Recalculating: MS and Tube troubles

20 June 2024

Antoinette in a powered wheelchair next to a London Underground sign

Travelling by Tube isn’t always straightforward for people living with MS. Find out how Antoinette’s flexible mindset helps her journeys.

I lived in London, so I was used to zipping round on the Tube. But that was when I could walk and use stairs.

I can’t lie to you. The first time I used the Tube in my wheelchair, I was nervous. I calmed myself by watching YouTube videos of other wheelchair users on the Underground. The fear was difficult to deal with though.

I told myself that I had to do it someday as I’m determined to continue my life!

When I first arrived at a Tube station, the staff had seen me at the barriers and approached me to ask if I needed help (which also happens every time I use the Tube now).

They came down in the lifts with me and showed me a raised spot for wheelchair users. All those years of travelling on the Underground and I never noticed.

At this point, the platform is level with the door, so you just wheel into the Tube. They let your destination station know you’re on the train and someone waits to assist you at the other end. I got out and carried on with my day.

‘Tube travelling - easy peasy.’ I thought.

But last year, I went to visit a friend in Surrey and had a rather eventful trip!

I travelled in my wheelchair and used my app to book assistance for the train from my home in the East Midlands to London.

The first train journey was as smooth as butter. Then, I had to get from St Pancras Station to Waterloo Station. 

That was where it all started to go wrong.

I had an hour to get to Waterloo and that was simple enough. I just had to get on the Tube.

The easiest route would’ve been the Victoria Line from Euston Station, changing to the Jubilee Line at Green Park, down to Waterloo.

All stations had wheelchair symbols on the map so it would all be straight forward, right?

As the weather was nice, I decided to go above ground to Euston, only a short journey from where I was.

I got to Euston Station in good time. Next, I went inside the station to look for the Underground.

However, I was met with a sign saying that there was no lift access to the Victoria Line due to building works (sigh). Not so smooth sailing after all. Instead, I was to follow signs for disabled access.

The signs took me outside of the station itself and eventually I saw the big Underground symbol and a wheelchair sign next to the one saying ‘lifts’, so I joined a crowd of people waiting for the next one.

It took its sweet time, but eventually I got down to the Underground ticket level. There were a few tunnels to go down, but finally the ticket office and barriers to the platforms appeared.

This seemed to be the wrong line and there was a warning that there was no step free access to the platforms anyway. 

It was so annoying to find this after having seen the wheelchair sign near the lifts on the street.

So back along the tunnels I trundled, back up in the lift I went. By this time, I had only 20 minutes left to get to Waterloo. “Stuff it!” I said as I decided to get a taxi.

Sometimes you just need to be like a SatNav and say “recalculate, recalculate.”

The route to the taxi rank was diverted due to building works and the route took me along a narrow pathway between high fences. By this time, it felt like someone had it in for me.

After winding around this path, I finally saw a taxi at the end. Of course, there was a snaking queue to the rank.

The taxi driver dropped me off at the side of Waterloo Station and I thought he must have made a mistake. However, he pointed out the passenger assistance office and off I went.

I told them that I’d missed my connecting train to Surrey, which I’d booked assistance for. After a wait, someone took me down to the platforms and helped me onto the next train.

One of the problems with travel when you are in a wheelchair is the lack of spontaneity.

I’m a laid-back gal. I used to rock up at the Tube whenever I wanted and jump on the next one that sauntered up to me. Gone are those days. Now, it’s pre-book this and assistance that.

However, this trip showed me that plans can still change and it's not the end of the world. Staff are flexible, kind and more than happy to help whenever I arrive. I don't want to inconvenience them, so I always inform them that I’m coming.

Sometimes, life happens. When plans change along the way, the world does adjust.

As Douglas Adams would say, “Don't Panic!”

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