Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The Number 461 Route (not)

Firstly to establish where this route number might lurk – quite simply in Kingston, which is a place we know well. However it is not operated by Transport for London and is thus not part of our remit – it comes from St Peter’s Hospital Ottershaw into Kingston on quite a regular basis, doubtless offering handy train links to London for Surrey dwellers. 

Passing the Gold post box on our previous route, which called in at the Roundshaw estate, made me think of TFL’s current campaign, as seen on their Journey Planner website, which is ‘Please make space on the bus – wheelchair users only have one safe area’.  We find bus drivers both courteous and aware of the less abled bus passengers; most of course do not need the full lowered ramp/wheelchair spaces, which now seem to be standard issue on most bus models. A far greater number of passengers are just slow or unsteady on their feet, frail or unsure and dependent on sticks or other walking aids. Many disabilities are hidden and where communication is an issue the Freedom Pass ‘speaks volumes’ – the in-bus announcements cater for both visual and hearing losses. The bus driver who has personal contact with all his passengers has to weigh up the ‘health and safety issues’ each time a vulnerable passenger boards and this, on the whole, they do very well. On the whole the more able passengers look out for the less abled fellow travellers and those who do not wish to do so tend to disappear upstairs.

On the tube it is a very different matter. Eyes fixed to their phones, train travellers studiously avoid giving up their seats for anyone – pregnant, with sticks, frail or not. Boarding a train can be a scrum. An account of a journey I heard recently in a changing room is an example of this. The passenger, who has a lower limb weakness due to a childhood illness (this is not necessarily noticeable, but that’s not the point), needs to grasp the upright handle by the carriage door in order to get in safely. Another commuter who perceived this as ‘pushing in front’ knocked her arm away with the result that the passenger fell between the train and the platform. We are talking Southern Region here and Clapham Junction where the gaps can be about 50 cm both in height and width between carriage and platform. Unable to free herself she needed to ask for help to be pulled free – her ‘assailant’ moved on without an apology.

This event could have ended very differently (New York commuter anyone?) so perhaps we need train users to be more like bus passengers?

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