We spoke to James who works as a consultant on social mobility and equalities issues for a range of public, private and voluntary sector organisations. His job takes him to a range of locations across London and he is reliant on an accessible and inclusive public transport network.
Tell us about yourself
I was born and raised in London, specifically Walthamstow, which is my favourite place in the entire world. Walthamstow Market is a bit like having the whole world on your doorstep and it is a great example of London’s wonderful diversity that you can see, touch and taste.
I use a wheelchair for my everyday mobility and I work for something called City Bridge Trust, which is an organisation that gives grants to good work happening across London.
What’s your favourite public transport journey and why?
It doesn’t run anymore but back in the day, the 48 bus that ran all the way from Walthamstow Central to London Bridge was my favourite journey. It’s fascinating to see how the city changes as you go from the suburbs towards the centre, plus it’s gotten me out of trouble many a time when other accessible options for getting into the city centre have let me down!
What’s IDAG, how long have you been involved and what do you enjoy about it?
IDAG stands for Independent Disability Advisory Group – all the members of IDAG bring both lived experience of disability and professional expertise that relates to public transport. I’ve been a member of IDAG for around three years now and have enjoyed every minute of it.
I get great satisfaction from knowing that we are helping to make a difference and nothing is more rewarding than when I see colleagues at TfL champion access and inclusion in their work without any involvement from IDAG.
What’s your favourite IDAG project that you’ve been involved in?
I’ll say the same thing I say to my children, which is that I don’t have any favourites! Every project, no matter how big or small, will have an impact on the lives of people using TfL’s services and so every project is important to me. That said, I like a project that challenges us; a project that has no easy answers to the problems being posed. Those are the projects where I realise just how many brilliant, creative, innovative people work at TfL.
Experience of travelling during the pandemic
During the pandemic, like many other people, I didn’t use public transport at all. I have the privilege of working in a role that I can do from home – and so a five-minute walk to my local corner shop was probably the longest, most exciting journey I was making.
However, like many people, I’ve started going back to the office for a day here and there – which means getting back on buses and trains. I was nervous initially – not just for my own health but that of my family – but the messages I’ve seen about the cleaning regimes and the persistent encouragement to observe social distancing and sanitary procedures has been reassuring. Most people are observing the guidance, which makes me less nervous about travelling. After not being on public transport and seeing some parts of London for so long, I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting – perhaps scenes from 28 Days Later film? – but in reality, it feels like very little has changed and it’s all been a bit anti-climactic, which is probably a good thing and proof of just how resilient we all are.
I think a lot of the messaging about the procedures that have been put in place and the guidance for the general public about observing social distancing and mask-wearing have been reassuring not just for disabled people but for everyone who uses public transport. It was frustrating that the turn-up-and-go service of assistance was suspended for so long when other rail operators continued to provide assistance, especially given that the journeys being made that would have needed this service were likely to be important and essential journeys for disabled people.
What do you think was the best improvement in transport accessibility in recent years?
The best change I’ve seen is something that has happened behind the scenes. Projects are coming to IDAG earlier and more often for advice, which means we can have a greater impact and make changes before it becomes too costly or too late to implement changes.
What are the biggest barriers to travelling currently?
This can be summed up in two words: ‘attitudes’ and ‘infrastructure’ – we can change both and we can improve both, it just needs the desire of those involved to make a difference.
What’s the most helpful thing that TfL currently does to aid people with disabilities to travel
Speaking only to my experience: the most helpful thing is the training you give to staff about how best to assist disabled people, if they want assistance. I mentioned the two biggest barriers being infrastructure and attitude – well, it can’t quite overcome it, but a helpful attitude can make a positive difference when the infrastructure proves to be a barrier.
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