The London Underground really is getting to be more accessible. it’s an enabling adventure. The tube is old. Very old, well a lot of it, but surprisingly the 72 odd step free and or ramp accessible stations now give the wheelchair user and indeed many with an impairment of any kind, a few options. My focus tho has been on a step free accessible Tube following my shift from being ambulant disabled to using a powerchair.
I recently became a keen user of the London Tube when regularly visiting the city for business and leisure. and yes it can be a wee bit hairy at times. I had always thought using the Underground whilst on business or social outing to the capital a bit of a non-starter. However, the arrival of two new new lines, The Jubilee and the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) when used alongside the increasing number of step free stations across the network, actually gives you scope to get a long way on the tube, fast! If your travel allows you the manouevre room, making use of some key step free hubs across the capital is really helpful. Of course it may mean you still end connecting to a bus route or walking / wheeling, but the tube may have at least taken some of the strain.
Traveling from the North I was made up to find that this ‘hub’ approach gives you decent step feee access to large parts of the network. St Pancras is just a few minutes away, the Victoria Line will link you Green Parks step free interchange to the Jubilee Line or stay onboard and the Victoria line will get you to hubs like Waterloo and recently accessible Vauxhall with its overground and bus interchanges. You can get North West from St Pancras, with a change at Green Park, to Wembley or the other direction all the way to the exciting development of Stratford City. Then in 2018 the amazing new Elizabeth Line / Crossrail will open up parts of central London and beyond to total step feee access where none previously existed. Still limited I know, and it often requires the same amount of planning as if you were invading a small country. But things are very slowly, too slowly, improving.
TfL’s step free station Underground map is your starting point. I’m geeky and there are a few maps that can greatly help the mobility impaired traveller. I actually enjoyed pouring over the main access maps which not only show you the totally step-free stations, but then add in those where you can get into the station via a lift, and then use a technically “on-demand” ramp with the help of station staff. There is even a guide to how large the gap is between platform and tube train….this is important as I know some wheelchair users are a bit hesitant about taking on the stations where that “gap” is at the largest because there are wheelchairs where small front castors can be an issue on the largest train to platform gap.
I have actually made time to ‘experiment’ which I know sounds sad. I have tried out several lines and stations, familiarized myself with the often long and winding step-free routes via a myriad of lifts and interchange subways. if your a wheelchair user travelling the Underground at peak times it has to be a bit iffy, even when you know that list of step free stations in your sleep. The sheer volume of people at peak times means boarding a train can be tricky and in a powerchair you simply have to make a judgement which can entail waiting for the next, or even third, train when it doesn’t feel safe. Barging your way in isn’t great but I’m thinking my patience is that borne of a relatively infrequent commuter……those who use the tube every day, twice a day, may feel it’s harder to wait for a chance to power your way onboard.
But if you can plan your travel to avoid the very peak periods then step free really does mean what it says and my rear wheel drive Salsa coped admirably, albeit that getting off the train does entail a slight “bounce” as you hit the platform but most will handle that with no issues. The TfL staff were great, nothing was too much trouble and I have asked some dorky questions about lines and stations. Very dorky.
This all sounds a bit dull ! But for me it’s exciting because I suspect many will simply take being able to get from A to B using ALL forms of available transport for granted. Why wouldn’t they, few see the disabling aspects of the environment we live in unless it’s you being disabled by it. I felt the same way the first time I used a fully accessible London red bus, then other routes in cities across the UK.
The map shown will be hard to read as its a screenshot but there are free to download maps here:
and the specific step free Underground map is here : http://ow.ly/KAwf3006MHl
Maybe tube travel isn’t for everyone and I had to steel myself a couple of times as my infamous claustrophobia was challenged in a couple of packed trains but I managed it and yes, loved doing what most take for granted in having ready access to the Underground.