Warrington Disability Partnership

Adventures in a powerchair on London's Tube network!

The tube is old. Very old, well a lot of it, but surprisingly the 37 odd step free and or ramp accessible stations now give the wheelchair user a few options.

I recently went on a London Tube adventure and yes it was a wee bit hairy at times as I ventured on to TfL's underground network for the very first time. I had always thought using the Underground whilst on business or social outing to the capital a bit of a non-starter. However, the arrival of two new new lines. The Jubilee and the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) when used alongside the spattering of step free stations across the network, actually gives you scope to get a long way on the tube, fast!

TfL's step free station Underground map is your starting point. I'm geeky and there are a few maps that can greatly help the mobility impaired traveller. I actually enjoyed pouring over the main access maps which not only show you the totally step-free stations, but then add in those where you can get into the station via a lift, and then use a technically "on-demand" ramp with the help of station staff. There is even a guide to how large the gap is between platform and tube train....this is important as I know some wheelchair users are a bit hesitant about taking on the stations where that "gap" is at the largest, tho in truth still manageable I'd guess, particularly with athletic shoulder power or pa assistance!

I loved travelling on the Jubilee line all the way from Wembley Park direct to Canada Waters station near Deptford, and then one day when things were incredibly busy thanks to the London Marathon we actually got on a train at Canada Waters going the wrong way to the end of the line at Stratford, just so we could get on the train going northwards when it wasn't crammed to bursting with people hanging on for dear life !!

We had time to experiment but it is a fact that if your a wheelchair user travelling the Underground at peak times it has to be a bit iffy, even when you know that list of step free stations in your sleep. But if you can plan your travel to avoid the very peak periods then step free really does mean what it says and my rear wheel drive Salsa coped admirably, albeit that getting off the train does entail a slight "bounce" as you hit the platform but most will handle that with no issues. The TfL staff were great, nothing was too much trouble as we asked some dorky questions about lines and stations.

The map shown will be hard to read as its a screenshot but there are free to download maps here:
ow.ly/eOeL3006MYV

and the specific step free Underground map is here : ow.ly/KAwf3006MHl

For me this was an incredibly enabling experience. It's only a tantalising experience tho as most stations, particularly in central London remain inaccessible. But when you add in Waterloo, St Pancras and soon, Vauxhall, to the list of accessible stations it becomes more possible to use the tube as a kind of integrated but oh so carefully planned part of your travel.....alongside the entire fleet of red buses of course. You can speed up some journeys across the city, and journey out to the Olympic Park, Greenwich for the O2, and several places to the West of the city. When you add in that now the fleet of water buses on the Thames is mostly accessible it's an improving picture which will be helped even further when the all-accessible-stations Crossrail arrives !

Maybe tube travel isn't for everyone and I had to steel myself a couple of times as my infamous claustrophobia was challenged in a couple of packed trains but I managed it and yes, loved doing what most take for granted in having ready access to the Underground.

About the author

Mark Wilson was a trustee on the WDP Board for five years, and a social media management lead until 1st May 2017. Mark's personal blogging website, The Blue Badge Blog, covers a wide range of disability issues, particularly accessible travel.

11th May 2016