While most rail companies are happy to accommodate mobility scooters on their train services, there is growing evidence that a number of them are making life difficult for disabled users by refusing to allow them to board with their vehicles.
The latest person to be refused access to a train has said that she was left stranded on a platform after staff told her not to get on.
Angela Taylor, of Maryport, Cumbria, says that she was told by Northern Rail staff at Carlisle that the company would not allow mobility scooters on the line between Carlisle and West Cumbria.
But the 49-year-old said that she has never had a problem in the past and has consistently travelled on trains on the line with her scooter including, she said, earlier the same day that she was told that scooters were not allowed on board.
Mrs Taylor was forced to buy a mobility scooter after damaging her spine in an accident. She said: “I bought a small one with the trains in mind. I travel between Maryport and Dumfries probably once a week.”
She said that she has travelled on Northern Rail trains with her scooter six or seven times in the past. Mrs Taylor added: “I always book through Journey Care, which assists disabled passengers. They ensure any particular service is not overcrowded.
“On this occasion, the only disabled passengers were myself and a man going to Whitehaven who was in a wheelchair. There was plenty of room.”
Mrs Taylor, who described herself as a regular rail user, said that she had never had any problems with other rail operators including Scot Rail and Virgin. Following the incident in which she was refused access to the Northern Rail train, the company eventually called her a taxi to take her to a destination. It now says that it will continue to do this in future for her.
A spokesman for the rail company said that scooters were difficult to carry on trains because of their lack of manoeuvrability and constrained access on platforms. Because of this, the spokesman added, Northern Rail did not accept any scooters – no matter what their size or how empty the particular train is – unless they can be folded up and carried as baggage.
She said that the company would now be talking to all of its employees to make sure that it applies its own rules consistently.
“We are always working towards accommodating the needs of all our customers and would like to apologise to Mrs Taylor.” Any passenger who might need help getting on or off trains should always contact Northern Rail in advance, she said. “We will always check what type of mobility aid is being used and, in Mrs Taylor’s case, we would have clearly explained our mobility scooter policy.”
There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that a number of rail operators are hardening their attitudes towards mobility scooters. While the National Rail website says that most companies accept them for travel, a number of news items over the last 12 months have highlighted difficulties some users have had trying to travel by train.
Because each train operator has its own rules on scooters, it is advisable to check first before attempting to take the train. All of the rail companies have a “Making Rail Accessible” leaflet, details on their websites or an accessibility phone number for assistance. Travellers should also check that the stations they are travelling to and from have step-free access to the platform.
Many operators say that they are happy to carry non-folded mobility scooters as long as these are the smaller and lighter models although there are restrictions on some routes.
Some will only carry a scooter if the user has been issued with one of their special scotter permits while other companies will only allow folded scooters placed in luggage racks. In most cases, rail staff are prohibited from helping users lift these down from the racks.
Some rail operators recommend that scooter users reserve a space to accommodate the scooter - usually with at least 24 hours’ notice.
By Help Mobility Team