London, with over 30 million visitors per year as well as over 8 million residents, remains one of the most visited cities in the world. Not only is this number growing rapidly with visitors wanting to see what London has to offer but London is becoming more difficult to navigate through for people using wheelchairs. A daily challenge that many shouldn’t face as well as feeling as if they’re less important or a second class citizen.
The London Underground has 270 stations, making it an efficient way to get around London, but these 270 stations are only accessible for those who don’t need ramps, step-free access as well as numerous lifts to navigate through the station. Only 71 stations throughout London and surrounding areas support those in wheelchairs but unfortunately not independently in some instances. For those who want to navigate independently then this number drops to 50 stations which are fully accessible - this being around 18% of stations allowing independent travel and only 27% allowing passengers to travel with some independence but with additional help such as by the use of ramps and assistance at stations.
The Guardian reported that Transport for London’s spokesman, Ruben Govinden, stated that “Some of the network is more than 150 years old – accessibility wasn’t even considered worth thinking about then”. Indeed, this statement is factually correct in the sense that the London Underground network was the first public rapid transport system which was opened in 1863. However, over 150 years there has been a wide range of changes and updates to the London Underground, the most notable being more lines being expanded as well as the addition to free WiFi at certain stations. With the progress being made digitally as well as expanding the network to reach more areas, there should be a priority of making the London Underground more accessible. Even though there’s plans to make the London Underground network more accessible in the next 20 to 30 years, this is simply not good enough for those wanting to navigate independently, which they should have the right to do, without being stuck and faced to take an alternative route.
Not only is the London Underground’s network itself a problem for those with wheelchairs, there’s the added scrutiny of those unwilling to give these people the space they deserve throughout their journey. On each journey passengers will see a symbol that states that a specific area is giving priority for those in wheelchairs - which many people tend to ignore, especially those with prams and young children. Many a time I have seen arguments between a wheelchair user and a mother pushing a pram over who should be in that specific space - a degrading occurrence that happens far too often over a fact of priority and respect. Another problem with the London Underground would be the regular occurrence of maintenance work on lifts, some lifts taking months to fix and the shortage of assistance for those needing to change their route to the next station. This can mean extra charges by using public transport such as a bus or in extreme cases needing a taxi to get to a station with accessible facilities.
London’s buses aren’t any better in terms of accessibility. Even though buses throughout London and surrounding areas have stated that passengers using wheelchairs have priorities throughout their journey but this is simply easier said than done. London’s buses are fitted with ramps but it’s been seen recently that discrimination against wheelchair users has seen members of the public taking matters in their own hands to allow passengers off the bus to carry on with their journey. The most notable occurrence happening out of London with Ian Barrington, The Metro reported that a “Bus driver refuses to help disabled man and tells him to ‘speak English’”. Not only did the driver refuse to help Ian getting off the bus but made remarks stating that “‘I don’t understand foreign languages, I understand English!’” and then went on to state that she couldn’t get the ramp out since she had a “backache”. Whether this is true or not, bus drivers should be fully equipped and in full health to help both able bodied passengers as well as those in wheelchairs needing assistance.
In 2012 TFL implemented a new set of rules to which stated that wheelchair passengers have priority to the space in the middle of the bus - which can be used as a standing area or a place for those with prams or luggage. Once again, this is easier said than done, as there have been many times when I have been travelling throughout London and either the bus driver refuses to make people in that space with prams move or the two people with prams arguing about who should fold down their pram. This not only making a bigger state of the matter but also treating individuals in wheelchairs like they are second class citizens since people are more concerned about their prams rather than a person. There have even been arguments between wheelchair users and passengers with prams regarding the reason they should have to move - it’s stated nearly everywhere that users in wheelchairs deserve priority and a simple fact - it’s not something that people can dispute or argue against.
I’ve experienced a lack of responsibility from bus drivers and TFL when I was trying to get my grandmother onto a bus, since she’s in a wheelchair. It was very cold so I made the point of leaving just a few minutes before the bus came to prevent her staying out in the cold too much, when the bus came I firstly made the point of tapping my Oyster Card as well as my grandmother’s. I then stated that she’d need to lower the ramp onto the pavement so I could easily manoeuvre the wheelchair onto the bus safely. The bus driver seemed to comply and stated that she would move the bus to get closer to the pavement but in the end stated that she couldn’t lower the ramp down - with no apology nor explanation as to why she couldn’t lower the ramp down. Two members of the public even came over and offered to help - why should members of the public help? A bus driver should be trained in all areas of operating a bus, from lowering the ramp and operating in such a way that allows all individuals to use the bus. The experience was not only humiliating for my grandmother but also made her wait in the freezing cold for the next bus, with her asking me whether it was her fault we couldn’t get onto the bus. The return journey was unfortunately met with the same bus driver but this time the ramp seemed to magically work and there were no problems getting onto the bus. However, when pressing the button specifically designed to alert the driver that a wheelchair would be getting off the bus - therefore the bus will need to be lowered and a ramp used - the bus driver completely ignored the bell and drove onto the next bus stop. Not only did my grandmother feel invisible but it meant we had to make the journey of an extra 15 minutes to get back to the original stop.
Moving forward a lot needs to change. Firstly, TFL need to address the situation of the London Underground network, it may have been built over 150 years ago but regardless there has been 150 years of time to change the fact that it was built while disregarding it being accessible. There needs to be a discussion regarding the impact that certain planned works will have on passengers, specifically those using wheelchairs - it’s a bigger impact that it originally seems as well as the fact that people may have to alter their routes. From there, there needs to be extensive training for bus drivers to make sure they have the knowledge and practice to allow wheelchair users onto the bus - additionally fighting in their corner when they have the right to space on the bus over pram users. The public attitude needs to change also, we need to come together and help those who may need additional help if there’s no staff around or those unwilling to help. For example, if you see something that you know is wrong - someone unwilling to move out of the area for wheelchair users - take the point of explaining that they need to move out of the area for the fellow passenger.
£21. The average cost of a meal for one in London or more frankly the amount of money that I have in my Current Account. In London it’s very hard to find affordable accommodation, especially when you decide to book accommodation surrounding one of the busiest international airports in London with over 80 million passengers passing through. Therefore there is quite a high demand for accommodation regardless of the season. Whether passengers are travelling through Heathrow Airport or they’re carrying on their journey elsewhere, the rooms are not cheap around this location usually. However, a strike of luck came my way when I found a hotel room at a flat rate of £21 for the chosen dates I had picked. I was simply amazed that I would be able to stay in a hotel room with the added amenities that came with the room itself.
Travelodge was the cheapest option for me when looking for a place to stay before an early flight the morning after. The room itself was priced at £21 for one night - an incredible price which accounted for two people staying - which came out at £10.50 each. I purchased WiFi for 24 hours which was priced at £3 which should've been included but regardless I wasn't fussed about paying as it allowed me to watch Netflix and download my boarding passes for my flight the following day. On top of that I purchased two meals (which came with a starter or dessert and a main meal) which was priced at £12 each which came to £24 for two people. The total of my one night stay came to £48 (£24 each for WiFi, food and a place to stay for the night) which is still a lot cheaper compared to other hotels in the area. Either way, if I had decided to live without WiFi or if I had brought my own food in or have found a restaurant elsewhere, it still would’ve cost me the grand sum of £21 - or £10.50 each if I really wanted to be specific.
Upon arriving at the hotel, which was around 3pm, the woman on reception was friendly and even gave us a choice of where we wanted our room to be. Make sure you bring ID if you're dropping someone off at the airport which can be done through bringing your passport or driving license. We were moved to the 5th floor and to get to any floors you would need to use your key card - which added an extra layer of security throughout the hotel. The room was moderately sized which came with a large desk area and a chair as well as a kettle with mugs and tea sachets. From the desk there was a beautiful view and it was nice to be able to sit at the desk while writing notes and checking emails. There was a range of USB ports next to the bed as well as a small ledge to put my phone on while it charged overnight - which was useful as it allowed me to check the time throughout the night to make sure I didn't miss my alarm. The bed was very comfy which was surprising but meant I was able to get a good night's sleep before an early morning flight. The bed gave more than enough space for two people even though I was told it's only a double bed. There was a small wardrobe area with hangers to put my clothing for the next day on as well as space to store my suitcases so they were out of my way. The TV has a range of channels which range from the news to movie channels - more than enough to keep you entertained if you decide not to purchase the WiFi. The AC in the room kept the room cool throughout our stay and I was able to change the settings if the room became too hot or too cold. The only downside I found to the room itself was that the windows couldn't be opened but in retrospect the AC was more than enough to keep the room cool. The bathroom was on the smaller side but there was more than enough space to move around comfortably. The shower had high water pressure and I was able to take use of the free shampoo to wash my hair as there was a hairdryer provided. There was more than enough towels provided - I would advise laying a towel down next to the shower as the shower curtain did leak a little bit when I left the shower. There was a large mirror and sink provided as well as space to leave my toiletries which was handy. The only problem with the bathroom was that the toilet was located right next to the door, which meant you would be sitting with a door handle right next to you and making it awkward to move around. Regardless, the room served its purpose and for the price you can't go wrong!
Even though the hotel is located in Heathrow and not in Central London, it’s still an incredible price, which you would’ve got the gist that it’s £21 by now, especially for those travelling on a budget. Overall, this specific Travelodge has received a 3.5 rating from over 600 reviews on TripAdvisor with a 3.5 star rating also on Google with over 1,200 reviews. The hotel states that it’s a 3 star hotel, therefore it won’t be the luxury experience that some people may expect. Companies such as Travelodge and Premier Inn are known for their inexpensive prices which are represented in the quality of the rooms and service.
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