An argument on FaceBook yesterday made me realise – I have to wade into this whole “Buggy space vs Wheelchair space” debate thing. When it came on FaceBook, posted by someone who is neither a parent nor disabled, my first thought was “Gargh, how boring…this again?!” and assumed he was just stirring. He may well have been, but I’m grateful for the argument because it’s given me an amazing revelation on the subject which I’m going to share with you now.
The first thing I need to say is that, despite all the hype, it isn’t a huge issue. I have buggy-ed extensively round London and only once in nearly 4 years have had to move for a wheelchair. I’m terrible at folding my buggy because it’s always laden with stuff, so in that instance I just got off. I was somewhere in Pimlico and I walked the rest of the way. Cause I have working legs and I can do that. Fair’s fair. But my friend who started the argument claims he’s seen it three times in six months. I calculate that as not a high hit rate (say you make 40 journeys a month, that’s one in 80 journeys) but it happens. Maybe I avoid it because I tend to travel at sensible times, but that’s just me. I appreciate not everyone can avoid rush hours.
But his main argument was what got me thinking “It must be a problem because TfL have plastered posters everywhere, saying that buggy users have to move” (a paraphrase). That’s right folks, we have slipped into a weird parallel universe where we take everything TfL says as gospel. That bus WILL arrive in 2 minutes, this escalator WILL be re-opened in Summer 2013 and they really ARE sorry for any disruption . 12 years of living in London has made me cynical, but I shouldn’t be. TfL have our best interests at heart and we should listen to everything they say on the subject on wheeled vehicles aboard their bigger wheeled vehicles.
Or should we? Because I am getting to the absolute nub of it here….Are you ready? There is a shocking revelation coming up and I’m going to put it in bold, so that no idiot every misses it every again.
London should have the capacity to transport everyone,everywhere.
It’s as simple – or as complicated – as that. There should be enough capacity for everyone that needs to travel around London to do just that. If the buses are full of disabled people fighting with buggies (which they’re not), then there’s one reason why: it’s because buses are the only fully-accessible form of transport. Meanwhile, during the day tubes and overland trains rattle around half empty. We claim to be a 21st century city, yet we have a transport system from the 19th century, with 19th century ideas of accessibility. That’s why the buses are full – because a shocking proportion of people can’t use the tube.
That’s the answer, long-term. In the meantime if there really are frequent arguments on these routes, then you need more services on those routes. But these things cost money (in the case of modernising the tube, a LOT of money) so they’re not going to do them. Another wacky solution is to put conductors on those routes, to sort out disputes between wheelchair users and buggy users, if it’s really that bad. The routemasters were the least accessible buses ever, but there were never any rumbles on them, thanks to the calming influence of the conductor (and I’m not talking buggy vs disabled rumbles, just your average Saturday evening in South London rumbles). If you can tell me that every time you get on a bus, there’s a mother refusing to fold her pushchair so that a disabled person can get on, then you need someone staffing it, TfL. Asking people to essentially govern themselves is never gonna work.
(Cause, just a small note of sympathy for these parents here – even the rude ones – it is really bloody hard to fold a buggy with one hand, on a crowded bus in motion while hanging on to both your possessions and your child. It is not safe to hold a baby one-handed on a moving vehicle, and the idea of giving them to a stranger doesn’t bear thinking about. “Hey there, junkie! Wanna hold my kid?”)
But, again these things cost money. So TfL have come up with a poster campaign instead. TfL love a poster campaign. Anyone remember the “Buses are getting better” campaign? Psst, here’s a thought – if they genuinely are getting better, you shouldn’t need a poster to tell people about them.
And so, the latest poster – which Nathan pointed out looks like the man with the buggy is shaking his fist at the man in the wheelchair – is designed to pit parents against disabled people, while deflecting from the fact that TfL just need to do something visible about this creaking network of ours. I’m not sure whose jurisdiction it falls under, but those lifts at Vauxhall are still not functioning. They are there, but when I appeared with buggy, stuff and childx2 the other day, I was told they were out of order. The wide gate also doesn’t accept oyster, so I had to wait for someone to turn up and open it, who then told me about the lifts before disappearing off. I had to haul our (new lightweight! woooo!) buggy up the stairs, with Roo walking and Eva in the sling. Again, because I can. What would I have done if I’d been in a wheelchair? You’d hope they’d mention it before you beeped in…
So, there’s my point, plain and simple.Yes, we need to use some common sense and some courtesy in these situations. Yes, it’s a relatively rare problem and it shouldn’t make either parents or disabled people frightened of using transport in Central London (another lovely side effect of these posters – make parents worry that any second now, they’ll get chucked off the bus, make wheelchair users feel like they’re being a nuisance to other people). But in the end , it comes down to TfL – what are you going to do?
Of course, there’s always the option that someone suggested on FaceBook about mothers who don’t fold pushchairs “I think they should be shot or sterilized”. Yeah, cause using quasi-Nazi speak is a cool thing to do. See what you’re responsible for here TfL – you’ve let people like this speak! (Although I think the Daily Mail also gets a credit). If the above arguments don’t sway you to action, maybe the threat of a deranged Daily Mail reader both shooting and sterilising people aboard the number 73 will. Think about that one for a while…