes etc. But all of these are easy options, and until recently I had the option of driving my car for any occasion where public transport might be in the slightest bit difficult.
I live in Eastleigh and work in Southampton, which being an urban area, benefits from a well developed public transport system, albeit one which I have only very seldomly used.
My job is full time and very busy, my private life is similarly busy, and I am used to easy transport, mainly driving my car.
As a result I know very little about local public transport. Which bus companies are there? How do I find out the different ways of getting from A-B?
So, I am in a real sense a public transport virgin, I have fiddled around a bit, but never have I gone the full hog, dependent on public transport to get around.
You see, my circumstances have changed, with medical issues happening in May which will prevent me from driving for 12 months, I fear it will be 12 very very long months!
So, transport is suddenly much more difficult, I worry that I cannot take transport for granted any more; spontaneity may be out of the window. I no longer have the option of just ‘jumping in the car’. How can I continue to function in a job and private lives which takes transport for granted; available where and when I need it.
Importantly, as a regular wheelchair user, I know public transport has steadily become more aware of the needs of Disabled People, but I have real concerns that public transport might be found badly wanting in a day-to-day and consistent ability to meet my needs. (Backed up by many bad experiences reported by other Disabled People)
So, since that fateful day in May 2011, I have been trust into trying to make public transport meet my day-to-day transport needs. When I talked about my early public transport expeditions, a friend suggested I should write a blog, sharing my experiences, good and bad, via SCIL’s blog. This blog is the result of that fabulous idea.
My reason for writing this blog is simple. I want to discover just how practical public transport is for Disabled People. As I am a wheelchair user, I can only directly relate my experiences to those of a wheelchair user, and obviously the access issues I have. I will however, endeavour to write this blog from as wide a Disability arena as possible. Where is it good and where is it bad? I hope my experiences over the next year, and the contributions from you the reader, will show a powerful message.
Have we reached a tipping point where public transport is now a viable day-to-day option for Disabled People, or is the reality a long way away from promises and rhetoric?
This blog will not be a thinly veiled ‘bash the public transport providers’ blog.
I will be writing this blog from the perspective of wanting it to work, after all I really do need to make it work as jumping in my car is no longer the easy option. Therefore this blog intends to be honest but positive, but mark my words I will not hold back when public transport is found wanting.
In writing this blog, which is primarily a narrative on the accessibility of public transport for Disabled People; I hope it will also, in some small way, motivate policy makers and transport providers to address any barriers I discover. It is of course worth repeating that if we get access right for Disabled People, we also improve access for everyone (particularly parents with children in prams and pushchairs for instance, for whom the lack of level and easy access may well be as profound a problem as it is for me).
So how will I feel in May 2012, will I be a public transport convert, or will I be hugging my steering wheel and glad to get my freedom back?
I hope this blog will show what the barriers are and where improvements can and should be made, as well as celebrating where it works well.
I also hope that this blog might provide good evidence to convince more Disabled People to give public transport a try. There is no doubt that many millions of £’s have been spent of trying to make public transport accessible to Disabled People; but why bother if no one uses it.
However, I realise we are in a chicken and egg scenario here, Disabled People are unlikely to use public transport until they trust it, until it is consistent and easy, until we do not have to worry about being stranded in an inaccessible loop-hole. I also understand that investment in access needs to show a return, and transport providers might stop investing in further improvements if those they have made are not being used. So which does come first, the chicken or the egg!
I won’t pretend that these first few blogs are in real time, it has taken me a while to be convinced a blog was worthwhile and another while to get round to doing it. In the meantime I have completed several public transport journeys. So, the first few of my blogs are playing catch-up.
For each experience of public transport, I will award an ‘equality score’ of between 1 and 5. A 5 star award means my experience as a wheelchair user was as good as a non-disabled user would expect. Conversely, a 1 star award will mean my experience was very poor when compared to a non-disabled user. Please be aware however, that my scoring will be primarily as a wheelchair user, and may therefore, be different for Disabled People with other impairments.
I will also be blogging periodically about other relevant issues as well, for instance getting and using a Disabled Person’s Railcard, free bus travel concessions, and the Social Model of Disability.
I hope you will follow my journey, and contribute your opinions and experiences.