My Thoughts On Wheelchair Accessible Transportation In Manchester

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Rachy Lewis

It’s a little ridiculous that it’s taken me so long to write about this topic. It seems I’ve been more prone to write about accessibility whenever I travel to other cities or abroad. I wrote an honest guide for wheelchair accessibility in New York and that one time in Vermont I had to rent a manual wheelchair to make roaming around the stress-free. However, I’ve not really taken time to reflect on my experiences in the city I now call home, so I think it’s time I fix that.

It was about two weeks ago that I felt the need to give my thoughts on accessibility in Manchester. I had something happen that reminded me that although now that I know my way around the city it’s become relatively easy for me to manoeuvre in my wheelchair, it’s by no means perfect. In fact, I’m yet to visit a city where accessibility is perfect. Sometimes, I wonder if that reality will ever be in our future…

Moving to Manchester over 6 years ago now (that is SO crazy!) was a huge decision that changed both everything I knew about life and the life I knew. It was definitely very different in every way to the little town in Italy that built me.

I said goodbye to friends, burning hot summers and supreme delicacies that made my mouth water, but in return, I gained a level of independence I had never experienced before. You see, the town I lived in was far from wheelchair-friendly and whilst I had adapted in the ways I could, the lack of accessibility did not allow much room for spontaneity. My heavy powered wheelchair there was more of a complication than a tool that was supposed to make my life easier. Hence, there were many boxes that had to be ticked before I embarked on any journey outside my four walls.

I couldn’t just hop on a bus or get on the train to the neighbouring city of Milan whenever I wanted. Nah, that never happened.
Before embarking on any journey by public transport, there were so many hoops I had to jump through. Having to call the travel company whenever I needed to travel by bus was one of them. The town actually did get new shiny accessible buses but most of the time they still resorted to using the old ones that had no ramp or wheelchair space. So, I’d call every time to make sure the accessible busses were brought out. I’d have to give a specific time I planned to get the bus and a time I knew I’d be ready to get back to ensure the one used to return also had a ramp.

People run late all the time and plans with friends do change, but what that meant was that if I missed the ‘chosen’ bus, I was simply screwed and would have to rely on luck getting on the next one. Having to give a 48-hour notice before any train ride was also quite limiting. Even after taking all the correct measures before my trips there were many moments when the right kind of bus was not put out or there was no staff at the train stations to put up ramps. Needless to say, I mostly relied on my car rides with my parents, brother and friend’s parents to travel as public transportation was unreliable at best.

Rachy Lewis

Then I flew to Manchester. I noticed accessibility was much of an upgrade right at the airport when I found that almost every taxi, black cabs especially, has a ramp integrated into the back seats. That fact alone changed my life drastically.

Now I’ve moved around Manchester a lot in the last few years. I learnt how to make every new room feel ‘homey’ with each move and have seen the city through different lights. Without a doubt, I can say I’ve found accessibility is better or worse depending on which part of Manchester you live in.

I think the best part of accessible travel here is the fact that there are more options than what I had in my small Italian town. I can wake up, head out, and get on a bus at any time of the day, and if I need to travel to another city by train, even though I need to alert the station as soon as I can, I’ve found the system to be more reliable.
Taxis are essential to me here and have saved me from getting soaked on many mancunian rainy days or missing vital appointments when other means of transport fail me. When those fail me too, put simply, I’m screwed. The issue though is they are the least sustainable means of transport as they tend to empty out my pockets pretty fast.
Unlike in London where the ramps in the buses I hopped on were automated and can be operated with a push of a button, the buses in Manchester have manual ramps so the drivers have to leave their seats in order to open it.

My personal favourite mode of transportation is actually the tram because not only is it fully accessible in my area, but it also requires no assistance to get in or out and allows for full independence.

On a rainy night two weeks ago, after a lovely dinner with my family in the town centre, I went to the taxi stop area hoping to get home soon and jump into my bed. Usually, it’s a simple process that always leads to a driver letting me in their vehicle and driving straight home. It’s a simple process or rather it should have been. That particular night, however, not one, but three drivers refused to let the wheelchair on board. They all gave different reasons as to why they couldn’t or wouldn’t each one more absurd than the other. It was the fourth taxi in line that eventually let me on, him too as angry about what he had just witnessed as I was.

The incident reminded me that although Manchester is by large an accessible city, there is still much improvement to be made. It also made me realise that a lot of my opinion on this is possible because of the adaptions and resources I have kept to hand in order to never be stranded anywhere – ever. I definitely plan to soon release my guide to transportation in Manchester and another where I highlight the shortcomings of the systems in the city I’ve grown to love.

Whilst I do believe Manchester is certainly more accessible than many other places I’ve visited; I also think there is a long way to go before journeys are stress-free and fully comfortable. After all, two things can be true at once.

Your restless romantic roamer

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