Good ol’ Brits

BBC News – One in ten ‘cannot use London Tube or buses’.

The study claimed:

  • Only 10 of London’s 270 Tube stations are completely step-free all the way from street level to train.
  • Just one third of London’s 300 rail stations have step-free access from street to platform.
  • While all London’s buses now have ramps, only half of London’s 17,476 bus stops meet the criteria for full accessibility.

Despite this I still found it easier to use transport in London when I was there 7 years ago, then I did until very recently here. Why with all the claims to history and tradition in the UK was I able to use transport and buildings like I was supposed to be there?a train

Two London transport moments stick in my memory as defining life moments, catching my first cab right out of St Pancras station – with taxi driver almost traumatised — not because he had to pick me up; but rather because he (the very next cab that came along) had picked me up – I cried for joy for 10 pounds worth, and couldn’t tell him why or where I was going! The second moment was when I could even then catch a bus, any bus I wanted before I had caught one as easily in my homeland. I was floored that nobody looked askance.

I accept that the London tube was then and seems now to be all but useless to a be-wheeled being and am glad to see they are doing something about it as it would’ve useful then, but I get the sense they are working from a rights based mentality, not a “she’ll be right”s based one and that will make all the difference, then, now and in the future.

Why do I get a lovely buzz in my tummy (because it’s so rare) when, even now, here in Australia, the right bus is the first bus that comes along and it’s accessible? After a couple of weeks in London all those years ago, I simple assumed it would work and it did!

The other thing that occurs to me as positive is that the Pommes seem willing through their mainstream media to have the discussion about access based on a report, not based on the case of some poor brave headline making person with impairment. Based on a report on the topic, transport, not the minority, disability.

The Governments here in contrast would if I’m not wrong be claiming that 90% was good enough and such a report would never have elicited this response:

Val Shawcross AM, chairwoman of the transport committee, called the situation “simply unacceptable”.

It isn’t perfect but it’s a start. The right start.

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A vision or not

I did some googling and searching on YouTube for videos from Australia by people with disabilities. I came up sadly very short. Nothing really from a sense of community of disability here in Australia. I don’t think we have made the leap between sector and community; between political and social.  Both are necessary, but I fear that we are too busy fighting with both the politicians and sadly ourselves to share just thoughts.

So here are my “just thoughts”  on a recent trip to Melbourne, on seeing 18 people with apparent impairments, on inclusive process (ok I got a bit political) and on “drop jaw”.

The lighting is bad and my voice was not ideal, but this is my offering. It goes for 18 minutes (which means it is split on YouTube but in one piece here.

My thoughts on inclusion and access in Melbourne Australia from Joanna Nicol on Vimeo.

There may be others, if I can find the charger for the camera!  

Blogged with the Flock Browser

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An open letter — rant, long — updated

Updated today with the letter that I actually sent this am
An open letter to the
Minister for Transport
the Honourable Mr David Campbell MP
GPO Box 5341
SYDNEY NSW 2001

Dear Sir,

I’m told I tell a great story whether fiction or fact. My education and experiences over many years has reinforced that telling stories is a good way to understand a new topic, or a differing point of view.

So I’m going to tell you a story. It’s a story starring me and the accessible bus network.

By way of background to this story; I use an electric wheelchair to get around and have done in one form or another all my life.  I’m in my 30’s and have worked in public policy development my entire career. Currently, I’ve also got other health issues that affect my ability to sit for long periods without pain as well as fatigue. These last two are new developments which require a fair amount of planning, often taking a cumulative approach.

I’ve been using the accessible buses on the network since they were first put on at the depot in Ryde some 15 or so years ago. While I do hold a license, I have elected not to drive in Sydney as I’ve held the belief for 20 years that there is too much congestion here and an unhealthy reliance on private vehicles for a world-class city. I do use taxis but try to avoid doing so for direct routes.

Last Friday I had lunch plans in South Newtown a straight 4.4 kms from where I live. Lunch was set for 12:30pm. I got to the bus stop early for the scheduled 11:05 service which was the latest one I could catch that would get me there on time. I have learnt to arrive early because of the flow of traffic close to the Tempe depot. I have also learnt to expect anything. When an un-timetabled accessible arrived at the stop at 10:40 I decided to grab it in case this was the 11:05 arriving early, or otherwise affecting the scheduled service. The bus ride was pleasant and by soon after 11am I was sitting in the shadiest spot I could find across the road from my destination reading. It was as you may recall rather warm.

Lunch was pleasant. There was a fight happening at the bus stop directly outside our venue, so just before 2 pm I accompanied my friend south towards his car and a safer bus stop than the one at the cafe. I waited at the next one and after 5 minutes saw an almost empty 422 with a ramp came up. I stuck my hand out and it went straight past me.

Reasoning that my visibility must be poor, I went straight back to the bus stop near the cafe which is more of an interchange but directly in the heat.

I waited expecting to wait an hour. People queued behind me and looked a tad guilty when they got on buses (4 inaccessible 422’s, three or four 352s and half a dozen 370’s mostly accessible). Over the course of that hour four of those waiting were mothers with prams, one of whom gave up and headed towards the train station, while another escaped into a 370 for the air-conditioned comfort, given her child was just asleep.

As the time approached for the 3:05 service. I watched every bus that arrived, my breath catching in my throat with bursts of excitement then disappointment as each service passed. I looked at my phone only to check the time. I did not dare read lest I miss its arrival and the chance to get out of the heat. I felt embarrassed and humiliated to have been sitting there watching people arrive to go to the gym or the supermarket and then leave all fit or with a full load of groceries. I was sure it would arrive soon.

School children released just before 3pm literally flooded out of school overtaking the already crowded footpath. They  boarded buses without hassle. I stood my ground. My bladder was under increasing pressure because even if I had left the stop there was no easily wheelchair accessible public toilet anywhere nearby. I have had to train my bladder to assume that for one reason or another toileting in this area is hard and to hold on, dehydrate and rehydrate where you know there is an appropriate toilet.  Though stressed and uncomfortable, after an hour and a half of waiting, I lost the battle of the bladder about 3:30pm further adding to my discomfort and embarrassment.

Long before this time I had been sitting up for too long and was in severe pain as well as spasm. I had considered booking a cab, but given the time of day and the shortness of the journey as well as the awkward pickup location, decided against it. I began to feel like I should cancel all my commitments, my work, my social and civic, my recreational, even the practical things like shopping and medical. While I don’t consider myself house bound and feel I have a lot to contribute, days like last Friday make me feel quite hopeless. Some of the bus drivers assured me it was coming and I got a few apologetic glances from drivers of  Route 370, for which I’m grateful.

Sir, the 3:05 422 bus scheduled to be accessible never arrived. It wasn’t that it was too full. It never arrived.

The next one I could catch was one soon after 4 pm and I was home at 4:30pm It had taken me 6 hours to have an hour and a half lunch 4.4 kms from home. The bus trip home was as pleasant as it could be, the driver kind and efficient given my obvious heat and sunburn but oblivious to the delay.

I lodged a complaint by phone with 131500 that afternoon and am awaiting a response. (Ed note Heard from depot at 1:55 pm today apology included)

In writing to you I’m trying to give you a sense of my experience. While perhaps more dramatic than most times, this is not uncommon. In order to travel from South Newtown to the CBD for work for example if I have to be at a meeting at 10am the latest bus I can catch is the 7:34am (assuming it’s ramp is working and its not full). I tend to organise my life around the bus timetable and have to build in a large buffer every time that my contemporaries without disabilities do not have to include, both in time and in money (when I cannot afford the time buffer). I must point out that these long delays do not happen every time. But as with my forward journey last Friday, it happens consistently enough that it must be built into planning my day, often leaving me embarrassingly early.

I congratulate you and the Ministry on the progress towards the Transport Standards with which I am very familiar.  Statistically NSW is doing quite well. However those numbers do not reflect my regular experience locally.

While I understand that all times given on timetables are approximate, given the infrequency of some timetabled accessible services, is there any way we can assure that these ones turn up?

If we only let women or another minority on at best one bus every hour (and expected them to build their lives around it and be grateful), there would be an almighty outcry. Why must it in 2010 be any different for those with disabilities, trying to get on with life in an ecological way?

Sincerely yours,

Joanna Nicol

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The wheels of the bus

The last few weeks have been quite remarkable. Remarkable in a good way I hasten to add. My experiences with mass transit have worked. Consistently. Seamlessly. They just have.

The ramps of the rear loading buses have largely worked; and, on the few occasions when they haven’t worked first time the drivers have tried a few times until it did work. This has been a little embarrassing for me to hold people up, but most seem ok with it. Regardless it is nice that the effort is being made. There seems to be the recognition that all passengers are indeed passengers. Buses that I can use have turned up on schedule and moments later I’ve been on my way wherever in a mainstreamed, ecological and economical way.

Of course a major factor in this success is the provision of accessible buses across the network. Slowly but surely the old buses are being superseded by new buses as is the way of these things. The commitment made by State Government some time ago to purchase only carbon friendly, low-floor buses. Mainstreaming at its best.

There were times when, (according to the depots at least), there were shortages in trained drivers or buses, but by inserting inclusion firmly within the core business of the organisation, it is becoming easier to put the pieces together as a traveller who wants to use public transport. For the service provider they maintain a larger slice of the public-purse pie especially in an ageing population. The fee paying public.

I’m lucky I suppose. After carrying undipped bus ticket for years because I couldn’t get to the front of the bus to pay my way, I now still get a thrill entering the bus from the front door like everyone else and dipping my bus ticket. Strange maybe but there you have it.

When I was in London a few years ago, I caught buses, trains and the famous London cabs like a regular “yuppie”. It felt like Christmas! I remember the first few cab drivers openly laughing at me in amused delight when I was shocked that they stopped for me. The first time I got into a cab that I had hailed off the street in my late 20′s will stay in my memory as a fond memory. I felt human and welcome.

Thank you Sydney Buses for helping me not feel like an intruder in my own town. Thanks RL and LS for everything you’ve done to help this happen.

All I was doing was trying to get home from work –Rosa Parks

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