Getting from A-Z: travel and transport advice for those with mobility difficulties
29th February 2016
This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.
Travelling with a mobility difficulty has often posed a challenge, but with planning, preparation and knowledge of the help available it has vastly improved in recent years. Whilst home mobility aids such as bespoke stairlifts, recliner chairs and grab rails can improve independent living in the home, it is access to private and public transport that makes a huge difference to successful independent living outside the home.
Here you will find information on the different modes of transport available to older people and those with mobility difficulties, advice on using them, and any schemes that will be of use.
Driving a car is a truly independent method of transport, and mobility difficulties pose an obvious challenge. It is still possible and popular to own and regularly use a car if you have mobility problems, whether as a passenger or driver.
The Motability scheme helps disabled people use their government-funded mobility allowance to lease a new car, scooter or powered wheelchair. In terms of cars, those who take part in the scheme can go for a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) or choose adaptations for a car.
Car adaptations include:
- Hand controls
- Electronic accelerators
- Left foot accelerators
- Pedal modifications
- Steering aids
- Remote control devices
- Car boot hoist
- Rooftop stowage
- Transfer plates
- Electric person hoist
- Swivel seats
If you opt for hire purchase you will own the car at the end of the agreement. The other option is contract hire, where you won’t own the vehicle but are entitled to a new car every three years, servicing, maintenance and repairs, breakdown cover, insurance for drivers and passengers, replacement tyres and vehicle excise duty paid for.
You first need to find out if you are eligible. If you are, both disabled drivers and other named drivers may use the car for running errands and routine activities such as shopping.
You can find out more information on the Motability site, and use their find a dealership tool to see where your nearest Motability dealer is to talk to a specialist and book a test drive.
Blue Badge disabled parking
The disabled parking permit scheme has helped disabled people tackle the difficulty of parking for over 40 years. Now known for the recognisable Blue Badge, it allows disabled drivers to essentially park closer to the place they are trying to visit. This can be by:
- leaving their car in a marked parking bay
- parking for free within certain time limits in some places
- parking on single and double yellow lines
- staying longer in on-street time-limited parking bays
It is worth noting that certain areas do not fully operate Blue Badge regulations, for instance certain Central London boroughs. You can check postcodes with this tool.
You need to apply for your Blue Badge from the local council. You can check your eligibility and start your application via the GOV.UK website.
According to the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 2000, buses and coaches of a certain age and purpose must allow access for disabled people. They must have space for a standard wheelchair, a minimum number of priority seats, a boarding device, and handrails to assist disabled users.
There are bus passes you can get if you are disabled or have reached female State Pension age (whether you are a man or a woman).
Disabled bus pass
The disabled person’s bus pass can only be applied for in England, but can be used in England and Wales. They can be used on Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays, and between 9:30am and 11pm on every other day.
You need to contact your local council to find out who issues disabled person’s bus passes in your area, which you can do via the GOV.UK site.
Older person’s bus pass
Once you have reached State Pension age, which is gradually increasing to be 66 for both men and women between December 2018 and October 2020, you can apply for an older person’s bus pass through your local council. This will entitle you to free bus travel. Click here to apply.
Plus, if you live in London you can travel for free on buses and tubes when you reach the age of 60, rather than waiting until the female State Pension age. You need to apply for the Freedom Pass.
National Express coach service
If you want to travel for a longer journey by coach, National Express offers two relevant Coachcards that entitle you to discount travel if you’re a senior or are disabled.
The Disabled Coachcard saves you a third on standard fares at any time and costs £10 per year (+£2 p&p). The majority of National Express’ fleet come with a passenger lift at the front entrance to make it as accessible as possible. If you use a wheelchair or are likely to need assistance, you need to discuss your travel requirements with their Contact Centre at least 36 hours before travel.
The Senior Coachcard saves you a third on standard fares at any time, and also has the extra benefit of the £15 day-return on Tuesdays offer. It costs £10 per year (+£2 p&p), and they offer a money-back guarantee to refund the full cost of the card if you don’t save the cost of the card in a year.
If you cannot drive yourself and don’t like public transport, taxis and community transport schemes are your next best option. Taxis will be best for running personal errands, whilst community transport schemes can help you get to appointments at hospitals, doctors surgeries, opticians, dentists and chiropodists. You can find out more about community transport services and Shopmobility that are local to you here.
If you live in London you can use the London Taxicard scheme, which is managed by the Association of London Government Transport and Environment Committee. With only licensed London taxis used, those with mobility difficulties have access to subsidised door-to-door transport that can be used 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. You can request the application form by phone, email or post – details here.
Again, if you live in a city area you may like to use one of the taxi websites and apps that are growing in popularity. Two that can be used alongside the London Taxicard scheme include:
Uber and uberASSIST
Other taxi apps that can be useful include the recently developed uberASSIST, which is part of the Uber app. Driver-partners are trained by Open Doors Organization and can assist riders, and there is enough room for folding wheelchairs, scooters and walkers.
The Uber app itself is useful for ordering reliable taxis quickly and easily, and has taken off across the world. In the UK it can be used in Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, London, Manchester, Merseyside, Newcastle, Portsmouth, and Sheffield. But the uberASSIST option is still being rolled out and is currently only available in London.
Download the app via the AppStore for iPhone, Google Play for Android or the Windows Store. You just need to use the code ‘ASSISTUK’ in the app to unlock an extra option. Once you’ve pressed uberASSIST a specially trained driver will be called, who the user can communicate with ahead of arrival if necessary.
On mainline trains there is space for wheelchairs, and the train company’s Disabled People’s Protection Policy ensures that disabled people’s rights are protected. Many people with disabilities and mobility issues can use the UK’s rail services independently now, however it is recommended to get in touch before travelling to book assistance if you will need extra help to get around stations or to get on and off the trains.
You can find a list of train company contact details here.
As for train stations themselves, Network Rail is investing a great deal in their Access for All scheme, whereby they are improving accessibility by introducing ramps and lifts. They are keeping track of which stations are due work, are currently being worked on, and are finished using their A-Z of station improvements. If a station you need to know about isn’t there, you can search for the station’s list of facilities using National Rail Enquiries’ search tool.
Disabled Persons Railcard
National Rail offers 1/3 off rail fares to those who own a Disabled Persons Railcard, and also one other adult travelling with them. It costs £20 to purchase one for a year, and £54 to purchase one for three years. There are also exclusive offers and competitions for cardholders.
There are a number of eligibility criteria that need to be met, details of which are on their website. Apply online or download the application form and send by post.
Likewise, 1/3 off rail fares is also offered to those who own a Senior Railcard – you need to be 60 or over to apply for one. The Senior Railcard costs £30 for one year, or £70 for three years. You can apply online or over the phone, and also at station ticket offices if you bring along some form of identification – birth certificate, passport or UK driving licence.
As a Senior Railcard holder you can also get access to exclusive offers and competitions.
Transport for London has worked hard to make the city’s Underground service accessible to all – being underground, however, means that it is difficult to upgrade stations that were simply not designed with mobility in mind when they were first built. So there are limited step-free stations.
Those that are step-free are clearly marked in each tube car, and you can take a look at their Step-free Tube Map to plan your journey before you go. All Underground staff have had disability equality training and can assist anyone who needs a hand.
According to Transport for All, only 67 of 270 Tube stations have step-free access in some form. Whilst TfL has made great changes, Transport for All is campaigning for improvements. They are a great resource for older people and those with disabilities who are looking for travel support and information – you can become a member to find out more.