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Disabled Tourist in London -- Can I Really Ride the Tube?

My husband, daughter and I will be in London in early December 2014. I walk slowly with a cane or will be riding in a cart/hoveround contraption. I have heard that riding the tube would not be feasible for me to do, with either cane or cart due to size of cart, and/or my slow walking. Are the buses better? What should we do or buy insofar as transportation tickets?

Posted by
23402 posts

The answer to your questions could be yes or no, but we will need considerably more information to give a clear answer.

The Travel for London (TfL) folks are in charge of the Underground (Tube) and they produce a good journey planner which can take into account your disability. It is at http://www.tfl.gov.uk/plan-a-journey/?&date=20141016&timeIs=departing&time=2115#more-options and a map of where the step free access is can be found at http://www.tfl.gov.uk/cdn/static/cms/documents/step-free-tube-guide-map.pdf

The short answer is that some, a growing number but still small, of the stations are step free, more have some escalators or lifts but still have some steps, and many have no lifts or escalators. See the documents above.

Where will you be going to and from?

I've worked on the trains for nearly a quarter century and I can't imagine what you mean by "riding in a cart/hoveround contraption." Can you please be more specific?

Posted by
2 posts

thank you for your response -- I'm new to this site and haven't spent a great amount of time searching the site for the best places to ask questions. I will investigate the sites you suggested. The cart/hoveround is a motorized vehicle for the disabled - it doesn't look like a wheelchair, though-- in the U.S. you find them in grocery stores/department stores to assist shoppers who can't walk well. They have alllll kinds of names and "hoveround" was the only one I could think of!

Posted by
23402 posts

french for me,

where will you get this device? The trains and the Tube have specific rules as to the permitted dimensions, and getting a ramp on the tube is not easy. It would be easier with a slow person with a stick at most stations than with a motorized buggy. There is usually a gap (that's why you always hear "Mind the Gap") and the lip of the step at the door is usually some distance higher than the platform.

Look at what was posted previously.

Posted by
8293 posts

francais may be better off trading her hovercraft for a wheel chair for the purpose of touring London.

Posted by
507 posts

NIgel,

How long due the doors of the cars remain open? Are they sensitive to movement so they remain open as long as people are getting in and out? Does the driver have the means to keep the doors open while someone who is slow is getting on/off?

This is what the poster was referring to as a hoverround.
http://www.rwrogerscompany.com/motorized-handicap-carts

Posted by
8293 posts

Before worrying about actually boarding the underground train, I would want to know how I could get to the tube platform with this vehicle. An escalator or stairs won't be of use and not all tube stations have lifts.

Posted by
5817 posts

I'm a Londoner and also walk with a stick so I have some experience of this!:-)
Basically, you won't be able to use a motorised cart on the tube.
Not knowing where you are planning to travel I presume you will mostly be within the centre tourist area of town. Very few of these stations have lift access. Most have at least some stairs or escalators to navigate. There has been a very limited modernisation of the tube so some stations are wheelchair friendly but there numbers are very limited and in locations that aren't much use to the average tourist.

The tube is perfectly doable with a stick if you take your time and are actually able to get up and down stairs. People are generally very helpful and tolerant, even during the rush hour. BUT it is still tiring! You still have to walk often quite long distances and be nimble enought to get on and off escalators. Whilst you will usually be offered a seat there is also always the possibility that you will have to stand on a moving train.

Taking that into account buses are definitely a better option. There are literally 1000s of them travelling all over the city. You can use a motorised scooter on them, although I wouldn't want to try during the rush hour. To get on a bus you indicate tor the driver that you want to get on and he will lower a ramp at the rear door where you will be able to access, if there is space for you to travel. To get off you need to ring the bell at,or preferably just before, the stop you need.

If you let us know an idea of where you are planning to stay and visit we can give you a bit more detailed info to help, including about which ticket to go for.

If you haven't already done so, have look at the transport for london ( tfl ) website which has comprehensive advice about travelling in London.

Posted by
2 posts

Thanks to everyone, especially Nigel and Emma, for the information. I do believe buses will be my better mode of transport. My daughter will be auditioning at the Royal College and Royal Academy (wish her luck!) and we haven't finalized where we will be staying yet, but it WILL be somewhere close to a BUS STOP! I appreciate all of the information!

Posted by
5817 posts

A part of the TFL site that you will find useful is the journey planner, which " does what it says on the tin" and let's you plan journeys on all forms of public transport in London.
When you have an idea of what journeys you will be needing to take enter them into the planner and it will give you all the possible options with times and maps etc.
You can set the search perameters to just use the bus, or to exclude the tube specifically and you can also amend it for different walking times and mobility issues , for example you can set it to " only walk for 5mins" , or " no stairs".

It takes a little getting used to but it is a total gem when planning journeys!
One minor tip is that no matter where you use it eg in the states when planning, it defaults to the time in the UK so if you are using it when it is the middle if the night in the UK it will tell you the night time options which can cause some confusion. It's not a major problem all you need to do is amend the journey time at the start of the search.

Posted by
4468 posts

There are maximum sizes for mobility scooters on buses, so if you are going to contemplate using one you would need to check this out. These are a bit different from those elsewhere in the UK and are slightly more restrictive overall. You can use a class 2 mobility scooter (i.e. not for road use, with an upper speed limit of 4mph) conforming to the following dimensions:

Maximum width: 600mm
Maximum length: 1000mm
Maximum turning radius: 1200mm

As to the use of the underground in central London completely step free access is only at about 10% of stations, which are those that have been rebuilt in the last 20 years or so, typically either because of a new line or for access to sites of the 2012 Olympics / Paralympics, or sometimes because of an office development.

Posted by
23402 posts

For the sake of completeness, to answer Colette's questions,

How long due the doors of the cars remain open? Are they sensitive to movement so they remain open as long as people are getting in and out? Does the driver have the means to keep the doors open while someone who is slow is getting on/off?

A few seconds, maybe up to around 20, until the driver is satisfied that the doorways are clear.

No, although it is possible that the new trains coming on might have that capability. It is also true that the old trains have no touch sensitive door edges, so they don't reopen if something is caught in them.

Yes, but only if she or he is aware of somebody moving slowly. They use video screens of the length of the train but tube stations, and tube trains, can be crowded and one person moving slowly might not be seen.

It is worth mentioning that my Underground colleagues are concerned because there is a movement within the management of the Tube to remove all drivers from Tube trains and have them work automatically. There would not be any way for the missing driver to take action if somebody were to be moving slowly or have other issues. This is one of the reasons they are taking strike action so frequently.

There is also another movement, much further along, to remove all ticket window staff and close all booking windows. The plan is that these staff, who the traveling public rely on so much for help, would wander the stations randomly assisting if called upon. Instead of them being in one easily defined space they would be elsewhere, and wouldn't be assisting with purchasing of tickets, Travelcards, etc. It remains to be seen how things play out. It is another reason why there are currently so many strikes. Members of these unions always put safety first and are concerned to see it eroded. Off soapbox, but it may be helpful to others to be aware of the source of industrial unrest.

Posted by
507 posts

Thank you, Nigel, for your answer. It has been 40 yrs since I was on the tube.

Posted by
4354 posts

One Hoveround for you, Nigel.

fpm, as someone else already asked, is it possible for you to bring a lightweight (perhaps folding and or 'carryable') wheelchair on your trip instead of the Hoveround? Plus, you'd eliminate all the trouble with the batteries, damage to your Hoveround while in transit to Europe, etc. I've been in some elevators that absolutely would not accommodate a Hoveround. Just something for you to consider doing, if at all possible. I don't know how long your trip is, and if you're planning on visiting anywhere else besides London...it would make a big difference if you're doing any traveling once there.

Posted by
507 posts

London has places where wheelchairs or electric carts can be rented. No need to bring one from the States.

Emma, can you recommend any?

Cheers!