Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from Amanda Winterburn (DAT 71)

About Me and why I Use the Scooter I do

I am a 42 yr old lady who through illness is unable to stand unsupported, my core muscles and hand/arm muscles are poor, and therefore I need to use a body harness to support me in sitting upright. For some reason unknown to me wheelchair services will not provide me with an electric wheelchair. I am therefore left with a manual wheelchair which I am unable to mobilise outside more than a few feet and certainly not the distance to the nearest bus stop on Hanworth Road.

I live alone with no family support. Because of this I was unable to go out without my PA who comes only a few hours (20per week to be precise) to assist with my personal care, cleaning my home and everything else a 42yr active disabled person requires. I therefore looked into the options I had available, those being...stay at home and have no life or ability to go to a shop to choose my own fresh food, buy an electric wheelchair (assessed at being over £6,000 for my needs) or buying an electric mobility scooter with a high back to accommodate my body harness (assessed cost £1,500 max) As I am unable to work and need to adapt my home myself to retain a quality of life and dignity I chose to buy the mobility scooter and save the rest of my money to buy the through floor lift I require for my home. I bought the smallest scooter I could find that that had a backrest for my harness and was stable enough for me to feel safe on as like previously mentioned my core muscles are poor/weak so balancing my torso is difficult and that plus an unstable scooter would result in it tipping sideways with me still strapped in it (like rolling a car) the scooter chosen was a rascal 388XL (I am a big girl!) this enables me to get out on my own with no support, I can now get to and around the supermarket independently and even have become an unpaid director of a disability charity in my borough as I can now get myself to meetings etc, and have resumed my social life.

My Problems with Transport

Busses

Before TFL brought in the thing where certain mobility scooters can use the busses with a scooter card I often used the 111 bus to go to Hounslow or Kingston whichever I wanted to get to, both have accessible train stations. I used it to go shopping, get to a station where I could go further afield by train, visit friends, go to a pub I visited regularly to have a decent cooked meal etc. But since the guidelines have been brought in and scooter cards introduced, my scooter is now all of a sudden too big for the bus. Even though it fits in the wheelchair space with a single kiddie buggy still erected sharing the space.

Ok I agree my scooter does not fit on all busses eg the 110 bus, but just because I don’t fit some does not mean I should be exempt from using those I do fit on. It is like saying because you do not fit into size 10 trousers you can’t wear any trousers at all ever!

My other really big bug bear with busses is many drivers insist on driving up behind me (I have road tax and insurance and a full driving licence allowing me to legally use scoot on the road) and hanging on their horn, often waving their arms or shouting at me to get on the pavement. So not only am I not allowed on the bus, the drivers try to intimidate me off the road too!

Trains

Give SW trains their due, I do find they usually allow scoot on with no questions being asked, but if I were to apply for their scooter card I would be refused as my scooter is larger than the allowed dimensions stated. This means I never quite know if I will be allowed on or not which is very stressful and has at times restricted my going any great distance in case I can’t get back. Luckily I can argue a good case about having used them so many times before and throwing in the discrimination word a few times rather loudly, that most officials back down and allow me to board!

The staff are generally courteous and keep me informed as to the procedure for disembarking, though a few times the guard has forgot I am on the train needing assistance!

Every train company and the busses each have their own scooter card you “must” have to travel on their services, this means for someone whose scooter does fit the dimensions allowed, they have to apply for loads of different scooter cards especially for example if they were to use a bus to the station, SW train to Waterloo then a east line (or something) train to the coast, they would need three different scooter cards to do this journey! Silly when they all seem to use the same or very similar allowed dimensions regardless of the space they have available!

Some stations are accessible, but the part time staff there are not trained to deploy the ramp (even though I could talk a strong 6yrold through deploying it pretty easily!) this means I have to wait for the 8 coach train to stop, fight my way through the exiting and entering passengers, trying not to run those not watching what they are doing over, to find the guard among all the heads I can see to ask him if he can put out the ramp. Most are ok, better since the Olympics, but some are jobs worth’s who insist on asking if I pre booked and telling me I have to, quoting the “you should ring before you leave/let us know 24 hours before” stuff at me. I simply reply the truth which is.. I never know if my PA will be on time to get me up to catch a specific train, I could wake up unable to get out of bed, I could need to change my incontinence pad at the last minute if I poop myself or get a flat tyre on route any of these would result in me missing a booked train, also, just because I am disabled does not mean my right to spontaneity should be taken away from me. Then you get the downright cruel, those who refuse to put you on or let anyone else put you on the next train and make you wait in freezing or wet conditions for the next one, even when the guard has the ramp in his hand ready to deploy it for me, Feltham station are excellent at this, Christmas eve I arrived at the station ten minutes before the train was due, waited about five minutes in the queue at the pay desk to request a ramp because, though it is classed as a manned station, there were no staff to be seen other than those in the pay desk. I was told the guy who deploys the ramp was in a meeting and I would have to wait almost half an hour to go to Richmond, I had just scooted 30 minutes to reach the station and was already pretty cold and it was my first outing for over a week due to pressure sores on my bum, so when the first train came in, I asked the guard for the ramp explaining the guy who does it is not around, the guard got off the train, unlocked the ramp and moved a couple of steps towards the train, when the station manager came running down the platform waving his hands and shouting at the guard that he couldn’t put me on the train because I had been told I had to wait for the one in twenty minutes time!, they and I argued for a few minutes (longer than it would have taken for me to board), the guard backed down and the train left without me! the result I missed my connection in Richmond, so not only did I freeze for an extra twenty minutes at Feltham, I had a thirty minute wait in Richmond too, the result I was frozen to the core, exhausted and cried when I did eventually get on a train, did not get all the gifts delivered, was in bed for best part of a week due to the pain getting over cold caused, spent Christmas alone as I was in too much pain to go to friends, and as I did not have as long as I had planned in Kingston and had planned Christmas lunch at friends I didn’t even get the shopping I needed to make a proper Christmas lunch. Christmas for me was spent alone in bed with a chicken ready meal!...Thanks a lot Feltham station manager!

Making disabled people wait like this in cold conditions is extremely dangerous, I do not have the ability to keep warm or get warm like a walking person, when I get cold I stay cold and it triggers excruciating pain, both of which cause me to become physically exhausted very quickly. Also with a compromised immune system, the longer I wait the longer I am around other people, the more risk of catching bugs, pneumonia and flu are a big risk for me as I have chest problems, which in reality, could kill me!

Underground Trains

Most stations are not accessible at all, some stations are only accessible by walkers and manual wheelchairs, not mobility scooters or electric wheelchairs. The only underground I know confidently that I can use is the one between Waterloo and Stratford.

Underground accessible maps are unrealistic in the gaps and steps they deem as accessible. Any step over two inches is difficult for an independent manual wheelchair user without assistance and would not do much good for a scooter or its passenger as they do not have suspension meaning even uneven paving slabs cause pain after a while!, any gap over 4–5 inches I would not chance on scoot in case his wheels got stuck yet gaps and steps well over this are deemed accessible. This I expect has caused many a newly disabled traveller much grief and stress when they try to disembark an “accessible” station/train only to find the optimism of the map unequal to the ability of the wheelchair/scooter or their otherwise confident user.

Comcabs

Although my scooter fits in a com cab, the service is very unreliable, having left me 2 and a half hours in the rain and dark of night a few months ago and over the past year on many occasions leaving me waiting well over the average time for a cab to be found, I feel now I can only use it as a hail and ride service not a home to wherever service. Ok I do live on the fringe of my borough, but the service should be the same for all disabled people. Often cabs do not have the ramp extension needed so I almost and on one occasion did tip backwards leaving me on my back strapped in with my legs in the air, only for the driver to say when we get you standing we will put the scooter right for you to get back on... ermmm....I can’t stand! Also because drivers are allowed to keep the meter running whilst putting the ramp out for me to enter the cab, my one swipe does not get me as far as a walking persons one swipe goes, so those in wheelchairs or scooters do not get the same distance as those who can quickly step into the cab especially as some drivers insist on going to the ramp, looking at it, going back round to the drivers side dashboard to get surgical gloves to put on , spend ages putting them on before deploying the ramp, then fiddling around “struggling” to unlock the boot to get the extension before “struggling” to fit it..meaning by the time I get in and they have keyed in the swipe card, often well over £4 of the swipe is gone and we have not even left the starting destination.

Another note on com cabs is that living on the very edge of the borough means I am unable to get to the other side of the borough using even two swipes back to back unless I add extra money to it, this is partly the distance, but partly that the drivers restart the clock with the £2 something on it when they reswipe the card instead of letting the meter run on like they would if I was a fully paying customer, so they get double run in charges plus the ramp deployment charge out of one journey.

Cable car

As is what seems to be the norm, I am not allowed to use this either, though I was told I could leave my mobility scooter in the booking office... only problem with that is how do I get from the booking office to the cab when I can’t walk, and how do I continue my onward journey if my scooter is stuck at the opposite side of the Thames! The excuse I was given was the weight limit of the cabs/cable, though as it is well known the cable car is running at less than half capacity, I do not feel this to be a valid, reasonable or acceptable excuse for denying access to anyone in a mobility scooter of any size. If weight is a problem, simple solution is to put less people in the cab with the scooter! Does this new structure not have to comply to disability laws? Denying access is truly a sign that scooters are still being discriminated against in a big way even in new developments.

Summary

I now feel very excluded from most forms of transport.

I feel discriminated against by TFL for needing a medium size mobility scooter to get about in independently.

I have to choose between using my PA to bathe me and clean my home or to push my manual wheelchair so I can access public transport for a two hour outing!

My world is now almost always limited to the distance my mobility scooter will take me without using public transport at all.. that is Hounslow, Feltham, Twickenham or Teddington at a push. All of which are weather and stamina dependent, when either is not good I am housebound.

I strongly feel if I fit then I should be allowed on, only I can tell whether I fit as only I know my driving ability.

I feel one scooter card should cover all transport modes, listing those that the person has been individually assessed as being capable of using safely. Just because you do not fit in size 6 trousers does not mean you simply don’t wear any does it? Well it should be the same for mobility scooters on transport. Our journeys are difficult enough without the transport system making them impossible.

February 2013

Prepared 13th September 2013