God's Geek

Reflections and random thoughts of a geeky youth worker in North London...

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Joys of Public Transport

I try not to moan too much, but I had a Difficult Day thanks to Transport for London. We are giving up our car soon; I try to use public transport or walk as much as possible anyway, but I am aware that pretty soon that will be our main choice. Anyway, I was visiting a friend in Oxford so decided to take the train. Although London has great train service, it does mean that you need to go into the centre to get to most places. And using trains and tubes is a nightmare with a pram. There are sooo many steps and there were no lifts on the stations that I used. It is amazing how un-buggy friendly the whole experience was. I could, of course, have used the sling but this is really unpractical for a day out as Daniel needs to lay down to sleep at various points.

Once the steps (and lack of escalators at Liverpool Street and PAddington) had been dealt with, the trains weren't always much better. The worse one was coming back from London, which had ridiculously narrow aisles, making it impossible for me to get the pram into a carriage. I had to sit between the carriages opposite the loo as there was nowhere else to go. I did have a chat with the lovely conductor (who also did some great tannoy messages) and found there was space for a wheelchair at the front of the train, although the only way to get to this was to get off the train and walk down the platform at the next station. He made sure the train waited, which was great, although as it happened, unnecessary as we sat in the station for 15 mins!

The whole thing left me wondering how wheelchair users get on. At the end of the day, there is only a limited time that I will be using a pram, but it has made me see our towns, shops, coffee shops and churches in a whole new light. How accessible is your local area? Does your church include and welcome people? This needs to go beyond a welcome team as it is no good saying 'hi' if it is really hard for the person to get to the loo and /or into the church itself! In terms of travel, I suppose wheelchair users (or pram users) could phone ahead and check routes etc but surely things shouldn't be that difficult. If you use the Underground, check out how few stations have Disabled access... I know this is to do with many stations being heritage sites but it does make travelling a difficult experience. I remember the sociologist Tom Shakespeare discussing disability and telling a story about train travel; at one station he did not have a disability as the train was easy to get on and provision was made etc whereas at the other end, it was impossible for him to get on to the platform as there was no provision for less abled bodied users. At the London stations, getting to the train was v difficult, whereas at Oxford there were lifts and ramps. It really makes all the difference!

I am driving to Norfolk and it is such a shame that I know it will be much easier to travel with Daniel than it was today.

And shame on you, Coffee Republic in Oxford, with no baby change and no toilets downstairs!

The only positive experience was that it made me appreciate the kindness of strangers as so many people helped lift the pram up and down stairs unasked, which was lovely. And only one person moved when Daniel was being a little vocal when I was getting him to sleep on the journey home...


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