By Raya Al Jadir
Disabled transport campaigners have called on three train companies to remove blanket bans that prevent all scooter-users from using their services.
To mark the campaign members of the user-led campaigning organisation Transport for All (TfA) took part on Tuesday in a musical conga through Victoria station in London.
They presented a letter to a manager of Gatwick Express which does not allow any scooters onto its older 442-type trains* – because of its single doors and narrower ramps – unless they can be folded up and taken on as hand-luggage.
The action was led by scooter-user Gina Vettese (pictured, left, at the protest), who is taking legal action against another rail company, Northern Rail, over its blanket ban, following an incident as she returned from a trip to visit her family in Morecambe last Christmas.
Vettese faced few problems on the journey to Morecambe from Lancaster, but on the return trip she was told she would not be allowed on the train unless she folded her scooter and carried it on as luggage, which she was unable to do.
As a result she was forced to travel four miles in freezing conditions on her scooter to Lancaster station, on what she describes as an unfamiliar, steep and dangerous route, aware that her battery could run out at any moment.
Vettese – whose Kymco Mini S For U scooter is just 108cm long, 52cm wide and weighs only 54kgs – said the reply was “quite offensive”, as the company told her that “if I want to travel on their trains I have to use a wheelchair”.
She said: “They are not even medical professionals. How can they assume or know what mobility is best for my disability?”
She added: “In this day and age, it is a ridiculous policy to restrict the movement of mobility scooter-users.
“We do not use scooters as a fashion accessory. They are a much-needed aid when many of us are not able to use wheelchairs.
“I’m taking action because I do not want this to happen to anyone else.”
The Rail Safety and Standards Board is currently researching the use of scooters on the rail network, in order to “evaluate what improvements should be made to assist mobility scooter-users to join and alight from trains and to improve the processes used by staff in dealing with mobility scooter-users”.
Northern Rail is currently one of just three train companies – out of 27 across the UK – that bans all scooters on some or all of its services, with most others allowing small scooters but not larger models.
A spokesman for the third company that still has a blanket ban, Grand Central, claimed that scooters up to 120cm long by 70cm wide, with a maximum weight (including the passenger) of 272kg are allowed on its trains.
But the Grand Central website makes it clear that scooters are “not suitable for use onboard our trains”, unless they are folded and carried on as luggage.
Faryal Velmi, director of TfA, said that some scooters were too large to take on trains, but that a blanket ban was “discriminatory and unfair”.
She said: “Modern mobility scooters are in many cases smaller and lighter than wheelchairs, and just as manoeuvrable.”
TfA wants to work with the three companies to “develop a new approach that will allow disabled people like Gina to travel with the same freedom and independence as everyone else”.
A Northern Rail spokesperson claimed the company complied with its obligations under the Equality Act, but that its policy on scooters had to be “robust and achievable”.
The spokesperson said: “Unfortunately, as there is no fixed design template for mobility scooters, we must be able to guarantee the safety [of] a user and not expose staff members to risk of liability if an incident were to occur.
“That is why our current policy only allows scooters that are capable of folding… and the passenger or member of their party can carry the scooter onto the train.
“We will therefore review our policy when trains are refurbished or if new trains enter service, if legislation changes, or if scooter manufacturers are able to agree a common design specification.
“At present, a wheelchair must be considered as the best mobility solution for people with disabilities who wish to travel on public transport.”
*On other services, Gatwick Express allows scooters up to 120cm long by 70cm wide, and with a maximum weight, including the passenger, of 300kg