London for disabled visitors
The London Underground has been made more accessible for disabled visitors. (Charlotte Hindle/LPI)
As host city for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer, London’s public transport network is set to be tested as crowds descend on the city for the several weeks of sporting events.
Although the London transport network is not 100% accessible for people with mobility problems, the city has been making strides with extra services and facilities. With appropriate forward planning, disabled visitors should be able to get around London without too much difficulty.
Underground and overground rail
Seats are available on most London Underground, London Overground and Docklands Light Railway (DLR) platforms, all trains have clearly marked priority seating next to the carriage doors, and audio and visual info is provided on most trains and platforms. Most stations also have wide ticket gates for wheelchair access or those with guide dogs.
While the London Underground has been made more accessible in recent years (more than 60 stations out of 270 are now step-less between the street and the platforms), many Tube stations still present challenges for the disabled due to gaps between the platform and the carriage door. Since central London is quite compact, it may sometimes be quicker to get around above ground than taking the Tube.
The London 2012′s map of accessible train stations highlights which stations have the best access for disabled visitors, which have staff assistance available, and which have step-free access between the entrance and the train or step-free access from the entrance to the platform. The site has an equivalent map of National Rail stations for towns around the United Kingdom that are hosting Olympic events. Visitors can pre-book assistance at London Overground stations by calling 0845-601-4867 at least 48 hours in advance. Pre-booking is not necessary on London Underground and DLR services.
The National Rail website also offers an interactive tool called Stations Made Easy to help plan your train journey.
Most of the city’s 8,000 buses have a retractable ramp for wheelchair access, are equipped with priority seats near the door and have space for one wheelchair on each bus. The next stop, the route number and the final destination of the bus are all automatically announced, and guide dogs can travel on buses. The old red Routemaster double-decker buses are not wheelchair accessible, but the small fleet of newly redesigned Routemasters are. For coach travel, National Express has a 24-hour helpline and can assist disabled passengers if given a day’s notice. The company aims to have a 100% accessible coach network by early 2013.
All licensed London black cabs are wheelchair-accessible and come equipped with induction loops, intercoms, intermediate steps, grab handles and other features. Guide dogs can also travel in cabs. If booking a licensed minicab, check on the accessibility features available or request a particular vehicle.
The Blue Badge scheme offers parking concessions for people with severe mobility problems who have difficulty using public transport. Blue Badge parking can be organised on the London 2012 site; you should also consult parkingforbluebadges.com. Check the London 2012 website for Park and Ride details, including accessible parking spaces, before you try to catch a wheelchair-accessible shuttle to the Olympics venue.
All piers are wheelchair accessible, with step-free access from the pier to the boat, but passengers should consult individual operators about the level of accessibility on board.
Plan your trip on the Transport for London (TFL) site, leave plenty of time and if possible, have an alternative route prepared. TFL provides a free Dial-a-Ride service for disabled people who are unable to use public transport – check the website for details. Journey planning assistance is also available on its 24-hour telephone helpline (0843- 7222-1234) or use Textphone (phones where you text instead of speak) on 020 7918 3015. For specific Olympic venues and events, use the Spectator Journey Planner.
London is generally well provided with disabled toilets, from fast food outlets, to shopping centres, cinemas and public conveniences. Use the search engine on Inclusive London to locate one. Inclusive London also lists accessible hotels, restaurants, shops, pubs, attractions, banks and entertainment venues in the capital and across the UK.