Anthony is passionate about the need for improved wheelchair access across London and especially on the tube. He asked for help, so we put our heads together and came up with an idea. Last week, over 4 million people watched a man #racethetube from Mansion House to Cannon Street station. Props to the guy who did it. He managed to jump off a carriage at one station and ran to the next before jumping on to the same carriage before the doors closed. Interesting? Yes. Did we learn anything from it? Not so much.
Anthony, myself and a few of my anonymous helping community headed down to the circle line yesterday, cameras in hand, and shot Anthony’s own attempt to #racethetube…. in his wheelchair. Here’s how it went –
As you can see, there was a problem. An incredible 75% of underground stations do not have step free access. Mansion House, for example, is out of bounds for wheelchair users as it has many steps and no lifts (the eagle eyed amongst you will notice we gave ourselves a bit of creative freedom during filming to try and illustrate the issue!).
Whilst Transport for London, the organisation responsible for this issue across the capital, aren’t ignoring the need to implement step free access across stations, the 25% figure they’ve reached to date is still a painfully small one. For Anthony, and many others in his situation, taking a simple journey across town involves a huge amount of planning, detours, time and effort. Again, TFL have resources to help this journey planning – but getting your head around some of them is no easy task.
“I tend to just use buses. It’s too difficult to know where I can and can’t get to when I take the tube.” Anthony explained. “It feels like us wheelchair users are being ignored, despite how positively London came across during the Paralympics in 2012”. He added.
Seeing the amount of passion Anthony has for this issue was my first insight into how London is failing to provide for his mobility challenges. Spending a few days with him to shoot this film though was an eye-opening slap in the face as to how big this problem really is. In fact, a recent report by the Department for Work and Pensions put pressure on retailers to step up their attempts to improve access, highlighting that a massive 12 million disabled people and their families are currently being underserved. It’s a society wide issue and one that won’t be fixed in a day but I hope that Anthony’s attempt to #racethetube will nudge TFL in the right direction, and give us all a glimpse at how the daily struggles that wheelchair users face is something we all need to get behind to help solve.
Finally, I just want to say thank you to Anthony himself for being such an amazing man. A complete inspiration.
***An Update*** 7th October, 2014
Almost two weeks have passed since Anthony’s attempt to race the tube and our film of it was posted up online. I thought now might be a good time to look back to try and work out what happened and why.
First things first, the film got everywhere. The Independent, Evening Standard, Metro, Telegraph, Daily Mail, Huffington Post, Yahoo, 9 Gag, Lad Bible – it just flew. Better still, the message we pushed, that only 25% of tube stations having step free access is a shockingly low number, seemed to strike a chord with those who saw the film. Some shared their shock, others their personal stories and a fair few you even put forward your own solutions – the “what about square wheels” one surely teaching us all that there is such a thing as idiotic genius. The days passed and a huge number of people joined the lobbying of TFL, ask them simply do something about this injustice.
And then came the news, late last Friday, that a further £75m will be invested into London’s step free access programme. Newspapers came back in for Anthony’s view, with the Evening Standard following up their original piece on our film with an article titled “Race the Tube in a wheelchair man hails Mayor’s plan to spend £75 million on station lifts“. It’s a small but significant step and one that left Anthony with a big smile on this face.
The cherry on the cake was hearing from Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, who got in touch to say “I’ve seen TheFreeHelpGy and Anthony’s film and think it’s a fantastic effort. It makes a very forceful point as to why delivering step free access on the Tube is so important and why it continues to be a top priority for me and TfL. The picture is far from perfect, but great progress has been made in making more of our Tube stations step-free in recent years. Our recent injection of a further £75m is another step in the right direction, but of course there’s always more to be done – as Anthony’s film highlights.”
…that we can’t take credit for this £75m pledge. Can’t we? We can’t. But I don’t think it’s wrong being enthused by the engagement and public pressure we generated with what was essentially a simple idea, a GoPro and a Youtube upload. This, looking back, was our aim and it was a success. That said, I wonder whether this aim was actually a wrong one. Should we have been asking TFL for something more specific other than just to ‘do more’? Something more tangible and realistic? For future projects I want to focus harder on the actual goal we’re trying to score, over and above anything else.
I also learnt of so many inspiring organisations that are tirelessly working towards getting this issue addressed. Transport For All, Euan’s Guide and Access Advisr being three such projects that have done and are continuing to do much much more than our film ever will. In fact, if you have any support to spare and are passionate about this issue – these groups are your best bets to get behind.
Finally, something happened that caught me off guard. I’ve known Anthony for over a year now. He’s always, every time we meet, full of life – but rarely is he not visibly suppressed by it at the same time. It’s a painful mix to see let alone feel. Last week he took me to one side and told me that he felt proud of what the film achieved, fulfilled by being listened too and doubly passionate about his new found purpose as an accessibility campaigner. So maybe, if our film achieved nothing other than getting a few people taking about this issue of wheelchair accessibility for a day or two, maybe it did a job for Anthony himself. I truly hope so.