Across the UK, public transport is becoming more and more wheelchair and mobility scooter friendly, making it easier than ever to get around. To make sure your travel goes smoothly and safely from start to finish, we recommend following these tips:
Check Your Measurements
Make sure you’re familiar with the sizing of your mobility aid, and if possible always check with the transport provider to see if you fit within their maximum dimensions.
Generally, all wheelchairs under 120cm long by 70cm wide should be a comfortable fit for trains, buses, taxis and coaches – however, there are a small number of older trains that require a maximum width of 55cm.
Some smaller models of mobility scooter are also accepted on some public transport vehicles. These are generally listed as Class 2 scooters and should be at most 60cm wide by 100cm long, but bear in mind that they may not be as easy as a wheelchair to manoeuvre into any designated wheelchair space.
All train operating companies and some taxis will also carry lightweight foldable mobility scooters as luggage.
If you’re travelling alone and need a hand, all UK train companies use a system called Passenger Assist to book help in stations and on trains for all services. Once you’ve made your ticket reservation, make sure to ring 0800 022 3720 at least 12 hours ahead of travel time and book your extra assistance – this way, all relevant staff will know which stations you are arriving and departing from, if you have any connections to make, and whereabouts you’ll be sitting on the train.
Rail transport staff will also provide wheelchair ramps and carry up to three bags on your behalf.
Most taxi companies will also have vehicles suitable for transporting both wheelchairs and scooters – to ensure one is available at your chosen time of travel, call to inform the company ideally a few hours in advance.
Go For Comfort
Powered wheelchairs and mobility scooters will often be more comfortable for public transport than a transit or self-propelled wheelchair. If you plan to remain in your chair during the journey, don’t underestimate the importance of comfort; particularly when travelling on longer journeys or in buses and taxis, which can subject passengers to the lumps and bumps of the road.
There are several types of wheelchair cushion available, and most feature memory foam for maximum comfort. Certain cushions can also provide orthopaedic support.
Where possible, the best and safest option is always to get out of the wheelchair and use the vehicle's built in seatbelts. If you plan to remain in your chair during transport, it’s highly recommended to use a seatbelt to ensure your safety, particularly in taxis and buses where motion can be unpredictable.
There are several styles of wheelchair and mobility aid seatbelts available – key things to look for include easy adjustment of length to suit the user size, and an appropriate fastener which can be easily released in an emergency.
Harnesses are also available for wheelchair uses, however these are primarily designed for optimum passenger positioning and posture support, and should not be considered as safety devices.
But please note:
Lap belts supplied with the wheelchair, chest harnesses, and other positioning aids designed for wheelchair use are not substitutes for a car or coach seat belt and are not designed to provide protection in the event of an impact. These items can be used for added trunk support and positioning.
Safety and Maintenance
It is your responsibility to ensure your mobility aid is in a safe condition to travel. Transport operators have the right to refuse service if they think you may be a safety risk to other passengers.
Start by making sure the tyre pressure on the chair is adequate, and that any kerb climbers are adjusted to avoid catching on ramps. Make sure the battery is secure if the chair is powered, and avoid loading the back of the chair with heavy bags, as this can cause a balance issue.
When using ramps to board a bus, train or taxi, always bear in mind that these will have a maximum safe working load – usually around 300kg.
Although not a legal requirement, it is strongly recommended to take out insurance to cover personal safety, other people's safety and the value of the vehicle.
A good place to start is to check whether your household insurance covers usage of a mobility vehicle on public highways, and the storage or parking for it at home.
You can also obtain specific mobility scooter insurance, which will cover theft, damage and loss, as well as optional extras such as punctures and key loss.
Research Your Transport Provider
Many public transport vehicles are now constructed or adapted to carry both manual and powered wheelchairs as well as smaller mobility scooters, particularly in larger cities. To check if this applies to your planned route, we recommend finding out which bus or train company is running the service, and a quick look at their company website or a phone call to their head office will usually tell you everything you need to know about their accessibility guidelines.
Find Out More
- Taking a mobility aid on public transport is always at your own risk, and everyone’s needs are unique. If in doubt, always speak to an occupational therapist or doctor. For more information about travelling with mobility aids, there are several helpful websites that can provide more specialist information:
- The Research Institute for Disabled Customers provides consumer information and user reviews, to help disabled and older people choose the right products and services to lead an independent life
- Government guidelines on public transport requirements for disabled passengers
- The National Rail website features more information on the Passenger Assist program, as well as contact details for every train company in the UK
- The Motability Scheme enables disabled people to get mobile by exchanging their mobility allowance to lease a new car, scooter or powered wheelchair
- For Londoners, Transport For London has a dedicated accessibility page with more information on how to get around locally, including the London Underground