Stephen Timms promises to act on disabled access after Tube ride

MP Stephen Timms with Transport for All members on East Ham platform

MP Stephen Timms with Transport for All members on East Ham platform - Credit: Archant

Travelling around London on public transport can be difficult at the best of times, but could you imagine what it would be like blindfolded?

That’s what East Ham MP Stephen Timms set out to learn on Friday when he joined Transport for All’s Newham branch as members made a journey by Tube, bus and DLR to highlight the difficulties people with disabilities experience getting around our city.

“We want to use transport like everyone else does, that’s all,” says Lianna Etkind, campaigns co-ordinator at the charity.

“People say London is good for disabled access, but it really isn’t – and that has to change.”

Even before we could get our journey under way from East Ham Station, this had proved true.

“Just getting here on the bus I had problems,” wheelchair-user Shani Thomas told Mr Timms. “The driver refused to let me on – he said, ‘what about the people with buggies?’

“The driver tried to shame me into not getting on – it was awful.”

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Things go smoothly enough as our group moves down to the platform, but it soon becomes obvious that Shani can’t get on the train.

“The gap’s too big,” she says.

We then have to wait for staff to bring out a ramp and radio ahead to the next station.

At West Ham, I speak to Sam Troll, who has total sight loss and carries a white cane.

“This platform is scary,” she says. “It’s like walking on a tightrope – I feel like I’m going to fall off any second.”

There is no rail to guide her, she explains, as trains roar past either side. She grabs Lianna’s arm and appeals to a sympathetic Mr Timms.

As the doors of the DLR train open, Shani is again stranded – there is no ramp on the platform, and a carriage pole obstructs her wheelchair.

After some confusion, a member of the public asks, “is your chair heavy?” and he and the staff then lift Shani onto the train.

While aboard, Shani cuddles her support dog, Diva, and tells me she tries to be optimistic, but can’t help being brought down by such things.

I ask Ron Candy, 59, who is blind, what could help.

“More staff would help, but we’re not living in spending times – it just isn’t likely,” he says.

On the bus, I ask Stephen what he made of the day.

“Efforts are clearly being made. But it could be smoother,” he says.

“I will certainly do something about this – I will table questions in Parliament. I will ask about the island platform at West Ham.

“I will also find out why companies bidding for franchises aren’t asked what they can do for disabled users.”

As we leave the bus, Ron says: “Well, we’ve tried – let’s hope something happens.”

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