Southern Rail’s disgusting treatment of wheelchair users

My valued friend and co-campaigner told me about his disgusting experience at the hands of Southern Rail staff. I have reblogged the below from the excellent Transport for All website.

I very much hope Southern Rail – and other rail providers – take it seriously. Their response to it doesn’t inspire confidence though; they clearly hadn’t even read it…

A very unpleasant experience for a wheelchair user at Clapham Junction

Blog by TfA member Chris. This blog and its content reflect the views of the author only.

Clapham Junction is a busy and important transport hub in South London, and I’m pleased to say that it has step-free access to all platforms, and wheelchair ramps on every platform.

But lifts and ramps are not enough to make a station disabled-friendly. The attitude and behaviour of the station staff matter hugely.

Last weekend I had an extremely unpleasant experience at Clapham Junction Station. It was not my first experience of rudeness and unhelpfulness from Southern Railway staff at this station, but it was certainly the worst.

I’m a wheelchair user. I arrived at platform 15 on Saturday afternoon, and asked a member of staff on the platform for assistance with a ramp to board a train.

His response to my request was curt and unfriendly: “Next train“, with a jab of the finger in the direction of the track, and with that he disappeared.

In itself this small moment of rudeness was not surprising, it’s what I have got used to at Clapham Junction when I interact with Southern Railway staff. But then things got much worse.

The train pulled in and I positioned myself by the door with the wheelchair logo, as I wanted to be placed in the wheelchair space on the train.

The member of staff I had spoken to didn’t come with a ramp. I couldn’t see him until everyone had boarded, and then I saw that he was at the back of the train with the ramp. I waved to him. He refused to move. I pointed to the doors with the wheelchair logo. He shouted that I had to board at the back of the train (where there was no wheelchair space). Some of his colleagues told me that I had to get on at the back. I said no, I wished to travel in the wheelchair space. The man with the ramp did not budge, and kept gesturing me to come towards him.

I did not want to travel in a part of the train without a wheelchair space because I do not consider this a safe or comfortable way to travel, so we reached an impasse. The man with the ramp let the train go, without me onboard.

He then came over and addressed me angrily, and with a staggering level of rudeness, telling me I should have boarded exactly where he wanted me to. I told him that I had wanted to be placed in the wheelchair space, as that was the only safe place for me to travel.

He was not displaying a name badge. I asked him three times for his name. Three times he refused, and then he walked away briskly, refusing to communicate with me any further.

He then placed the ramp flat down on the platform, near the platform edge, for several minutes, perpendicular to the track, in such a way that customers could easily trip over it, and possibly even fall onto the tracks.

After this I encountered a second member of staff. He too was extremely rude to me when I explained that his colleague had refused to allow me to board the train where the wheelchair space was. He told me that I was obliged to board the train exactly where the platform staff had decided.

He also make this extraordinary statement: “If you don’t know the rules, you shouldn’t come here“. This statement was too bizarre and silly to argue with, but it was also an act of intolerable rudeness.

This second member of staff also refused to give his name, and was not showing a name-badge.

Later they put me onto a train, in the wheelchair space as I had requested at first, and I was able to make my journey at last.

Disabled people should be able to travel with the same ease, flexibility, safety and comfort as everyone else. But I find again and again that I come up against unhelpfulness, rudeness, ignorance and inflexibility when I want to travel on Southern Railway train services. I do not believe that this company takes its responsibility to its disabled customers at all seriously.

A great deal needs to change before train services are truly accessible, and before wheelchair users can use them without stress, distress and annoyance. Transport for All continues to campaign for full accessibility across all of London’s transport networks. Please join us if you would like to support our campaigns – you can find out here how to become a member.

Reblogged from the Transport for All website.

3 Replies to “Southern Rail’s disgusting treatment of wheelchair users”

  1. I find this shameful on the part of Southern Rail, though (and I’m not condoning their behaviour) I do wonder whether there may have been a bit of unspoken ‘pre planning’ in this situation given the ongoing and seriously disruptive dispute which continues even now over Southern’s policy of removing guards from trains. But I’m only speculating. This experience probably tops the day when Southwestern Trains (aka Stagecoach) kindly conveyed me from Southampton to Portsmouth and Southsea station where, unusually for anyone who knows the city in which almost all trains terminate at the next station (Portsmouth Harbour) rather than continuing directly INTO Portsmouth Harbour which would be unpopular with many!

    Back to the plot. I had been ‘boarded’ by the train’s guard as is SWT’s practice as they generally prefer to keep their own ramps on their own trains, and to work WITH station staff to board wheelchair users to the correct locations and in a safe manner. It also ensures compatibility and safety with respect to tamp and train. However, upon termination of the service at the station, I politely waited by the door after everybody got off expecting the guard. Who never came. After 30 minutes ot attempting to attract attention the guard finally returned, very apologetic, explaining he had forgotten me, but had been prevented from re-entering the platform by two PCSO’s from British Transport Police on the grounds of safety, risk of vandalism to the train (from a guard???) etc. Thus I finally got off the train, and was walked out (or escorted, difficult to tell) out of the station by said PCSO’s who were pressuring me to complain to SWT.

    I questioned why I should, when the guard had explained he was prevented from re-entering the platform by Police, at which point the proverbial ‘shutters’ went down and I was left to my own devices.

    Personally I agree, from a health and safety standpoint, that all trains should have guards for precisely this reason, as many stations are not staffed for wheelchair assistance for considerable periods of time during their advertised opening hours.

    All I can say is that provided you are confident of being ‘in the right’, that there is an appropriate space on the train, and it is empty, then simply using an arm, leg or other bodily part to prevent the doors from closing, whilst politely requesting the attention of the station manager, will likely see the problem resolved, as their statistics won’t stand excessive delays. Even if Police attend, they would have to measure their action against your rights to board the train, and not be discriminated against under the Equality Act or risk prosecution for themselves as well.

    Andy Bundy

    • I know the gentleman concerned, and I know that he didn’t – and doesn’t – go out looking for problems to report. There have been innumerable occasions on which similar have happened that he hasn’t gone public about, on his regular travels. Sadly, as you describe, disabled people don’t have to look for trouble / set up a travel company to fail.

  2. The platform staff was wrong, you do not place someone like yourself where there is no space allocated for a wheelchair. Like you said it is not safe plus you would not be able to activate an emergency button if so needed, which you can if you was in the area provided of wheelchairs.

    I’m guessing that the train you tried to board was Driver only & did not have a Guard, as I know for a fact that a Guard would go mental if he/she found a person in a wheelchair placed in the wrong part of the train.

    Another situation I’ve sadly seen happen now & again which is just as bad is when a member of platform staff (Victoria & East Croydon being the biggest offenders) place someone in a wheelchair on a very busy train, one that is near impossible for the Guard to walk through, & not inform the Train crew that they are there, thus increasing the chance of them missing their stop if they are unable to alert anyone in time.

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