Failings in Passenger Assistance

Hello everyone,

I hope you’re all well.

This post is part of mine and Elin’s #SeeingThroughSightLossSeries where we discuss everything relating to disability, visual impairment and also often our meet ups. Today’s post is going to be a bit of a mixed bag – I am going to discuss my own personal experiences and from this, I hope to raise awareness.

I try to be positive on my blog as I feel that it generally reflects the person I am, and I don’t sugar-coat anything that I write, therefore this post is no exception but I just want you to know that everything that I’m discussing is true and honest, not exaggerated, made up or fake. As I said, I try to be positive on my blog, but I do sometimes address the negative aspects of having a disability too and I think that’s important. Today I want to tell you about an experience that I have had recently, but one that’s reoccurred on several occasions and sadly, that’s one of the harsh realities of being blind or having a disability. What I’m talking about is passenger assistance on public transport, in this case, trains. For those of you that aren’t familiar with passenger assistance, it’s where a member of staff from a train station helps a disabled or elderly person IE people in wheelchairs, or those with a visual impairment like myself. For example, They can assist people on and off trains, take people to a meeting point to meet others, to a taxi or even a connecting train. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

That’s what I thought when I tried it for the first time. But this was soon the opposite – I was left on a train, had I not have been with my Dad who came with me whilst I was trying it for the first time, I’d have been left on a train to Southampton, over 100 miles away from my original destination. Scary thought, right? But this sort of thing happens too often. You can read about my first time trying passenger assistance here.

After that time, I thought that it would just be a mistake and wouldn’t happen to me again but that couldn’t have been further away from the truth, in the last 9 months the so called “passenger assistance” has failed me each time that I have required it.

I want to tell you about the most recent experience that I had. On Friday 28 April 2017, I was travelling to Manchester to meet my best friend Elin (My Blurred World) as we were going to see Shawn Mendes in concert and I was extremely excited! I pre-booked my hotel, train tickets and passenger assistance back in February so that it was all done, and I knew that I would hopefully get assistance. My Mum was travelling with me, as she was going out for a meal with Elin’s Mum whilst we were at the gig and as Manchester isn’t familiar to me and Elin, they were our eyes so to speak.

(photo of a train ticket)

You may be asking why I needed passenger assistance when my Mum was with me, I wanted to try it on this route as it’s one that I’ll hopefully be doing more often so wanted to try it whilst someone sighted was with me. So please do not tell me that I was abusing the system because I wasn’t, and I genuinely needed the experience for future trips.

I started my journey at York station where I went to the information desk, where I was met by an assistant a few minutes later. This part went well, the assistant helped me onto the train and assisted me in finding my seat; they did everything that they were supposed to do.

When I arrived at Manchester Victoria station, this is where the problems occurred. I was on an overcrowded train where people were stood up in the carriage, I appreciate that this was on the day of a rail strike so people were probably using alternative trains but as a blind person, it made it practically impossible for me to get through these people using my long cane. If my Mum hadn’t have been with me, it would have been extremely difficult for me to carry my luggage and navigate through an overcrowded carriage with my cane. We waited a couple of minutes to see whether a member of staff was going to come onto the train to assist me, as time quickly ticked by, we  soon realised that they hadn’t turned up yet again. We got off the train as it seemed that there was no assistant for me like I had pre-booked. Once we were off the train and stood on the platform, my Mum looked at a person who seemed to be a member of staff, and the lady came over and asked if I needed assistance, I explained that I had in fact pre-booked assistance as I was blind, for her to inform me that she only had two people on my train down for luggage assistance, rather than one with a severe visual impairment. I knew that the information she had told me was wrong as I knew that my passenger assistance details stated that I had a visual impairment and had the right instructions for the member of staff.

We went to the information centre at Manchester Victoria station to find out exactly what had happened. I knew that the assistance had been done right as I was there when the person booked it for me back in February. The man at the information point checked the system and told me that it was in fact all correct, and there had been clearly some mix up in communication. He said that they were short staffed but agreed with me in that this was no excuse. He told me to complain when I returned home the following day.

Despite all of this, I wanted to enjoy the Shawn Mendes concert and the time with my best friend so that’s exactly what we did! A post on the gig will be coming soon – this would have been too long if me and Elin would have just done one post each on the weekend overall!

 

On the Saturday, we left Manchester in the afternoon and me and my mum parted ways with Elin and her Mum and headed off to catch our trains.

Me and my Mum went to the information point again, in order for me to get my assistance. I informed the man at the information desk that I had pre-booked passenger assistance, the man told me that the system was down so would try to see if any assistants were available. Luckily there was, but had I been on my own, this could have been a real issue and so much worse.

When we arrived back at York station, there was no assistance there to come and help me off the train again. We waited for the train to pull out and there was no one there as my Mum and Dad observed this. A couple of minutes later, a woman walked onto the platform so we asked if she was my assistant, and she said yes, but she was waiting for me to “wave a stick or a dog in the air”. How can I wave a cane in the air when I don’t know where a person is, or if there’s anyone there waiting for me? Had I have been on my own, I’d have had to struggle to get off the train by myself along with my luggage, or even worse, ended up in Newcastle which is a long way from where I needed to be.

I wrote to the train company, First Transpenine Express who informed me that they couldn’t deal with this issue as they do not manage Manchester Victoria station so have passed it onto Northern Rail who would be in touch with me. And guess what? I haven’t heard from Northern Rail yet, despite trying to contact them several times myself.

So clearly, there’s a failing in the system somewhere.

I find it appalling that train companies and members of staff do not communicate, misread information, leave disabled passengers on trains and ignore complaints. Like I said, this is one of many incidents that I’ve had when using passenger assistance and it really isn’t fair.

Sadly, I’m not on my own when experiencing these issues, most or if not all of my blind or visually impaired friends have had the same experiences across the country. Make sure you check out Elin’s post as she gives you an account on her experience of passenger assistance and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

I’ve wrote this post to highlight some of the issues and struggles that people like myself face when wanting to do something simple like travelling independently on public transport. Just because we have a visual impairment, or other disability it should not be incredibly hard and cause endless frustrations for us. We claim to live in a (fairly) equal society but is this really the case when such problems arise and are a regular occurrence?

I know that here in the UK, we are extremely lucky to have services in place such as passenger assistance and I am extremely grateful for this service but it does not make it right when such systems fail.

I believe that disabled people should have the same rights to travel on trains independently like non-disabled people, but the reality of this is that I feel that this is not the case at all. This is becoming a regular occurrence for me and many others and I do not feel that this should be the case at all.

It is frustrating, and very exhausting for me and my parents to have to keep contacting train companies because of continuous failings, lack of communication or assistance.

I know that writing this blog post will not change the policies and procedures that are put in place, but I hope it highlights some of the issues that disabled people face.

I want to be like my sighted friends and family and travel independently but how can I trust such services when they keep letting me down?

I’m sorry if this was a bit of a rant but I really hope it has helped raise awareness.

I’d really appreciate it if you could share this post so that we can at least try to make a difference!

If you are a disabled person and have had similar experiences then feel free to leave them in the comments.

I’m sorry if this post has offended any of you – that was never my intention.

As always, thank you for reading, I’ll be back soon with another post!

Holly x

My Passenger Assistance Experience

Hello,

I hope you are all well.

This is probably a rather long rant but I wanted to tell you about a recent experience that I had as I think it needs to be discussed. I’m hoping that it portrays the fact that not everything goes to plan, even when provisions are put in place and that there are flaws in the services for disabled people.

Earlier this week, I attended Sight Village. For those of you that don’t know what Sight Village is, it is an exhibition for blind and visually impaired people to attend where they can see the latest assistive technology and services among other things. I’ve done a lot of traveling with friends and family on buses, trains, planes and in the car and been on a plane by myself but something that I had never done was go on a train on my own using assistance. I’ve wanted to attend Sight Village for a while now but never had the time to go but this year I decided that I would go. My dad said that he wanted to come with me, so we decided that that would be a great opportunity for me to try out passenger assistance. We planned everything in advance: booked the train tickets and assistance, hotel and registered that we were attending Sight Village. We thought that if we did then everything would run smoothly, however we were wrong.

When arriving at my local station on Tuesday, we went to the passenger assist desk where the person told us to go to the required platform for our train. When getting to the platform, we suddenly thought that the person didn’t give us the option of an assistant guiding me to the platform, instead just assumed my parents would guide me. We let this go and just dismissed it as a minor issue. My train was finally called and it was now announced that there would be a change of platform. There were a few members of staff around but none of them made themselves known to me as my assistant so to avoid running for the train me and my parents started walking to the other platform. When we started walking, a member of staff came over to us and told us that he was my assistant. I did think that he should have done this a lot sooner and the provisions were slightly unorganised but we went with it.

When we got on the train, the assistant showed me to my seat and told me that he’d ring ahead to Birmingham to tell them that I was on the train and for them to come on and get my suitcase. I was happy with this and was glad that he was doing so.

We ended up being 66 minutes late arriving into Birmingham due to many problems, we were glad when we finally arrived. However, this is where the major problem occurred.

As the train pulled into the station me and my dad were getting ready to leave and we gathered our stuff ready to leave the train when the assistant came. However, this was the issue…the assistant didn’t turn up. We waited for a couple of minutes until we were rather certain that no one was coming. My dad quickly grabbed our suitcase and other things and we had to rush off the train.

When we were off the train, we stood there being 100 % certain that no one was going to come. The ticket woman got off the train and we walked over to her and told her what had happened. It was safe to say that she wasn’t bothered and couldn’t have cared less whether the assistant had or hadn’t have turned up. She wasn’t exactly going to help us resolve the issue either. One thing really annoyed me is that she spoke to my dad about me whilst I was stood there, rather than speaking directly to myself or both of us. Even when I spoke, she still did this. For disabled people, this is literally a pet hate! She walked off, not helping resolve the issue and we were left there. A cleaner was on the platform, yes a cleaner and they had heard the conversation so showed us to the customer relations office where we could complain about what had happened. The guy in customer relations looked up my name and did confirm that I was booked for assistance which we knew anyway and told us he’d get his manager to ring us the next day. It wasn’t the ticket person we had the major problem with, the main issue here was the fact that the passenger assistance service had failed.

The following day arrived and the manager did not ring us. When me and my dad went back to the station we went back to the office and double checked the assistance for our train later and luckily the same guy from the night before was on the desk. We explained that the manager hadn’t phoned us and he was in fact there in the building. We spoke to the manager in person and he didn’t really do anything, other than apologise. When getting my assistance that evening things did go a lot better, and ran much smoother than the night before.

I had written my experience on Twitter and Facebook and spoke to my blind and visually impaired friends at Sight Village and the thing that concerned me most was that the majority of my blind and visually impaired friends had experienced exactly the same thing that I had where the assistant doesn’t turn up and you are basically left stranded. I was lucky because my dad was with me, but what if i’d have been on my own? What was I meant to do? I’d have more than likely panicked, was I meant to find my way off the train by myself and be stranded on the platform or sit on the train until it terminated at another place and be stranded there as well? I’d have got off the train as quickly as I could by myself, but I shouldn’t have to consider these sort of things. The provisions that are in place should work. I’m blind, I can’t see where the door is/the step down from the train to the platform and the only use I have is my long cane and although they are good as a mobility aid, they don’t have eyes. This was my first time of using passenger assistance and it was an utter shambles. From speaking to my friends, this happens way too often. There’s been so many articles lately of blind and visually impaired people being refused access to taxi’s, restaurants to name a few, how is the failing of passenger assistance on trains any different from these sort of refusals? The service is there for disabled people and it gives them the same access to transport as everyone else, however when it doesn’t work this prevents people like myself from having access to it and most of all being independent. Disabled people have rights, just like everyone else. Why should we have to worry if our assistance is actually going to turn up and come up with solutions for getting off trains by ourselves and relying on the generosity of the public to take us to where we need to be? I know services and systems have their downfalls and not everything can always run smoothly but from my experience of passenger assistance and those of my friends, this happens way too often.

Last year, I used the special assistance service to fly to Belgium to meet a friend and not once did this service fail. So why is passenger assistance on trains so different?

I’m going to be completely honest, this experience has doubted my trust in passenger assistance. Will I always be thinking ‘will the assistant turn up?’ or ‘what do I do if they don’t come to get me off the train?’ Disabled people shouldn’t have to think like this all the time, it’s not fair on us and it certainly does not make us equal to non-disabled people.

I know that I can’t change these services through a blog post but what I can do is raise awareness of the issues that we face and tell you my own personal experiences. I try to be a positive person but when something like this happens, I think people need to be aware of the situation.

I’m hoping that my future experiences of passenger assistance aren’t the same as this one and does not become a regular occurrence for me and others in my situation.

 

I’d really appreciate it if you could share this post and help me raise awareness of the flaws in these services and that having a disability doesn’t make everything all plain and simple.

If you would like to share your experiences, then feel free to leave them in the comments section.

Holly x