Disabled rail passenger left “scared and vulnerable”

Mon,13 December 2021
News Transport

A Disabled rail passenger from Leicester has been left feeling "scared and vulnerable" after recent journeys for which she had booked passenger assisted travel fell apart.

Vikki Bradley can no longer walk or stand for long periods of time without risking a fall. She booked reserved seats for her outbound journey along with help to find them. She said: "It was absolutely appalling. It couldn't have been worse if it had tried. The PA staff helped me onto the train, told me to fold up my mobility scooter to leave in the corridor, and that was it. When we got to the reserved seats, a family were sitting there, and when we told them we had them reserved she refused to give them up, saying she "had the right to sit there" and that apparently reservations were cancelled for the journey - even though the seats were still reserved according to the screen above them. We tried to explain that I was disabled and needed to sit down, but she point blank refused to give them up, and nobody else stepped in to help or at least find somewhere for me to sit at the very least.

“When it came to the return journey, things took a turn for the worse. We had to go back home via Euston station to change trains at Nuneaton, as there was disruption on the St Pancras to Leicester line. We were taken to the platform with plenty of time ahead of departure and the member of staff at the platform told us that the PA staff would be there to help us board shortly. But the member of staff didn't show up and the gates must have opened because, out of nowhere, passengers were running down towards the platform and swarming the train to get on. They were paying no attention to us at all and were basically climbing over each other to get on the train as quickly as possible.

"It was awful, I have never felt as vulnerable or scared in all of my life. It was terrifying, and we were just left there on the platform with everyone else on the train. It was full in seconds."

“When we got there and the staff member asked someone to give up their seats so we could get on, nobody moved or offered anything. They then told us that we couldn't get on and we'd have to wait an hour for the next one, even though we arrived at the train early to get on first. I told them no, because I had family [already] on the train and there was no way they would be able to get off to meet up with us again because of how busy it was - so they managed to just squeeze my scooter onto the train and I had to sit in it for the entire journey.

"What followed was a nightmare. It was overcrowded and over capacity by a significant amount. It was that bad that all staff could do was apologise over the tannoy over and over again, and when we arrived at stations, they let off standing passengers to get fresh air before setting off again.

"After we got to Nuneaton, we had already decided we couldn't handle getting on another train - so we booked a £46 Uber to Leicester instead.

"But when we told Passenger Assist at Nuneaton, they were incredibly rude and moaned at me because they had already made plans and changes to the journey as a lift was broken at Leicester - but never thought once to ask why I wasn't getting another train. Vikki added: "When I got back home I just broke down. I don't know if it was because I wanted to fight to get home or what, but I was just emotionally and physically exhausted by the whole experience. What's the point of Passenger Assist if disabled people have to go through these experiences? Disabled people need to be treated better on public transport, this can't happen again."

DR UK’s Rail Policy Advisor Stephen Brookes said: “This sequence of events is why it is essential that rail companies and Passenger Assist staff get their respective communication acts together and work more closely.

“All too often we hear of journeys which fail disabled people because while we book the heavily promoted passenger assistance system and try to do our best to travel safely, the differing parts of the rail industry seem unable to work together when trains are busy and disruption occurs. In this case, staff on the ground at stations did not make sure that the booked assistance was translated into ensuring that spaces and seats were actually available.  

“With the various consultations and aims of the new public body, Great British Railways, to provide better passenger experiences, we call on all parts of the rail sector to work with us in creating a decent service and implementing a Plan B when things go wrong. Disabled people are too frequently left high and dry at such times.”