Disabled or elderly passengers who need help boarding trains will be able to show up and travel rather than booking six hours in advance, as part of a program launched by South Western Railway.
The launch of ‘assisted boarding points’ at stations of SWR, one of the UK’s largest networks, allows passengers to contact a customer service team who then alerts the keeper of the next available train to ensure that assistance is provided.
SWR said the service would only require 10 minutes’ notice. Standard industry practice is generally to request reservations the day before travel if possible to ensure assistance.
The points, which will be rolled out to all platforms of SWR’s 189 stations over the next few months, will include clear signage with a QR code that customers scan to send details of their trip and the type of assistance they are getting. need, such as a wheelchair ramp or support for the visually impaired.
The rail network described the program as an industry first that would make travel more accessible and the delivery of assistance more efficient.
A spokesperson said: “We know that not all trips are planned in advance, and indeed they shouldn’t have to be. We’re proud to launch this industry-first service that will make it easier for our customers who need assistance to travel with minimal fuss or fuss.
Campaigners praised the program, but stressed that it would only help people with smartphones and that more needs to be done to ensure accessible travel.
Alan Benson, who sits on SWR’s accessibility panel and chairs Transport for All, tested the assisted boarding point at his local station, Teddington, in southwest London. He said: “Getting help getting on and off the train is vital for people with disabilities who travel, and it is the most common source of problems. Anything that makes things easier should be welcomed.
“Other programs distinguish people with disabilities from the travel experience of others. Railways across the country are coming up with ideas to tackle a problem that we don’t think should exist. Given that caveat, SWR is probably the best of these.
Katie Pennick, campaigns manager at Transport for All, said current national programs and applications, such as passenger assistance, often do not guarantee help, adding that staff shortages during the pandemic made the situation worse. . “There is no shortage of horror stories. In an ideal world – certainly in an accessible world – people with disabilities would be able to travel with the same ease and spontaneity as anyone else, and independently.
Benson and Pennick both said a major investment and commitment in the UK was needed to create level boarding between platforms and trains, to enable many passengers, especially wheelchair users. wheels, to travel independently.