I bought a Travelscoot last year, after being sick of missing out on things that I used to do. See ‘Why Travelscoot was the right choice for Deborah’ in this blog last September. After a bit of a shaky start with Scoot, as I built up confidence, my world has expanded such a lot. My weekends are filled with trips to museums, galleries and shopping malls. And now my husband and I go to the supermarket together, and it’s me who goes to collect forgotten items from the furthest aisle! We have 2 cars, mine is a Mini Roadster (two-seater) and folded, Scoot fits in the boot with enough room to spare for my shopping. My husband has a Vauxhall Agila (a small hatchback), and with one of the back seats folded down, we just lift Scoot in fully assembled (just drop the handle-bars). I can do this by myself as Scoot is so light. This is our preferred option when we’re going to several places in one trip, as it means you stop the car and you’re on the go in an instant.
So Scoot has brought a lot of extra things into my life, but recently “he’s” helped me to carry on with something I was struggling with – travelling to my London office. I have a national job, but I do a lot of my travelling by car, and so I haven’t, up until now, used Scoot for work. Unfortunately, no-one else in my organisation uses a mobility aid, and although I started using a rollator a year or two ago to help me walk, people have staunchly ignored this, without asking about my increasing difficulty in walking. Oh, some have politely helped me with doors, but generally people act as if nothing has changed. Even when I’ve tried to introduce the topic, people quickly change the subject! My own team are supportive and sympathetic, but my own boss also just ignores my failing mobility, even when I’ve tried to introduce the topic during supervision! Whether this is embarrassment, disinterest or just not knowing what to say ... well, who knows but it did make me reticent about using Scoot for work.
However, for anyone who has travelling on London transport, they might appreciate just how far you have to walk sometimes. I catch a mainline train into Kings Cross station, and if you’re in standard class carriages, then you’re at the back of the train and you have to walk the full length of the train before getting to the station concourse. A station employee told me this is a quarter of a mile. Kings Cross has recently undergone some major refurbishment, and although this looks great, it means the walk across the concourse is even further, and then I have to leave the station and walk across a few roads to get to my bus stop. It was all becoming just too far – and a trip to our London office was something I began to dread. I used to come home exhausted and my legs would be sore for days afterwards.
Two weeks ago I had a trip to Head Office coming up, and because it’s been very cold and damp, my mobility problems were worse than usual, and I was dreading the trip to London. So I decided this was the time to take Scoot on his first London adventure. I thought it would be useful to tell others about my experiences in case they are also contemplating a trip to England’s capital city, either for business or pleasure.
The first leg of my journey is by mainline train. Different train operators run different routes on UK trains. If you book your ticket, it will tell you the name of the train operator on your travel documents. For my trip I was travelling with East Coast going, and Hull Trains coming back. Each train operator website has a number to phone to book assistance, and this is best done at least 24 hours in advance. Even though I was travelling with two different operators, one phone call allowed me to book assistance for both East Coast and Hull Trains. Once you’ve booked assistance you’re registered on their system, and so booking next time is easier. You receive an email confirming all arrangements, and this is sent to the relevant stations so that station staff know what sort of assistance you need. I explained that I didn’t need a ramp to get into the train, but I needed help to lift Scoot on and off the train. (NB for people who haven’t used UK trains, the step into them is quite high and not very wide – even if you can lift Scoot yourself, it is better to have someone to help because if you have mobility problems you really need to hold on when getting on and off the train). Plus, if you don’t want to fold Scoot down for the train, then it’s difficult to know where he would stand. I originally booked for Scoot to travel with the luggage in the Guard’s van, but actually when they saw how compact he was, they moved me to a wheelchair space (each train has three wheelchair spaces) – with Scoot sitting in the wheelchair space and me on a seat nearby. This was ideal as it meant I had Scoot near and could make sure his power was off etc. I now request this when I phone up to book my travel assistance. When you’ve booked assistance you need to arrive at an information point, (this will be on your confirmation email) around twenty minutes before you’re due to travel.
The quickest route to my office is via the London Underground system – the Tube. This is a travel system that is over 100 years old, and although a lot of money is being spent on upgrading it, there are still only a handful of stations that offer step-free access, and level access from the train to the platform. You can find a list of them here: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/tfl/gettingaround/accessibility-guides/default.aspx Unfortunately the nearest station to my office isn’t step free, and has some of the longest escalators that I’ve ever seen! I didn’t feel confident about taking Scoot up and down them for my first trip to London. The other option was to get the tube to an accessible station and then jump into a London Black Cab. These are very roomy and could easily accommodation Scoot inside, without folding. They also all have a ramp which folds out. The route down to the Victoria line from Kings Cross can be made by lifts, but it’s a good 10 minutes walk (for someone with no mobility issues) so it’s always been out of bounds for me. Coupled with another walk at the other end, from the station, over some very uneven ground (I’m not too steady on my feet) – and I’ve opted for the London bus for a few years now.
London buses are really very good, and an excellent way of getting around London. Apart from being able to see the sights, you can usually get fairly near to where you want to go, and buses run very frequently. The ‘Transport for London’ site has a journey planner, which allows you to put in choices and mobility needs, and it finds the best route for you. (www.tfl.gov.uk) Buses are also very accessible. They have two sets of doors – one for getting on, and one for getting off. And the exit doors, in the middle of the bus, have an expanding ramp which provides access from the bus to the pavement. Each bus has one wheelchair space, which can also accommodate scooters. Until fairly recently (I think about a year ago), mobility scooters weren’t allowed on London buses, but then Transport for London produced a list of scooters which were suitable for travel. The main consideration being size, weight and the turning circle. The list used to be published online, but it’s not there any more. But I did see it whilst it was still posted, and knew that Travelscoot was one of the approved scooters. It is now possible to get a ‘Mobility Aid Card’ which confirms that your scooter (or other walking aid) conforms to the approved specification. You apply for this via the Travel Mentor service, and a Mentor will also meet with you and help you on your first couple of journeys, until you build up confidence travelling on public transport. The card and the Travel Mentor service are free, and so is travelling on London buses on your scooter (or in a wheelchair). More details here: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/gettingaround/transportaccessibility/1171.aspx And there is a video here which shows you exactly what to do if you want to use a London bus: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fj07TEsRbNk All bus drivers have been given special training to help disabled passengers.
Having decided to go for it, I booked my assistance, and contacted the Travel Mentor scheme. Unfortunately they didn’t have anyone available to meet me on the first day I was travelling, but I decided to give it a go! I booked into the station without any problems, and the station staff were very helpful, even though I had some small difficulty persuading them that I didn’t need a ramp! My train terminates at Kings Cross so I sat tight as everyone else got off and then another member of staff came onto the train and got Scoot off for me. I then jumped on and whizzed up the station, passing other passengers for the first time ever! In no time I was at my usual bus stop and after a few minutes my bus appeared. Still sitting on Scoot I clearly indicated to the driver that I wanted to board, and then waited whilst other passengers got off. Then the doors shut, and an alert message started and the ramp extended out onto the pavement. Once the ramp was fully extended the doors opened and I rode Scoot up the ramp. It was quite steep near the top, but there is a handle on the door, so by grabbing that and pushing with my feet on the floor, I made it onto the bus. You then have to take a sharp right, and reverse Scoot into the wheelchair space. There is a padded backrest and I parked Scoot against that, put on the brakes, turned off the power, and put my feet firmly on the floor. And I stayed there for the rest of my journey. When I wanted to get off, there is a special ‘blue’ button that you press, and this alerts the driver that you’re at your stop. So, same thing in reverse: the other passengers get off, the doors close, the ramp extends and then the doors open. I ‘walked’ Scoot down the ramp and then went on with my trip. I have to get a second bus, this time a smaller ‘single decker’, which had exactly the same facilities. Then I scooted into the office and went to my meeting. Later in the day I did the whole thing in reverse, and arrived home feeling fine. Normally I’m absolutely exhausted and in pain.
My first trip was on a Friday which is quieter than usual going into London, as a lot of commuters work from home that day. My next trip was really very different, because it was during a Tube strike. If the underground isn’t running properly then there is much more pressure on roads and buses, with everything being much busier than usual. This time I did meet the Travel Mentor, but as she could see that I was coping fine, she issued me with my card and let me go on my way. The bus queues were really long, but I persevered and undertook my journey the same as the week before. It all took a lot longer, but I was so glad that I had Scoot as I waited half an hour at the bus stop and then was on the bus for about an hour. It would have been unlikely that I would have got a seat, so I really would have been struggling. My meeting finished early to accommodate the extra travel time needed, so I was back at Kings Cross with lots of time to spare. I went for a cup of coffee, and looked around the shops in the station. Normally I just sink onto the nearest seat and stay there until it’s time for the long trek down the platform. Now I’m planning on booking a later train home in future so that I can incorporate trips to the British Library and British Museum, and all of the other London attractions that I’ve wanted to visit for so long. In the summer I’m planning to take the Tube to Green Park underground station (which is step free) and ‘scoot’ through the park, past the Houses of Parliament and along the river to my office. Once again Scoot is opening up my world and adding enjoyment and excitement whilst relieving pain and discomfort.
I am really glad that I’ve made the effort to take Scoot to London. Station staff have been very impressed (and grateful) by how light Scoot is to get on and off the train, and his distinctive looks have aroused some interest. None of my work colleagues have commented on me using a mobility scooter, but I’ve found myself talking about it, and hopefully this will start the conversation and help other people who may be struggling with disabilities. Let’s hope so!
My top tips for travelling to London with Scoot:
- Plan ahead – book assistance for the mainline train, and plan the best route using the guides available
- If you’re using the bus, watch the video, it helps you to see exactly what you have to do
- Take your time getting on and off the bus, especially until you get used to it
- If you’re using the Tube, check out whether your station is accessible or not
- Contact the Travel Mentor service for help and advice if there’s anything you’re not sure about
- Leave some time in your itinerary for shopping and sight-seeing!