"Mind the Gap, Please": wheelchair users and London public transport
(University College London)
Paper short abstract:
This research investigates the relationship between wheelchair users and accessibility in public transport in London. It explores 'the Gap(s)' in the infrastructure asking how wheelchair users develop tactics for getting around the city and shaping the network to their needs.
Paper long abstract:
Public transport in London is an icon. With its renowned red double-decker buses and stern "Mind the Gap" reminders, Transport for London and its predecessors have developed a strong brand recognised throughout the world. In addition, the network is massive, with over 8000 buses in its fleet and over 250 Undeground stations. However, this idealistic image does not represent every Londoner's experience: some user groups face notorious barriers to accessibility. My research proposes to investigate the relationship between wheelchair users and public transport in London. With only one quarter of Underground stations having step-free access and various other ongoing accessibility debates, these users face diverse barriers in their use of the transport system. Here, I intend to explore 'the Gap(s)', both literal (the space between the train and the platform) and figurative (current priority debates concerning London buses) in nature. Of primary interest is how, despite the various barriers and strains on their journeys, wheelchair users develop tactics for getting around the city and shaping the network to their needs, either momentarily or permanently. The tactics developed span a wide range, from individual toolkits carried in their backpacks to intensive activism and lobbying for the improvement of transport accessibility. This study is the result of extensive qualitative research, with over 40 hours of interviews with wheelchair users and policy makers based in London. Working with concepts from the fields of STS and disability studies, this research aims to highlight the impact that excluded users can also have on the shaping of technological systems.
Infrastructures, subjects, politics