Door to Door: a travel guide for disabled people
In and around London
Sources of information | Buses | Trains and stations | The Underground | Docklands Light Railway | Trams | Taxis and private hire vehicles | Riverbuses | Sightseeing | Getting across London | Driving and parking in London | Assisted travel for disabled London residents | Help with costs
Whilst cities throughout the UK becoming are increasingly accessible, this section deals specifically with travelling in and around London because it is the UK city most people visit or pass through. For many disabled people unfamiliar with the city, travelling in London can be a daunting prospect. But, there is a lot of information available on the increasing amount of accessible transport.
Sources of information
Please see: Before you travel: sources of information and advice.
Transport for London's (TfL) website has a page devoted to accessibility of public transport in London, including sections on travel by bus, Tube, Docklands Light Rail (DLR), tram, rail, taxi and minicab, river, travel using assisted travel schemes (Dial-A-Ride), and information for road users. See: www.tfl.gov.uk/gettingaround/transportaccessibility/1167.aspx.
You can also read and dowload TfL's "Getting around London - your guide to accessibility" which describes all the accessibility features on the Tube, bus, DLR and tram, by going to: www.tfl.gov.uk/gettingaround/transportaccessibility/1167.aspx.
Transport for London has also produced "Out and about in London: My guide", a guide for people with learning difficulties which covers different ways of travelling, including bus, cab, Tube, train, Docklands Light Railway and tram. It can be downloaded from the website: www.tfl.gov.uk/gettingaround/transportaccessibility/1201.aspx.
TfL produces a range of guides in alternative formats to help you plan and make journeys. These guides can be downloaded or obtained free of charge by completing the order form at: www.tfl.gov.uk/tfl/gettingaround/accessibility-guides/default.aspx or by telephone from London Travel Information on 0843 222 1234.
Buses in London are operated by different companies, but Transport for London (TfL) oversees the provision of all bus services, setting minimum standards and operating policy.
Old, inaccessible buses have been replaced by new, low floor vehicles, with easy entry for ambulant disabled people, wheelchair access, and easier to grip handrails, high colour contrast and on board information systems for people with sensory impairments.
As a result of complaints about difficulty accessing buses because of broken ramps, TfL has implemented procedures for dealing with the problem. Anyone who finds that they are still unable to board a bus because of a broken ramp should contact London Buses Customer Services on 0845 300 7000.
If you are visually impaired TfL also produces a Large Print Central London Bus Guide.
You can find out more information about bus services in London by visiting the TfL website: www.tfl.gov.uk/buses.
You can also get information about routes and timetables from London Travel Information on 0843 222 1234 (24hours), Textphone 0207 918 3015.
Trains and stations
As with the rest of the country, access to stations and trains varies greatly between different stations and vehicles.
The stations on the London rail network often serve train lines that are built on embankments, and sometimes the stations themselves are also at a high level with physical access by flights of steps. Lift and/or ramps are available at main stations and London terminus stations are all accessible. The Train Operating Companies and Network Rail, who own and run a lot of the stations in London, have a programme of access improvements.
Transport for London (TfL) does not operate the majority of rail services in London. However, since November 2007 TfL has had responsibility for services on the London Overground network, which is made up of the following lines:
- Richmond to Stratford
- Clapham Junction to Willesden Junction
- Gospel Oak to Barking
- Watford Junction to Euston
More information about Rail Travel is given in the Going by rail section.
More information about the London Underground or the Tube as it is often called, can be found in the Going by rail section.
Docklands Light Railway
Docklands Light Railway (DLR) describes itself as "the first fully accessible railway in the UK". There are lifts, escalators, and/or ramps on every station platform. Stations and trains are unstaffed but monitored by security cameras. All the platforms are level with the trains for step free access and there are designated wheelchair / pram bays on every train.
The DLR operates between Bank Station in the City of London and the East of London, as far as Beckton and Stratford north of the Thames. A second branch serves London City Airport and extends under the River Thames to Woolwich Arsenal, and another branch links the City of London with South East London as far as Greenwich and Lewisham.
You can find out more information about the Docklands Light Railway by visiting the Transport for London website: www.tfl.gov.uk/gettingaround/transportaccessibility/2986.aspx.
A modern tram system operates to and from Croydon in South London. Trams from Croydon serve New Addington, Beckenham and Wimbledon, with modern vehicles that are fully accessible.
You can find out more information about the Croydon Tram System by visiting the Transport for London website: www.tfl.gov.uk/modalpages/2674.aspx.
Taxis and private hire vehicles
One of London's familiar sights is the famous 'black cab'. All these licensed taxis (officially called 'Hackney Carriages') have a 'Taxi' sign on the roof and a plate on the back showing that it is licensed to carry passengers. They all have meters showing the fare you have to pay and have to be wheelchair accessible. The vehicles and drivers of 'black cabs' in London are licensed by the Public Carriage Office (PCO) (www.tfl.gov.uk/businessandpartners/taxisandprivatehire/2807.aspx), which also deals with any complaints about cabs - taxis and private hire vehicles (minicabs) in London. For more information about making a complaint see the section "If things go wrong".
London 'black cabs' can either be hailed on the street or from designated taxi ranks or they can be booked in advance. The telephone numbers for booking taxis in advance can be found at: www.tfl.gov.uk/gettingaround/taxisandminicabs/taxis/1136.aspx.
The other type of taxi operating on the streets of London is the 'private hire vehicle' or minicab. Whereas a licensed taxi can be hailed on the street, picked up at a taxi rank or pre-booked, a minicab can only be pre-booked and does not have a fare meter. There is no legal requirement for minicabs to be wheelchair accessible. The drivers and operators of these vehicles are also licensed by the PCO, and are required to keep records of bookings taken and vehicles and drivers used.
All licensed private hire vehicles have the distinctive TfL licence disc in the front and rear windscreen. Most minicab drivers use saloon cars which are not wheelchair accessible but which can be easier to get into and out of if you have difficulty climbing steps and holding handrails. Some minicab drivers in London have wheelchair accessible vehicles which are not the 'black cab' type and which may be more suitable for some wheelchair users who find travel in a 'black cab' difficult or impossible.
To get telephone numbers of licensed private hire operators in your area of London sent direct to your mobile phone, text HOME to 60835 (there is a charge of 35p plus your standard text message rate for this service) or visit www.tfl.gov.uk/tfl/gettingaround/findaride/default.aspx.
By law both taxis and private hire vehicles (minicabs) are required to carry Guide and Hearing Dogs as well as dogs trained by Dogs for the Disabled, Support Dogs and Canine Partners. The dog must be allowed to stay with their owners and be carried at no extra charge.
Drivers are told how to identify these dogs, so it is important that they wear their harness or jacket showing the name of the training charity.
The only drivers who are exempt from this regulation are those with a proven medical condition, such as Asthma, which is made worse by contact with dogs. In these cases the Licensing Authority will issue the driver with an 'Notice of Exemption' certificate which must be displayed on the windscreen or dashboard of the vehicle. This notice will have a large ED (for Exemption Dogs) printed on it and will show the drivers licence number.
London is built on and around the River Thames, which divides North and South London.
Transport for London (TfL) is responsible for overseeing London River Services. Different companies operate both sightseeing cruises on the Thames and the increasing number of commuter routes linking east and central London.
TfL has encouraged the operators of these services to make them accessible to disabled people - visitors and residents alike - and the majority of the vessels and all piers are now accessible.
It is not essential to book assistance in advance, but it will save time and trouble if groups of mobility impaired travellers can give the operator advance notice of their intended travel.
This is especially important for wheelchair users. There is about a 10 metre rise and fall between high and low tide on the Thames in Central London, which makes some of the ramps between the piers and the boats extremely steep at low tide. The operators may be able to give you advice on the best times to travel to avoid this problem.
You can find out more information about London River Services by visiting the TfL website: www.tfl.gov.uk/gettingaround/transportaccessibility/1177.aspx.
One of the most popular ways of seeing the sights of London is from an open topped double-decker bus. One operator of such tours, The Original London Sightseeing Tour Company www.theoriginaltour.com/home/, is replacing its vehicles with new buses that have ramps and access for one wheelchair user to stay in their chair. Any additional wheelchair users will need to transfer into a normal bus seat. Sadly this still means that wheelchair users will not be able to take a tour on the upper deck. City-Sightseeing Wordwide also operates some of its London sightseeing tours with wheelchair accessible buses: www.city-sightseeing.com/index.phtml.
There are other ways to take a guided tour. One group of London 'cabbies' gives tours by black cab with a licensed taxi driver who is also qualified tour guide. Although this can be expensive, a group of up to five passengers pays the same fare as a single passenger. However, usually only a wheelchair user and one other passenger can fit comfortably into a cab.
Another good way to see the city is from the river, and river cruises take you from Hampton Court in the west to Greenwich and beyond in the east. The majority of vessels used are accessible. More information can be found in the Riverbuses section.
Getting across London
For many disabled travellers London is often seen as an obstacle on the way to getting somewhere on the other side of the Capital such as a port or airport.
The following wheelchair accessible rail services operate frequent services throughout the day:
The Heathrow Express links London Paddington with Heathrow Airport
The Gatwick Express links London Victoria with Gatwick Airport
The Stansted Express links London Liverpool Street with Stansted Airport www.stanstedexpress.com
National Express operates the wheelchair accessible Airbus service between Central London locations and Heathrow Airport
National Express also operates the wheelchair accessible coach service between the West Country, Heathrow Airport and Victoria Coach Station.
You can use accessible services to get across London from one terminal station to another using either a low floor bus or taxi.
If you are travelling by coach, Victoria Coach Station is located some half a mile from Victoria Rail Station but assistance can be provided at the coach station if you let them know your arrival/departure details in advance. You can find out more information about Victoria Coach Station by visiting the Transport for London website: www.tfl.gov.uk/tfl/gettingaround/vcs-mobilityassistance/default.asp.
You can visit the Transport for London (TfL) website (www.tfl.gov.uk) which has a useful Journey Planner section for more information about travelling across London. You can also call the TfL Travel Information Call Centre (TICC) on 020 7222 1234 (24hours), Textphone 0207 918 3015.
You may be able to avoid having to change in London altogether as there are long distance rail services that bypass the Capital. Also, First Capital Connect operates the Thameslink rail service between Bedford, Luton and Brighton via central London and Gatwick. You can get more information from: www.firstcapitalconnect.co.uk/plan-your-journey/accessibility/.
Driving and parking in London
London, like any large town or city, has a particular problem with the amount of road traffic using its streets. Transport for London and the London Boroughs have tried to alleviate this problem, mainly by restricting parking and by introducing the Congestion Charging Scheme for Central London. When driving in London you should be aware of the following things:
Red Routes are priority routes on main roads into central London where there is no stopping or parking allowed except at certain times in specially marked places. These regulations are strictly enforced. Vehicles may stop on a Red Route for the time it takes only to set down or pick up a disabled person but there are some specially marked parking bays for disabled motorists along these Red Routes.
Driving in Central London - The Congestion Charge
Under the Congestion Charge scheme motorists must pay a daily fee of £8, to enter the defined zone between the hours of 7.00am and 6.00pm Monday to Friday. Once payment has been made for a particular period, the driver's vehicle is registered for that period, and when it passes one of the cameras set up to monitor traffic within the zone it is recognised as being there lawfully. The driver of any vehicle not registered is liable to a fine.
Disabled motorists vehicles that are exempt from Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) are also automatically recognised as being exempt from the congestion charge, so long as the vehicle has been registered at DVLA, Swansea (this automatic recognition does not apply to vehicles registered in Northern Ireland or the Isle of Man).
Disabled motorists whose vehicles are not exempt from VED can also claim exemption from the charge by registering in advance up to two vehicles a day.
You can find out more information and register for the Congestion Charge System by visiting the Transport for London Congestion Charge website: www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/congestioncharging/.
Parking in London
Disabled motorists in London can generally use their Blue Badge parking permits as in the rest of the country, but the four central London boroughs of Camden, Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, and the City of London each operate their own independent parking schemes.
In these areas the Blue Badge does not apply in the way that it does elsewhere. Residents and people working or studying in the areas may apply for a special disabled parking permit from the borough concerned.
Only these permit holders are entitled to free parking on meters or pay and display bays, within the borough which has issued the permit. You should always check the signs thoroughly as there are some bays reserved solely for them.
There are parking bays for Blue Badge holders throughout these central areas that are free for a limited period. Vehicles may also stop to set down or pick up a Blue Badge holder for as long as necessary, and may stop for twenty minutes to collect or deliver goods providing there is no loading ban. London Councils, formerly called the Association of London Government, has recently published a new comprehensive guide to parking in London for Blue Badge holders, which includes:
- a small road atlas showing where all the designated parking bays are located;
- the rules for Blue Badge holders using them, across most of central London, including the four inner London boroughs of the City of London, City of Westminster, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and part of the Borough of Camden.
The Guide is available from PIE Guides, tel: 020 7952 0450 or, for more information, visit their website: www.thepieguide.com/shop/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=3 or go to www.direct.gov.uk/en/DisabledPeople/MotoringAndTransport/Bluebadgescheme/DG_4001061.
You can find out more information about parking in London by visiting the TfL website: www.tfl.gov.uk/gettingaround/transportaccessibility/7890.aspx#Blue_badge_holders or the London Councils website: www.londoncouncils.gov.uk.
Assisted travel for disabled London residents
Transport for London provides services for disabled London residents who have a permanent or long-term disability, and are unable to use public transport services some or all of the time. More information about the various schemes can be found at: www.tfl.gov.uk/gettingaround/transportaccessibility/2669.aspx and "Assisted Transport services in Greater London" is a leaflet giving details about them which can be obtained by going to: www.tfl.gov.uk/tfl/gettingaround/accessibility-guides/default.aspx.
Dial-A-Ride services operate throughout London for disabled residents who are unable, or virtually unable, to use conventional public transport . They use accessible vehicles to collect you from your door and take you to your destination and then take you back home again at an agreed time. Members of London Dial-A-Ride may travel on these vehicles free of charge.
You can find out more about Dial-a-Ride services in London by visiting the Transport for London website: www.tfl.gov.uk/gettingaround/3222.aspx.
Travel Mentoring Service
The Travel Mentoring Service offers support to disabled Londoners who want to broaden their horizons and make use of the many mainstream accessible public transport options now available.
This service offers advice on planning a journey using an accessible route and can provide a mentor to come with you for your first few journeys to help you gain confidence and become an independent traveller. Further information can be obtained from TfL/London Dial-a-Ride Travel Mentoring Service on 0203 054 4361 or by e-mail using the enquiry form on their website: www.tfl.gov.uk/tfl/gettingaround/dialaride/travelassistance.asp.
Taxicard and Capital Call
Taxicard is a door-to-door transport service for Londoners with serious mobility impairments and to whom public transport is not usually accessible. The scheme increases the independence and the mobility of disabled people by providing subsidised trips in licensed London taxis.
Capital Call is a complementary service to Taxicard, providing subsidised door-to-door transport for people with mobility issues, using private hire vehicles (minicabs). Capital Call has been introduced as an additional transport option for Taxicard members living in London boroughs where there is a shortage of London taxis.
More information about both these schemes can be found at: www.tfl.gov.uk/gettingaround/transportaccessibility/2669.aspx.
Help with costs
Under UK law there is a national minimum 'travel permit' that local authorities have to provide as a concession to disabled and elderly people. The London boroughs have put in place schemes that exceed this minimum.
The most common scheme is the Freedom Pass. In addition, disabled residents of most boroughs can also apply for the London Taxicard which gives a limited amount of subsidised taxi travel.
The Freedom Pass is run by London Councils, formerly called the Association of London Government, for the individual London boroughs. It gives free travel to Freedom Pass holders on buses, trains, trams, and Underground services in London, although there are some restrictions on the routes and times that you can use it. The Freedom Pass also gives holders a discount on London River Services.
Holders of the Freedom Pass will also be entitled to the additional benefit of free local bus travel anywhere in England between 9.30am and 11.00pm. This additional benefit will be available to all freedom pass holders aged 60 or over, and most holders of the disabled person's freedom pass. A minority of disabled passes are issued at the discretion of the local borough council and so, under government legislation, will not be valid for use outside London.
More information about the Freedom Pass can be found at: www.londoncouncils.gov.uk/services/freedompass/default.htm.
More information about the London Councils can be found at: www.londoncouncils.gov.uk.
The 'London Taxicard Scheme' is also managed by London Councils. Taxicard is a method of providing subsidised door-to-door transport for people who have serious mobility impairment and difficulty in using public transport. Taxicard holders make journeys in licensed London taxis and a subsidy applies directly to each trip.
More information about the London Taxicard Scheme can be found at: www.londoncouncils.gov.uk/services/taxicard/default.htm.
It is important to remember that the Freedom Pass and the Taxicard scheme only apples to travel within London. For travel beyond London national schemes are available for rail and coach travel: the Disabled Persons Railcard and the National Express Disabled Persons Discount.