AFTER one disabled train passenger was forced to take a 45-minute detour after finding the Bolton train station lifts were out of order, passengers nationwide are talking about the lacking accessibility of public transport. HELENA VESTY reports on the people speaking out for change.

WHEN Fiona Anderson, 30, from Heaton, arrived at Bolton train station on Monday morning, she discovered the lift was out of order. As a wheelchair user, she was unable to get the platform she needed any other way and, instead, had to travel in the opposite direction, go to a different station and change platforms there.

The delays cost Ms Anderson 45 minutes, but she says this is typical of what people with access needs have come to expect.

Ms Anderson, a Muscular Dystrophy UK campaigner, said: “Being a wheelchair user, I always set off around half an hour earlier, anticipating transport problems. There have been times I have had more than one access issue in one journey.

“It makes it very stressful. I could arrive one to three hours later than I plan. That’s an issue with childcare as a mum. It has a knock-on effect on the whole family and your daily life beyond travelling.”

Ms Anderson says that the advance arrangements required to ensure a smooth journey, such as booking ramps to get on and off trains 24 hours earlier, does not leave room for plans to change.

Ms Anderson said: “The problem is that if you get a hospital appointment on cancellation or you want to be spontaneous, as you should be allowed to, you just have to wing it. It’s like a domino effect — one thing goes wrong and your ramp bookings are out.

“I have been shouted at by staff in the past for not booking in advance. I get that it’s a kerfuffle for them but at the end of the day, as wheelchair users, we are all just trying to get the train like everybody else.”

Buses also present a host of problems as passengers in wheelchairs and passengers with buggies are left fighting for space. As a mum-of-two, Ms Anderson has been asked to choose between her wheelchair and using a buggy for her children on public transport.

Ms Anderson added: “There has been a lot of confusion among bus drivers about whether disabled people are a priority over buggies. Drivers have told me it is wheelchair or buggy — not both.

“Buggies and wheelchairs should not be in competition anyway. It’s so important that there is a wheelchair and buggy space on buses and trains.”

Transport for Greater Manchester says that plans are in place to roll out accessible features across the public transport network.

A spokesperson for TfGM said: “We are committed to making public transport infrastructure as accessible as possible for everyone and we work closely with disability groups when designing and building all our bus stations, transport interchanges and Metrolink stops.

“As well as installing features such as tactile paving, signage, bus and tram stand identifiers and colour-contrasting wayfinding lines at our sites, we also train staff to offer help to passengers who have a range of disabilities.

“All commercial and subsidised bus services across Greater Manchester, around 2,500 vehicles, are fully accessible. This is a legal requirement which depending on the vehicle type was introduced January 2015, 2016 or January 2017.

However, Ms Anderson believes that training has not gone far enough. She said: “It’s pot luck depending on a driver’s knowledge. The training should be very clear, they should all know the policy instead of going off what they have heard in the papers or what it used to be.”

Ms Anderson also feels the term “accessible” can be a slippery one.

She said: “It’s what the company’s perception of accessible is and normally, that’s the bare minimum that they are supposed to provide. They say it is accessible for all, but accessibility varies from person to person. That is the hardest thing to get right.”

People from across the UK are sharing their stories about the lacking accessibility of public transport, hoping that raising awareness will pave the way for change on a national scale.

Sulaiman Khan, 33, from London, has congenital muscular dystrophy. He said: “Accessibility on public transport has improved, but there is still more to be done. For me, the key to this is better training and more consistency. I no longer use buses because the service is too unreliable; if there is a pushchair in the wheelchair space, I’m unable to board. I’ve been charged more for cabs, and I don’t use trains because currently it’s just not possible.”

According to research carried out by disability rights charity Scope, 40 per cent of disabled people surveyed often experience issues or difficulties when travelling by rail in the UK, a quarter said negative attitudes from other passengers prevent them from using public transport, and more than half aged 18-34 said they often experience issues or difficulties when using train stations in the UK.

Lauren West, Muscular Dystrophy UK’s Trailblazers Manager, said: “Disabled people rely on public transport to get to work, meet friends or enjoy days out, just like everyone else. But we still face barriers on a daily basis, whether it’s inaccessible railway stations, problems with booking assistance or a lack of wheelchair-accessible taxis.”

PEOPLE with disabilities are fighting for improvements to be made across public transport networks to make travelling more accessible.

Those who have spent years facing access issues on buses, trains and in taxis are coming forward with their proposals of what needs to change.

Ms said: “I don’t understand why we have got all of these train apps and out of all of the annoucements, they don’t have an alert system when lifts are down.

“If they can do it for cancelled trains, they can do it for lifts.”

Ms Anderson added that automatic ramps on all buses would make life for both the driver and the passenger.

She added: "It would solve the problem with their schedule being delayed because they have to get out, deploy the ramp, get back in again. It could just be the press of a button."

Emma Vogelmann, 25, of Willesden, says that there needs to be more flexibility from public transport companies when it comes to people with access needs requesting ramps to get on and off board.

Currently, passengers have to give at least 24 hours notice to book a ramp for their journey.

Ms Vogelmann endorses the Turn Up and Go system being rolled out across London.

She said: "As a working woman, if you have a meeting that runs over, you're not going to be able to get the train you want. That's an anxiety. With this system, you turn up and buy your tickets and there will be someone there. It doesn't take a lot of effort when there is staff there that are committed to making your journey the same as others."

She added that training needs to be improved, saying: "Sometimes the difficulty is not the physical access. The facilities might be there, it's the drivers that can be a problem. I want them to know that wheelchair users have the same needs. We have as many places to go and people to see as able-bodied people."