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How public is the "Public Transport Games"?

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Peter White Peter White | 11:51 AM, Thursday, 10 June 2010

underground_train_blurry.jpgI can see that I'm soon going to be "persona non grata" on the London Underground, which is a shame, since it's one of my favourite forms of transport. But ever since London won its bid for the 2012 Olympics, and it was declared that this would be a "Public Transport" games, You and Yours has been exploring just how well this is likely to work for disabled travellers.

I've been on what's virtually become an annual pilgrimage, starting at Heathrow where many disabled visitors to the Olympics and Paralympics would be likely to arrive, and travelling east to the hub for the games at Stratford. The problem is that this is a massive challenge they've given themselves.

The problems are well rehearsed. We're dealing with an underground system much of which was built in the mid-Victorian era. It takes time and money to update old stock in both trains and buses; and disabled people come in many shapes and sizes: wheelchair users who need level access; blind people like me who need good, consistent information in a spoken form; deaf people who need good, consistent information in a visual form: etc, etc. It would be churlish to ignore the fact that they are trying really hard: hundreds of millions of pounds are being spent on installing lifts to take people down to ticket-buying level (although not always platform level, which is another story); information websites are being developed and improved all the time; London buses now have a comprehensive audio-system on them.

The problem is that every time I go on my pilgrimage, we still hit little snags; and for a disabled person dependent on consistency, it only takes one little snag to "de-rail" a journey: such as a bit of inaccurate information on a web-site, a wrong announcement in an elevator, or a train failure which leaves a wheelchair user stranded at a station where there is no access to opposite platforms so that they can change direction.

My own particular bugbear is announcements; time and time again, including this latest journey for the programme, officials assure me that good announcements are now mandatory, and time and time again I board trains where no announcements are made. No one can tell me why not. I know these announcements annoy some people, and I have sympathy with those who don't want a diatribe on how to organise their lives, not to forget their luggage, carry water with them, and generally obey a host of rules; but honestly, all I'm asking for is consistent announcements about the stop you're reaching at the moment and which is the next one! Tell me honestly who, whether they can see or not, hasn't needed that kind of information from time to time! And surely the glory of that change is that it should be totally cost-free.

Anyway, we'll keep plugging away with some bouquets as well as brickbats! For instance, the quality of staff help I get on the London Underground is second to none, and all credit to them for it! So don't ban me guys!

Just one little thought occurs to me! If you're a disabled person, and you've got hold of a ticket to an Olympic or Paralympic event, and you've paid for a plane ticket to get you into Heathrow, wouldn't you just jump in a taxi to get you to the "Public Transport" games!

Peter White presents You and Yours and In Touch on BBC Radio 4


  • Comment number 1.

    Peter - it was a pleasure to go on the Olympic trip with you. You're right about the bugbears. As for jumping into a taxi, they are prohibitively expensive for a distance from Heathrow to Stratford - even from Paddington (presuming you take the Heathrow Express) a pre-booked minicab is about £25 and a black taxi far more. I would hope and expect there will be many disabled people on public transport.

    I too have blogged about the journey, from a wheelchair user's perspective. It's at

    I hope that by the next time we undertake the trip, not only will access have improved but also the information be provided in a joined up manner, which it isn't at present.

    - Flash Bristow

  • Comment number 2.

    I am not disabled but have worked with many children who are.
    My concern is for people who are not disabled but are not very tall and have a real fear of 'the gap'.
    I am 60 , still work full time and love to travel. I am 5' 2". When I get a train to London from Brighton there are huge gaps between the platform and the carriage at Brighton station and at the terminal stations in London, but my biggest concern is at Clapham Junction. It is also not just the gap, it's the height too.
    I try and find a guard without much luck, and often resort to calling out to a fellow passenger to help me get off the train, particularly if I have luggage. I have also found help.
    In many other countries e.g. Netherlands, there are steps to get off the train and in the USA steps drop down when the train stops. Why is this not possible here?
    I have written to train companies but get the reply that the stations are very old and it is difficult to design suitable trains. They can put men on the moon.
    Governments are encouraging us to use public transport but do not seem to understand this issue.

  • Comment number 3.

    Public transport in London is a mess and the Olympics has offered no improvement.

    The problem goes back a long way and was not helped by the GLC selling off the land for the inner and outer ringway. I wonder who was responsible for that?

    To see a good transport system go to Frankfurt. It has a tram/underground system like the spokes of a wheel with the buses connecting the stations on circular routes.

    All the resources going into electric cars are an elite system for elite drivers.

    Where are the public mass transit systems able to make use of real energy saving systems using centrifugal flywheels and the new designs of stirling engines.

    Electric cars are already dead replaced by the new green fuel, natural gas.


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