Have Powerchair, Will Travel (Part 1)

This should, actually be part 2 of Have Powerchair, Will Travel. But what was going to be part 1 got called off at the last minute by the friend I was going to do that trip (a day out to the coast) with.

I went to Bath last weekend for my sister’s hen do.  The hen do was Saturday and the majority of those who went stayed over and went home early afternoon Sunday.  I wanted to get the train and we needed to be there relatively early and even before I knew there would be rail replacement works at Bath I decided to travel down the day before.  So last Friday I set off for the station.

Now my local station has shit wheelchair ramps.  They were replaced a couple of years ago by lighter ones. And by lighter read shorter. My powerchair has a safety mechanism that kills it if it tries to go up anything too steep. The combination has meant that I can’t take my chair on certain trains from my local station. I have a standing agreement that I can have a taxi for those journeys but I very rarely take advantage of it.  So I called the FGW assisted travel helpline a few days before and got it all arranged. I was pleased not to need to argue for the taxi or have any fuss and they said straight away they’d get me a taxi back too. I told them the name of the accessible taxi company I usually use (the only one in Didcot)

Friday morning and it’s all good. I’ve got to get better at getting ready to go away in a timely fashion but I’m out the house with all my stuff and sorted. I’d have preferred a less stressful start to the day but it wasn’t to be.

The plan was I would get the taxi as far as Swindon and then they’d stick me on a train from Swindon to Bath. Swindon has the old long nonshit ramps you see.

I get to the station and buy my ticket and then I get a text “your taxi is outside. It’s a black toyota prius registration blah blah blah.” i.e. not accessible.

So I go and have a word with the driver who swears they weren’t told I needed an accessible taxi. Back into the station and asked for one of the assistance guys to come down.  The taxi was booked for over an hour before my train from Swindon so there’s a chance I can get there in time if we get this sorted.

Explained the situation and he called my usual accessible taxi provider. It was off the road.  He called the taxi company that had been sent. Their despatcher swore they hadn’t been asked for an accessible taxi. This has since been proved to not be true. An accessible taxi was booked. They either forgot or deliberately didn’t send one.

So I’m getting wound up and I’m chatting to the assistance guy, D,  asking whether it’s worth my getting a train to Reading and getting a train to Bath from there. Which is a no because they can’t get me there in time for the train I was booked on but there’s still a chance – getting slimmer by the  minute – that they can get me to Swindon in time for it. At which point we both think we saw the accessible taxi I use drive past (so I assume it was being serviced rather than anything else). I’ve had a text that an accessible taxi is en route to me but it’s got to come from Oxford so that’s taking a while.

Time is dragging on and it’s taking longer than we’d hoped for the taxi to get there. D disappears for a bit to see if he can sort something else out because this is getting ridiculous. And in the meantime I’ve rung my mum to ask her to call the assisted travel helpine to confirm an accessible taxi was booked to bring me back from Swindon.  Then called her back to say don’t bother when it’s confirmed this is a taxi company fuck up. I’m beyond frustrated. And as much as travelling a day early had been a bit of a just in case and a bit of a joke I’m just pleased I did.

D comes back and tells me he might have sorted something and he’s waiting for a call to confirm.  He says if he gets what he’s asked for “you’ll have a big smile on your face Emma.” I’m pretty sure I know what that means but I don’t say anything. By this point I’m just like “get me out of here.”

And an hour after I should have left a taxi turns up. We looked at it and went “it’s not accessible.” but it turned out it was, just needed some chairs rearranging. Just as I’m driving my chair up to the ramp D’s phone rang and plans changed. The taxi was going to take me straight to Bath.

Because the taxi had to come from Oxford to Didcot the meter was reading £50 before I got into it. By the time I got to Bath it was reading just over £300. If that doesn’t make them sort out their ramp situation nothing will.

So I arrived in Bath aggravated and wound up but pleased to be there at last. Dumped my stuff at the hotel and headed off. I figured I’d go to the Roman Baths. Which I did.  I was impressed by how on the ball they were about access when I went in. Looked round a tiny bit and then went in the lift down to the next level. Then immediately there was a platform lift down a bit further. Which I got stuck in.

To give them their due it took them less than five minutes to get to me after I pressed the alarm. A staff member turned up and asked someone else “is she stuck?” I screamed “yes I am!” And I think I was stuck for less then 10 minutes.  Apparently it breaks down often and they think I was over a safety line in there which stops it working (really should have had a sign for that). I burst into tears the minute I was free.

They were going to walk me out for some fresh air as I said I wanted to leave but when I calmed down a little and they asked how much I’d seen they said I’d hardly seen anything and offered to get a member of staff to escort me round.  She didn’t stay with me the whole way round but she stayed until I was done with their multiple platform lifts.  She was really knowledgeable, it was interesting to chat with her and it was pretty damn cool.  But I’d really rather not have got stuck in the lift in the first place.  And then as I was leaving another staff member who’d helped me asked if I was OK now and I cried again.

The hotel was OK, the rest of the weekend worked really well, the hen do was a lot of fun and apart from the wheelchair space being full of luggage the train home was fine.  Bath station also has the shit short ramps it seems. But the level change between the platform and the train was less so my chair could cope. The lift was my last major drama. It certainly was an eventful start to the weekend though.

The trip to the coast that should have been part one got cancelled by my friend for two reasons – one of which was there was too much that could go wrong. After all that happened last Friday in Bath I said to mum I thought I better not tell my friend that story, it would just prove her point.  But as mum put it I can do these things and take the risk that things will go wrong and deal with stuff when it happens. Or I can do nothing. And there’s no point in that.

3 thoughts on “Have Powerchair, Will Travel (Part 1)”

  1. I shared this on FB – your account of trying to travel reads like something I might have expected to read 40 years ago. When will we ever learn?

    I’m very glad you enjoyed the rest of your weekend, though.

    Bless you! XXX

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