Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from Jonathan L Fisher (DAT 84)

Guide dog owner for three years, severely sight impaired for many years.

My personal observations and experiences of public transport in Surrey and the U.K.

Rail transport: surface railways and underground trains.

My local station, Egham is accessible on foot to book tickets; however, I need help to board a train from the platform. Finding the door controls is not easy.

One platform’s surface is very uneven.

Without my guide dog, a long cane would not safely guide me to the exit without serious risk of going off the edge.

Over the past years the new trains now have higher floors perhaps 6 inches or higher above the platform.

When taking care to board or alight, I often feel harassed by unsympathetic fellow travellers.

I will not plan a train journey without a companion to ensure my safety.

If I am planning an independent journey I have to arrange this with the Assistance Department of South West Trains.

Impromptu travel is not a possibility; “turn up and go!”.

On many occasions, the booking clerk has to leave their post because the pre-booked assistant has not been available to help me.

The staffing levels are inadequate around the Staines Windsor and Egham district to ensure this.

When I get assistance from railway staff, I always find them completely competent, friendly and efficient.

I know that my dog and I will be safely considered.

The legacy of 19th century architecture often makes demands on my agility. Wide and deep gaps between trains and platforms are a challenge at even major stations like Clapham Junction and Waterloo.

Just adding the standard platform tactile edge at Egham would help a lot.

The newly improved and accessible London Underground stations are a fantastic improvement! However, even at the Bank station Central Line platform, I sustained an injury when boarding a train.

Before my sight failed completely, I enjoyed rail travel to all parts of Great Britain. Unwittingly I have built up a massive visual memory on which I can call upon.

Without this, I would not have anything like the confidence I have to travel.

Please could railway companies be called upon to provide an instant access support service so that I could share the same service as able-bodied people and “turn up and go”?

Interchanging between long distance train services is often tricky. Seat reservations have frequently not been honoured. This puts well meaning railway staff under unnecessary additional stress when they try their best to help me.

Road transport:

In common with many visually impaired people I use taxis and private hire companies.

Over the past months, I have found a couple of taxi companies whose drivers have refused to carry me and my Guide Dog. One company, Alpha Cars of Crawley who had been informed that I had a Guide Dog with me let me and three sighted companions down twice in one night!

Their Asian drivers refused to carry my Guide Dog, Eddie and me.

Crawley Council’s Licensing Officer has helped by organising Awareness training to underline the obligation to convey passengers with assistance dogs.

Through my social network I know that this occasionally happens. It is not frequent but when it does, it’s a problem any passenger can do well without.

Buses:

My local bus service through Egham does not have the extremely helpful audio announcements like those on London’s buses.

If I were to travel on my own by bus getting to my destination would be reliant on my guessing where I had got to!

There are no tactile marks on the pavement at any local bus stops, so here again, just standing at the bus stop would be a lottery! With no sight; how can I know when a bus has approached or stopped for me?

For this reason, the only way that I can travel on any local bus is in the guiding accompaniment of a sighted friend.

I hope very much that all Surrey bus services will have the same accessibility level as those in London.

The boundary between TfL and Surrey controlled territory is more impenetrable than the defunct Berlin Wall to any visually impaired traveller!

I wrote to my MP when he was Minister for Transport asking if he would support the campaign for access improvement and the audio announcements in particular.

I simply was told that in his view that the cost of this would be too great and that he could not support the campaign!

By default; he is breaching the terms of Equality legislation.

I hope that the Committee will find my comments of value and that it may in time cause the shortcomings of our public transport system to be eliminated.

May 2013

Prepared 13th September 2013