Southampton to Worthing: Cars need not apply

The next thrilling instalment of Ian’s ‘Diary of A Public Transport Virgin’:

A while ago I was asked to speak at the AGM of the Independent Living Association (ILA), a ULO that is based in Worthing and covers West Sussex. As a founding member of SENPDO, SCIL is very keen to support other ULO’s in the South East, and in the process enable SCIL to learn from what they are doing.

I therefore accepted the invitation; the issue of how I might actually get there only cropped up in my mind closer to the actual event.

Remember – I can’t drive at the moment, and Worthing is far too far to ask someone to drive me to as a favour – so cars could not feature in how I might get to Worthing.

Now getting to Worthing isn’t difficult, I thought, I’ll just get the train. However, whilst the train is a safe bet, the issue is always how to actually get to the venue from the train station; not a problem in London where accessible taxis are the norm, but in an unfamiliar town, I have learnt from past experiences never to take the availability of accessible taxis for granted.

Two week before the event I read the email invite; the AGM venue was Worthing Leisure Centre sure enough, but I discovered that it wasn’t in Worthing as I had assumed (Hint: never assume anything!). The venue was in Durrington-on-Sea; no, I’ve never heard of it before either!

If I hadn’t heard of this place before, the chances were that getting to it via train might be a problem, and the prospect of accessible taxis would be an improbable dream – especially as I only had a few days to go before the AGM, so not much time to research availability, or come up with a plan B.

Just as I thought I’d got a real problem on my hands, I got lucky – very lucky; it turned out that Durrington-on-Sea did have an accessible train station, and the leisure centre was only about 400 metres from the train station – I would be able to get there from the train station in my wheelchair. How lucky am I!

I have one of these smart phones; one of the very few ‘apps’ that I find useful is “TheTrainline”. The App is much easier to use than their website, and it allows me to very easily find out the best way of getting a train from A to B, and with the least amount of train changes (I hate having to change trains and avoid the stress whenever possible). I normally use the App just to find out train times and the optimal route; however, you can also use TheTrainline App to book and pay for tickets. If you book ahead you can get some great discounts. Sadly at the moment you cannot use the App to book assistance onto the train, but you can input your Disabled Person’s Railcard number to get your discount.

For the first time I plucked up the courage to book my ticket via TheTrainline App; amazingly even though I only booked it about 10 days before the actual day, I managed to get a return ticket for just £9! – £9 for a journey from Southampton to Worthing (well, almost). After I had booked and paid for the ticket, all I had to do, it said, was to get the tickets from one of the automatic ticket machines at the train station.

So I turned up on the day at Southampton Central train station, to get my tickets from the machine, arrange assistance onto the train, and catch the Southern Railways train to Durrington-on-Sea.

I have never used an automatic ticket machine before, I always worry about getting my fingers into the little slots to get my credit card in and the train tickets out. It would be OK if I was travelling with a PA, but today I wasn’t. Anyway, low-and-behold, I couldn’t get my fingers into the slots, so I found a very helpful member of staff to help me, and it was actually very easy and she was not at all patronising as they sometimes are.

So with tickets in my hand, I went to platform 2, about 15 minutes before the train departed and booked the assistance there and then without any bother. Train companies say you should book assistance at least 24 hours in advance; which I almost never do for 2 reasons: ((1): Why should I? non-disabled passengers can just spontaneously jump on the train whenever they like – why should it be different for Disabled People?, and (2): I find it hard to be organised enough, let alone having to visit the train station a day in advance or ring them up). I find that most of the stations I use don’t get ‘jobs-worthy’ if you just turn up; they just put you on without a fuss – the way it should be.

The journey was fine, the accessible part of the carriage was OK, but a bit cramped if you were travelling with a PA or friends. And when it arrived at Durrington-on-Sea there was a man with a ramp waiting for me. (Even now I get nervous about whether or not someone will be there, even though 9 times out of 10 it is not problem – In fact I always ask the ticket guard to either ring ahead to check, or come to me when I need to get off, just in case!) .

So, I’d made it to Durrington-on-Sea without a hitch, in enough time to find a cafe and have a late breakfast before going onto the Worthing Leisure Centre for the AGM. WHAT A DUMP! Not an electric door to be seen, accessible toilets too small; the whole place badly needs a refurbishment (or a bulldozer!).ugh time to find a cafe and have a late breakfast before going onto the Worthing Leisure Cen

The ILA AGM was great, very user-led and, as I hoped, gave me several ideas for SCIL. I hope I also gave them a though provoking presentation.

The trains from Durrington-on-Sea to Southampton left only every 60 minutes, and as always at these events, it is hard to get away at the end, always lots to talk about to lots of people to talk to.

So inevitably I left it too late before I said my goodbyes and left. – In fact just 10 minutes before the train left, and remember, I had not booked assistance! (How on earth can I be expected to predict the return train when I don’t know which one I might need to catch?).

Now, Durrington-on-Sea is a small station, and whilst access to the station side was fine on the way in, the other platform was not accessible via road or via lift access. I was informed that I had to go up this narrow private walkway to get to it. This seemed easy when I was told, but with less than 10 minutes before the train left, this was not a good time to try and find the walkway for the first time, especially as there seemed to be no signage at all! – not one.

When I eventually found it, I only had 3 minutes to one, it was a long walkway and I resigned myself to missing this train and having to wait an hour for the next one.

Literally, just as I rounded the corner onto the platform, the train was coming to a halt. I felt it highly unlikely they would be able to put me on at zero notice (even I would have accepted this was not a reasonable request!).

However, as the train doors opened, the guard stepped onto the platform, I asked if there was any chance; and without a single complaint, or even a huff or a puff, he just got the ramp and put me on. He was fantastic, the train was packed, and yet he gently got everyone to move so I could get to the wheelchair space. I felt guilty at expecting him to do this at zero notice, but was so grateful that he took it all in his stride.

And that was it really, the same guard got me off at Southampton Central and I just had to get a taxi home from there.

For those that don’t know, Southampton’s accessible taxi policy is hit and miss to say the least, and it can be very difficult to try and spontaneously book a taxi; but the rank at Southampton Central normally has at least one accessible white cab taxi on it (during office hours anyway).

So there we are; the journey from Southampton to Durrington-on-Sea went (almost) without a hitch; and the customer service at both ends was second to none. Highly recommended (oh, but take my advice – give the leisure centre a miss!)

My equality score: 5 points

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