Getting around London

Here’s why this city scores a resounding YES for travellers with a disability

I have travelled to London three times over the past nine months. My airline of choice is Virgin Atlantic, as it has accessible toilet cubicles on board its aircraft, which have an extra leaf that opens up to allow the slipper chair into a wider cubicle. The staff are extremely helpful and if you request that they assist you at a specific time, they will oblige. The airline lands at Terminal 3 at London’s Heathrow Airport and there is easy, direct access into the public transport system.

My friends usually meet me at the airport and then we make use of public transport. It’s best to buy an Oyster Card, which allows you to use the various modes of transport. There is an initial charge for the card and then you top up as required. You “tag” in and out of each station, and the system calculates the best fare for each day, week or month, depending on where you have travelled, with daily and Monday-to-Sunday capping.

All buses, tubes, trains and trams have clearly marked priority seats for anyone who requires them, and people are more than willing to give up these seats should you need them. Look for the International Symbol for disability on the outside of the vehicle or carriage, or use the level entry access boarding point. There is extensive audio and visual information on the trains and bus systems. Many of the river taxis are also accessible.

The tube system was upgraded for the 2012 Olympics and some stations have Free Access from the street to the platform – they display the International Symbol for disability against a white background – while stations that are step-free from street to the train display the symbol against a blue background (although the colours of these signs are sometimes switched!).

The newer services like the Docklands Light Rail have level access along the entire platform.

The London Underground system covers the entire city and is geared for travellers with disabilities.

Some of the platforms have a yellow square painted at the edge to indicate which carriage has facilities for wheelchair users and a number of platforms have been raised in some sections to allow for step-free access to the trains. There are also help points at compliant heights on all stations, where you can ask for assistance, information or in an emergency. Accessible WCs are available at the rail stations and on the trains, but there are no toilets at any of the tube stations, so – as your parents used to say when you were a kid – “Go to the loo before you start your journey!”

The buses have a “kneeling system” to reduce the height of the step and there is an automatic ramp that extends onto the pavement from the rear doors of most buses. If this is too steep for individual self-propelled wheelchair users, the driver will assist. There is usually space for only one wheelchair per bus, but if it is already occupied, you won’t have to wait more than 10 minutes for another bus on the same route!

It is easy to plan your route using the “Journey Planner” and “Accessibility Guides” on the Transport For London website (www.tfl.gov.uk).

The taxis are all wheelchair accessible and some have turn-out seats to assist people who use mobility aids and not wheelchairs.

Another great thing about London is that you can move around the streets with relative ease, as there are plenty of accessible routes with curb cuts and barrier-free pavements. Best of all, there are always caring and interested staff members within the transport system who are visible and ready to assist, and members of the public who are considerate. London is simply one of my favourite cities!

Happy travels!


Mandy Latimore is a consultant in the disability sector in the fields of travel and access. email: mandy@noveltravel.co.za

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