FOR most of us, jumping on a bus or train is something we do without a second’s thought.
Our biggest frustration comes when they are either delayed or cancelled, but, for the most part, using public transport is a doddle.
But this is anything but the case for one community group.
According to a major national survey, public transport is next to useless for disabled people.
A group of 200 young campaigners helped put together the investigative report, End of the Line, which charts the experiences of disabled passengers using public transport across the country.
Among them were mystery passengers from Colchester and other parts of Essex, who reported their own findings and recorded them in blogs.
End of the Line is the first report of the Inclusion Now campaign by Trailblazers, the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign’s nationwide network of 16 to 30-year-olds, who are fighting for the rights of young disabled people.
One mystery passenger reported she finds it impossible to use buses in Colchester because she is in a wheelchair, said spokeswoman Salimah Lalji. The investigation found people in wheelchairs are often paying more to use public transport than able-bodied users.
The national report also found a typical train journey with a disabled adult’s railcard often costs more than a typical coach trip for the same journey and the majority of coaches are inaccessible, leaving trains as the only option available for longer journeys.
It also found half of trains lacked basic disabled facilities on board the trains and at stations, something disabled passengers using Wivenhoe Station are only too aware of.
A campaign group, supported by county councillors and European MP Richard Howitt, was set up more than year ago to try to get disabled access to the station.
Despite Wivenhoe Railway Access for All Group preparing a report and sending it to Network Rail, passengers in wheelchairs still have to get off the train at Colchester, where railway staff call them a taxi.
Founder member Pam Glover, who was born with cerebral palsy but led an independent life until cracking a vertebrae in her spine eight years ago, says she has not given up and will campaign until something is done.
Meanwhile, Colchester wheelchair user Gerard Oxford is familiar with the finding that on a third of bus journeys, the mystery commuter was unable to board the first bus which arrived at the stop.
He spoke out recently after having to cancel a number of meetings, as part of his work as a Colchester councillor, because his vehicle was out of action and he found using the bus too difficult.
“I tried to get from High Woods via the town centre and the first bus had no ramp, so I could not get on. When I got to Head Street, once again I had to wait as the bus had no ramp. I had to clear my diary because it was so difficult to get about,” he said.
Mr Oxford applauded the investigation and said he hoped it would make people aware of the difficulties facing people in wheelchairs.
And he said while it was true wheelchair accessible taxis were more expensive, as the Trailblazers often found, another problem is they are often impossible to get at certain times of the day because they are booked out to take children to special schools in the Colchester area.
But he said he had found using the train in Colchester had been a positive experience.
Alan Pilbeam, managing director for First England which operates a large number of buses in Colchester, said it has about 700 vehicles across Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk and almost 400 of these are already low-floor.
He said in Colchester, 54 per cent of buses in the town are low-floor vehicles, offering passengers in wheelchairs access to the buses either via ramps, or by lowering the vehicle to meet the kerb.
The Gazette, 4th May 2009