Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Scooter users banned from Metro in Northern England

From the Newcastle upon Tyne Chronicle in the UK:

Transport operator Nexus is facing a backlash from many of the 200 to 300 scooter passengers who regularly used the system.

As reported in later editions of last night’s Chronicle, the ban comes after a series of near misses involving mobility scooters.

From the first trains Aug. 27 the scooters were outlawed from all 60 stations across Tyne & Wear.

Nexus imposed the law which overrides the restriction laid down in April, which banned scooter users unless accompanied.

Manual and powered wheelchairs and lighter scooters carried and folded are not included in the regulations.

Nancy Porter, 58, of Falstone Square, Gosforth, Newcastle, told how she had just bought a new £2,000 scooter.

“I’ve totally lost my freedom now. It’s devastating,” said Nancy, who has relied on her electric scooter since she slipped a disc 13 years ago.

“I used the Metro to go shopping, meet friends, for hospital appointments and to go swimming. That’s gone now.”

Nancy, a former state registered mental nurse, added: “I collected 1,000 names on a petition from people against the first ban but it hasn’t made a blind bit of difference.”

Beth Ford, 34, who supports scooter users at Shopmobility in South Shields, and uses an electric wheelchair, said: “This is only penalising the majority for the mistakes of a few. There will be a serious impact on hundreds of people.”

Beth won’t be banned herself as she uses an electric wheelchair, but knows of hundreds of scooter-users who will be affected.

But defending the restrictions, Nexus chiefs showed CCTV footage of scooters and their passengers shooting off platforms on to tracks and ploughing through train doors.

In one a woman user was seen boarding a train and crashing through doors on the other side of the carriage on to the trackside – minutes before another train hurtled through.

Bernard Garner, director general of Nexus, said: “If a scooter fell on to the Metro line and was hit by a train then not only would its user probably be killed or seriously hurt but so would perhaps dozens of people on the train if it was derailed.

“That risk is not acceptable. There is also the danger of passengers standing in the path of a scooter could be injured as it boards the confined space of a carriage.”

The ban follows a risk assessment by health and safety staff, with the help of scooter user-groups.

The findings have been passed on to Her Majesty’s Railway Inspectorate.

Ken Mackay, director of rail infrastructure at Nexus, said: “Scooters are not designed to manoeuvre in confined spaces like platforms and trains.

“If a scooter goes on to the track and people are on there assisting we have an uncontrolled situation.

“Heaven forbid the type of carnage that could occur if a train ploughs into them. We have reached a situation where we have to eliminate risk. Our first and foremost responsibility is to maintain a safe railway.”

Nexus will review the ban in six months, to study work it is undertaking to reduce the risks associated with scooter use on Metro services.

Mr Garner added: “Our first responsibility is to protect the safety of all our passengers.

“Mobility scooters are vehicles designed to drive on urban roads, not confined spaces like station platforms and trains.

“This ban won’t be popular with scooter users, but it is the right thing to do.”

There were up to 300 mobility scooters using the trains before April’s ban on lone travellers. Now alternative arrangements for them are being looked at by Nexus, including community travel schemes and TaxiLink. There have been four accidents in the last 15 months.