I would travel more if all stations were accessible

Sarah, 45, East Midlands

Sarah is from East Midlands. She tells us about her experience using trains and how coronavirus has changed that.

I’ll be sat waiting for rail travel assistance, thinking: “I’ve got a connection; I’ve got to go somewhere else”. Many times I end up missing my connection and having to cancel the plans I had with my friends.

When I can’t find a member of staff to help me, I have no choice but to rely on guards or members of the public to help me. I have to ask them to find a member of staff or even help me get off a train. If it’s particularly busy, I can struggle to find anyone to assist.

Some people even challenge me sitting on a disabled seat with my guide dog. They don’t get it. When staff are around, they won’t always show me the train properly or show me my seat.

Sarah with her guide dog posting a letter

Why staff are so important

It only takes a little change, like training the staff, to make a big difference to disabled people. Sometimes the staff who book or provide the assistance don’t realise how vital their role is. It’s a shame the government aren’t going to invest in that resource.

Luckily, I’ve got enough sight to be able to get off a train at the right time, on my usual routes. In other areas, where I haven’t got a clue where I am, and there are no announcements, I lose my independence. This is incredibly stressful when it is late and dark because then I have no vision. At that point, all I want to do is go home, but there’s no audio at all to let me know where we are.

I rely on other passengers a lot when there are replacement transport services. That’s when I worry: is it going to be one of those days where a passenger says: “why should I help you?” or “get your member of staff to get you to you next train or replacement bus”. Some people challenge me sitting on a disabled seat with my guide dog. They don’t get it.

Accessible travel needs to be more flexible

Accessible travel isn’t just about getting the right support. It needs to be more flexible. If I could book travel up to two hours before travelling, it would make travelling so much easier. Disabled people need to live their lives rather than plan everything. When I call up to book tickets, I find the person taking the booking doesn’t understand the route or changes I want. They keep hurrying me along with the route they think is best. Then they send the reservations and forget screen readers can’t cope with rows and columns. It’s unreadable.

Step-free travel would give me independence

As a visually impaired person with a guide dog, investments in step-free access are a big deal too. Step-free travel means that I can go on the tube with my friends. Instead, the lack of lifts means I must get a taxi with my guide dog. Step-free train travel also means I can safely get on and off a train. Nationwide step-free rail travel would mean I could travel across the country. I would travel more if I knew that all areas of the country had lifts and the staff to assist my guide dog and me. This would help to make my journey less stressful.

The impact of coronavirus

I’ve read that, since coronavirus, rail stations have blocked off areas because of one-way systems. That is tricky for people with visual impairments to be aware of without guidance. Also, I struggle to wear a face mask because it takes away that little bit of sight at the sides that I have. It would be much easier if these were the only challenges. Instead, they join an already long list of problems with rail travel.

Get on Board: Making the economic case for “levelling up” inclusive transport

We’re calling for a new law that guarantees all rail journeys in Britain will be fully accessible by 2030. This must include an implementation plan with sufficient funding to ensure genuine progress is made.

Read about our research and the change we want to see in our policy report.