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Public transport

On the whole, public transport has not in the past been designed with disabled people in mind, but improvements are slowly taking place and should continue to do so with the implementation of the transport regulations under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). The way in which the Act affects the different modes of public transport are explained below, where relevant. For long distance travel, for example by rail, air or coach, the golden rule is to give as much notice as possible to the transport provider (or travel agent, if appropriate) and to be explicit about your needs.

Air Travel

Airlines have greatly improved the facilities they offer to disabled people and most of them have set procedures for assisting disabled passengers. In addition, many airports have detailed access guides for disabled people. Some people, however, have difficulty on board aircraft because of insufficient leg room or other design limitations. If you have not flown before as a disabled person, obtain detailed advice from the airline or your travel agent, or from one of the organisations listed at the end of this section.

Medical Clearance

Most people, particularly those with permanent and stable conditions, will not require medical clearance before travelling. It is important, however, to check at the time of booking what, if any, medical information will be required. The majority of airlines have adopted a system for reporting medical information known as the MEDIF (Standard Medical Form) or the FREMEC (Frequent Travellers’ Medical Card). These should be available direct from the airline.

The MEDIF is divided into two parts. Part one records your additional requirements so that the airline knows what aids and equipment, services and facilities are needed to help you. Part two will need to be completed by your doctor if the airline decides it does want medical clearance. The MEDIF is specific to the flights and dates shown on your travel itinerary and any change in the itinerary will require a new MEDIF to be issued.

The FREMEC is useful if you travel regularly and have a permanent and stable condition. It provides the airline with a permanent record of your needs and can be used for all flights you take with that airline. If you fly with an airline other than that which issued your FREMEC card you should check its validity with the new airline.

Access to and on the Plane

If you are a wheelchair user you are likely to be able to remain in your wheelchair until just prior to boarding. Most airlines have an on-board wheelchair which will then enable you to get to your seat while your own chair is stored in the hold. Many seats on larger aircraft have moveable armrests, which makes transfer from the wheelchair easier, and in most cases you will be able to specify your need for an aisle seat, for example, or for a seat with more leg room. You will not, however, be allowed to sit in the seats by the emergency exits.

Most major airlines have some planes equipped with accessible toilets, but do not assume that one will be available on your flight. Where they are available they allow access to the on-board wheelchair and a companion if assistance is required. They are still, however, quite small and may be difficult for some people.

Aids and Equipment on Board

 Most aids and pieces of equipment will be carried free of charge and are not included in the baggage weight allowance. Larger pieces of equipment, such as wheelchairs, are carried in the hold, although smaller items such as cushions may be taken in the cabin with you as hand luggage. Respirators of certain types can be carried by some airlines, but access to the power supply varies from airline to airline. It is important to contact the airline to find out what service can be provided. If you are likely to need oxygen during a flight you should also contact the airline to discuss this. Airlines are entitled to charge for additional oxygen supplies. Portable kidney machines can be carried by most airlines and if you use the CAPD method of dialysis you will not normally require additional medical clearance.

Bus and Coach Travel

An increasing number of low floor buses are currently in operation and most new buses are low floor, although very few are fitted with ramps. The Government has made regulations under the transport provisions of the DDA which will make it a condition of a bus company’s licence to operate that every new bus is fitted with a ramp or lift. The regulations cover new vehicles with more than 22 passengers used on scheduled and local services. They apply first to new full-size single deck buses (from January 2000) then to double deck buses (January 2001). Coaches, such as those used on inter-city services, and smaller vehicles such as minibuses, are covered by the regulations from January 2005. Transport operators will then have up to 16 years to ensure that all their vehicles, not just new ones, comply with the regulations.

Most coaches currently used on scheduled services are completely inaccessible to wheelchair users, although people who can leave their wheelchair can often be helped to their seat by staff. Wheelchairs are carried at no extra cost.

A number of commercial and voluntary organisations have coaches or minibuses which have been adapted to carry people in wheelchairs for hire to groups or for use on package holidays.

Many large urban areas and smaller towns now have a localised door-to-door transport service specially for people who are unable to use public transport. They are known by a variety of names, eg, Dial-a-Ride, Ring-and-Ride, Dial-a-Journey, but essentially they all provide the same type of service specially designed to meet individual needs. To find out whether there is one near to you, contact the Public Transport Information Officer in your county council, or your local social services department.

Most local authorities operate a system of concessionary fares for elderly or disabled people and details will be available from the social services department.

Ferries

Although facilities on board most cross-Channel ferries are reasonable, some older, less accessible vessels are still in operation. The general rule about booking early and ensuring that you make your needs known to the ferry company is important. This will enable them to arrange for you to be boarded first and to park your car near the lift on an appropriate parking deck. It is also important to discuss your needs if you are travelling overnight and wish to use the cabin facilities, as many cabins are small and may not be suitable for someone with mobility difficulties.

Discounts on ferry travel are available to members of the Disabled Drivers’ Motor Club or the Disabled Drivers’ Association. Even if you are not a member of one of these, the ferry companies may give you a discount as a disabled person.

Rail Travel

The main difficulty in achieving good access to rail travel is not the rolling stock but the stations, many of which still have footbridges or underpasses with steep stairs. Access to stations is not covered by the transport provisions of the DDA, but by the goods and services section. This places a general duty on service providers to make their facilities accessible to disabled people, and stations are slowly being upgraded and improved. A leaflet "Rail Travel for Disabled Passengers" is available from most staffed railway stations. It gives details on planning railway journeys, local contact points such as telephone numbers for regional train operating companies and information on concessionary fares and the Disabled Person’s Railcard.

A national rail travel assistance helpline is available on 0345 484950 (Minicom: 0845 6050600) which can assist with travel arrangements for disabled people travelling on services operated by any train company. In addition, each rail operator is obliged to have a dedicated telephone number for disabled passengers to ring and arrange for assistance. These numbers should be in your phone book. It is, however, still advisable to confirm with station staff locally that appropriate arrangements have been made, for example the provision of ramps. At some larger stations a buggy or wheelchair can be provided.

As space is limited, powered scooters may not currently be carried on trains and wheelchairs may only be carried if their width does not exceed 26.5 ins (67cms).

From the end of December 1998 the DDA has required all new overground and underground trains to be accessible to disabled people. This includes providing accessible toilets and spaces for people to travel in their wheelchairs.

Cross-channel Services

An information leaflet is available for disabled people wishing to use the "Le Shuttle" service for motorists passing through the Channel Tunnel. The terminals are accessible and have toilets designed for disabled people. When checking-in, motorists who are disabled or have disabled passengers are requested to make themselves known so that appropriate assistance and loading arrangements can be made.

The "Eurostar" rail service for people travelling without a car also has accessible station terminals and a number of staff members have learnt sign language. The trains have been designed with many features to assist disabled passengers. When booking, passengers should specify any particular needs they may have, preferably at least 24 hours in advance. At Waterloo, desk 1 in the booking hall is at low level and would be the main point of contact.

Taxis

Under the DDA, all new licensed taxis (but not private hire vehicles) throughout the country will be required to be fully wheelchair accessible from January 2002, with an end date of 2012. The regulations can be applied to a wide range of vehicles, from purpose-built taxis to adapted multi-purpose vehicles or van-based vehicles, according to the requirements of the neighbourhood. At present all traditional style taxis manufactured after 1989 are accessible (ie most ‘F’ registration taxis and all later registrations).

Underground and Metro

Most of the London underground system is very difficult for people with disabilities to use. Most stations have steps, many have escalators and there is always a gap between the platform and the train. Wheelchair users are permitted to use deep level tube sections provided they have all the help they need to complete their journey and that they are able to stand on any moving escalators it may be necessary to use.

Glasgow Underground is not accessible to wheelchair users, but the facilities are good for ambulant disabled people.

Manchester Metrolink is fully accessible and there is one wheelchair space in each carriage.

Merseyrail Underground is fully accessible.

Sheffield Supertram is semi-accessible. If you are carrying luggage and cannot climb stairs you will have to keep it with you.

Tyne & Wear Metro is fully accessible, although wheelchair users will need some assistance.

Further Information

RADAR has produced two guides, "Access to Air Travel" and "Door to Door" which you may find helpful, as might the Disabled Living Foundation’s "Flying High" booklet.

Tripscope is a national organisation which provides information and advice for individual disabled people on planning a journey by public transport.

London Transport’s Unit for Disabled Passengers publishes "Access to the Underground" which gives detailed information about the accessibility of each station.

Carers association

We are indebted to RADAR for providing the information for this section.