What Can You Do In 58 Minutes?
• Go for a swim
• Enjoy a three course meal
• Replace a toilet
I’ve just spent 58 minutes on the phone booking a train ticket.
Before I made the call I’d already looked up all the times and prices online and got as far as the checkout. This process took me about three minutes.
But as a wheelchair user I can’t buy the tickets online because none of the train operators have websites that allow you to select the wheelchair space or book the necessary assistance.
Wheelchair users always need to call up in person to buy tickets and book help. This process is always time-consuming, but today Great Western Railway’s service was exceptionally lengthy – 58 minutes isn’t far off the length of the journey itself!
This is completely unacceptable.
The main issue was that the assisted travel team couldn’t book my tickets so I had to be transferred to the sales team first. This meant I had to buy my tickets without knowing whether the wheelchair space on the train was available. Once I’d paid, I was transferred back to the assisted travel team who booked the space, and fortunately it was available.
All the Great Western staff I spoke to were very helpful and apologetic and I understand that they’re working to improve this system. But it shows how unequal the travel network actually is.
As a disabled person I’m expected to:
• Identify the train company that runs the route I wish to travel on and find their assisted travel number
• Notify the train company and book assistance 24 hours in advance of any journey
• Always book over the phone during the working hours of the call centre
• Put up with a rail network where approximately 80% of stations don’t meet the four basic criteria needed to make them accessible to disabled people. These are: step-free access, audio announcements, visual display boards, and staff on hand to help if needed.
Imagine the backlash if it took every rail customer an hour to book tickets or if everyone had to call up 24 hours ahead of every journey to make sure they could get on a train. If it’s not acceptable for non-disabled people why is it OK for disabled people?
The network and train companies are failing disabled people.
This inequality of experience isn’t acceptable. It’s not good enough for it to be technically possible to travel by train. The experience of booking needs to be equal too. I shouldn’t have to lose an hour of my weekend just to buy a ticket.