Any wheelchair user can tell you that travelling on public transport is often far from being a breeze. It depends on where you’re travelling, but getting in buses, trains, and trams can be tricky when you need your wheelchair to fit. Sometimes it may even be impossible to gain access to a train platform or underground station, let alone actually get on the train.
Although using public transport with a wheelchair can be challenging, you don’t have to let it stop you. You can make everything a little easier too, especially with some good planning.
Always Check Before You Leave
Planning your journey before you go is always a good idea when using public transport. If you’re a wheelchair user, it’s even more important to make plans before you go. As well as checking routes and times, you’ll need to check accessibility. This can include checking to see if there is step-free access, where you can find wheelchair spaces, and what type of assistance is available both on and off the transport that you’re using. It’s useful to know if there are lifts and ramps at stations and stops, as well as whether there are ramps and step-free access to get onto the train, bus, or tram.
Travelling on public transport as a wheelchair user can feel nerve-wracking, especially if you’re on your own. But knowing what to expect can help you to feel more confident.
Book and Make Contact When Necessary
Making bookings before your journey can be helpful. It’s something you’ll have the choice to do on most trains and can help you to guarantee a seat. For some train services, it’s also necessary to get in touch with the service operator to ask about accessibility. It can be helpful to let them know ahead of time which station you will be getting on at and where you will be alighting. This gives staff the chance to be prepared if they need to set up a ramp for you to get on and off the train.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always reliable. Even when letting the company know ahead of time, many wheelchair users have been left struggling to find a member of staff to help them off the train. This is why it can be useful to travel with someone else if possible.
Take Advantage of Discounts
Discounts offer one incentive to travel using public transport rather than driving or using taxis. For example, in England, local buses are usually free after peak times during the week or all weekend. Some councils offer free travel outside of the usual hours too, which is helpful if you want to commute to work or you’re on a night out, and others may also offer free travel to a companion.
When travelling by train, you might be eligible for a Disabled Persons Railcard. You can get one of these cards if you meet one of the eligibility requirements, which you can find on the official website. The card gets you one-third off rail prices and costs just £20. You can also use it for other perks, such as discounts in restaurants and hotels.
Ask for Help When You Need It
It’s not always easy to ask for help when you’re travelling on your own, but it will help you to ensure your journey goes smoothly. Staff at train stations should be trained to help you, from helping you with step-free access to getting on and off trains. It can also sometimes be necessary to advocate for yourself to ensure you get what you need, such as use of the wheelchair space.
Have a Backup Plan
Public transport can help you to get around, but it’s often not perfect. In principle, it should be accessible, but the reality is that it can let you down. Even if you were travelling without a wheelchair, you can end up with cancellations and more. A backup plan, such as an alternative route or taking a taxi, can definitely be helpful.
Choosing a Wheelchair for Public Transport
The right wheelchair can be helpful when taking public transport. If you’re able to transfer to a normal chair, a lightweight folding wheelchair might be useful. You can settle in for a long journey and fold up your chair to store. Electric wheelchairs tend to be larger, but there is usually still space for them in wheelchair spaces on public transport. Lightweight wheelchairs can be easier to manoeuvre for getting on and off transport or making your way around stations.
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