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Rail firm acts to improve booking system for disabled passengers

Rail firm acts to improve booking system for disabled passengers
9th August 2021 Ian Streets

A major rail network has acted to introduce a system which will allow disabled or elderly passengers who need assistance to turn up and travel rather than book six hours ahead.
The Guardian reported that the introduction by South Western Railway (SWR) of “assisted boarding points” at stations will allow passengers to contact a customer service team who then alert the guard on the next available train to ensure assistance is provided.
Campaigners welcomed the scheme, but pointed out it would only help those with smartphones, and there was still much to do to ensure accessible travel.
SWR told The Guardian the service would require only 10 minutes’ notice, whereas standard industry practice is usually to request bookings the day before travel if possible to guarantee assistance.
The assisted boarding points, which SWR said will be rolled out on all platforms across its 189 stations in the coming months, will include clear signage with a QR code that customers scan to send details of their journey and the type of assistance they require, such as a wheelchair ramp or visual impairment support.
A spokesman said: “We know that not every journey is planned in advance, and indeed they shouldn’t have to be. We’re proud to be launching this industry-first service, which will make it markedly easier for our customers who require assistance to travel with minimum fuss or difficulty.”
Alan Benson, who sits on SWR’s accessibility panel and chairs Transport for All, told of his experience in testing the assisted boarding point at his local station.
He said: “Getting help on and off the train is vital for disabled people travelling, and this is the most common source of problems. Anything that makes this easier has to be welcomed.
“Other schemes set disabled people apart from other people’s travel experience. All across the country you have rail companies coming up with ideas to tackle a problem that we think should not be there. Given that caveat, SWR’s is probably the best of those.”
Katie Pennick, the campaigns lead at Transport for All, said current national schemes and apps, such as Passenger Assistance, often failed to guarantee help, adding that staff shortages during the pandemic had worsened the situation.
Alan and Katie both told The Guardian that said major investment and commitment in the UK were needed to create level boarding between platforms and trains, and allow many passengers, particularly wheelchair users, to travel independently.

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