run out of womb

... learning how to be a mum from scratch

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Seven tips for Tube travel in London

This is a photo I snapped on a recent Tube strike, which I thought was the biggest and most annoying obstacle to travelling in London. Now I know, it's not: that's travelling with wheels.

Having a buggy means swathes of the Tube network are out of reach - unless there are two of you, or a helpful bod with spare muscle willing to give you a literal hand. It's far worse for wheelchair users, as I wrote in a recent column: "let’s hope no one in a wheelchair wants to go on the Central line — only one in 10 stations has step-free access. Bakerloo? One in 12. Surely the 1999-built Jubilee is OK? Not so much — only just over half of its stations are accessible, according to charity Leonard Cheshire Disability." On the Tube as a whole, barely one in three stations can be approached by wheels.

So what to do about it? This is what I've learnt from my gallivants into town.

1) Plan your timings.. Going into town after 10, and leaving central London by 4.30 means missing out on commuter and stinky-armpit fest, aka rush-hour. Buggies take up a lot of room - so travelling when there's more available makes sense.

2) Take a sling.. Sure, it would be a lot easier to go into town without a buggy at all - but for most of us, schlepping a heavy baby all day just isn't feasible. And buggy baskets are great for shopping... But I'd still advise you take a sling too if you've got one - it means that if you find yourself having to haul a pushchair up stairs or balance it on the escalator with no one around to help, you can ensure your baby is safe on you even if the chair takes a tumble.

3) Leave extra time.. you might need to skip some over-crowded carriages and wait for a quieter train to arrive

4) ... And plan your journey, hard. If at all possible, use stations with disabled access (blue wheelchair circles on the Tube map). And don't forget how walkable central London is: eg, instead of crush-a-thon Oxford Circus with its escalators and stairs, walk 10 minutes to Green Park with its wide corridors and lifts. The best route I've found from town to NW London is walk to Green Park, take the Victoria Line to Euston, walk across to the Northern Line platform, and take a Tube northbound.
TfL's Journey Planner is a good place to start - you can set it to find buggy-friendly routes avoiding steps and escalators.

5) Smile. Or take thank-you sweets. You're going to need to face the sudden spectre of five steps between you and the platform and will need to rely on people's good nature to help you. Luckily, almost everyone is willing to help (apart from actual TfL staff, who've told me they're forbidden from helping on escalators because it's too dangerous...

6) Is there another option? The bus, Docklands Light Railway and overground train have buggy spaces and much better access. The only risk with buses is that if there's already a buggy or wheelchair on board you might not be allowed on - or could have to collapse your buggy uuuuugh! Going east or west? A Thames ferry is pricier but easy with a buggy and lovely on a summery day.

7) The techy route: one mum who faced Tube battles with her buggy roped in her ante-natal class friends to help research 315 routes and create the £1.49 app Gobaby for buggy-friendly route-finding. It found Harrow on the Hill on the Metropolitan line was one of the worst stations, with 57 steps. It also lists local baby-changing facilities to your location. 

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