Disabled Access and the Glasgow Underground
I think it fair to say that there is virtually no disabled access on the Glasgow Underground. If you use a wheelchair or have difficulty getting up or down stairs then travelling on the Glasgow Subway cannot be a nice experience. When it is busy it is virtually impossible.
Most of the subway stations have sets of stairs leading to the platforms and the few that do not invariably have escalators. The trains themselves have fairly cramped doorways and the only area where a chair could possibly be parked is in the two entry points where there doors are and that invariably means people cramming to get past as they board and depart the train.
If you do suffer from a disability my advice is unfortunately to stay clear of the subway altogether.
Over recent weeks I have noticed an increasing vitriol spreading on the internet about this issue. We here at Glasgow Subway Stories have recently started properly using our Twitter account and I have been genuinely surprised by the level criticisim directed at SPT over this issue.
It has been announced that there is a piece of major upgrading work being done to the underground with a substantial budget coming mainly from public money. This may be a factor in driving these concerns.
With the amount of money being spent it is not unreasonable that people would question why disabled access is not included in the work. If we are spending this amount of money on some serious work why did they not include the improved facilities? It is a fair question.
As someone that has spent most of their life trundling round in circles, quite literally, on the clockwork orange I feel it is necessary to state the obvious.
I dont think it can be done.
It’s not a question of desire, or money or even political will. It just can’t be done.
Many of the stations exist in incredibly cramped circumstances. If you have ever wandered down West Street, Cessnock or Kelvinhall through the tiny labyrinthine corridors you will know what I mean. It is not a case of not wanting to fit the necessary access its simply a case that there is not enough space.
To make matters worse many of the stations are not actually vertical. The winding corridors lead from the gates downwards and can sometimes travel quite a distance from where the passengers enter to the platform. A station like Kelvinhall has a platform that is actually quite some away from the entrance so unless we can build some form of Willy Wonka style elevator that goes sideways it is always going to be a serious impediment.
Not enough space for escalators, no possibility of using a lift.
If you then add in to the equation the fact that many stations are either underneath private property (Cessnock, Hillhead, Kelvinhall) or next to major arterial roads (St Georges Cross, Shields Road, West Street) then major structural engineering is out of the question. How do you dig a new shaft for a lift or widen load bearing tunnels if the area above is occupied or critical to the functioning of the city?
All or none
It is certainly possible to do a few stations. Govan, St Enoch, Ibrox or Buchanan Street could be done with a bit of invention but what is the point? As anyone who has designed a mass transit system will tell you, there is no point letting people on at one station only to limit where they can get off.
When it comes to providing disabled access on the subway it is an all or nothing deal. All the stations have to support it or we are just wasting tax payers money instead of providing a useful service.
The Glasgow Underground was designed by a group of Victorian planners over a hundred years ago, well before health and safety or modern disabled standards. If it was being designed today it would naturally have full unrestricted access for all potential users, whatever their disability.
It is simply the case that the cost, disruption and the general impossibility of doing the task means that it simply is not on the table as an option. It would require the whole subway network to be closed for years and cause untold chaos to most Glaswegians. That is assuming you could find a structural engineering genius who was capable of actually implementing it.
On many an occassions I have seen staff struggling down stairs with bikes, prams or wheelchairs. If there is anyone out there that would appreciate better access on the subway it is them.
I think I speak for every single subway user when I say that I would love to have disabled access on the subway. I think it is fair to say that the people who run the subway do actually feel the same way. They are just not in a position to be able to make it happen.
By all means spend money helping those in our society become more mobile and independent. Investing in better buses and trains or schemes for specialised vehicles is public money well spent.
After the debacle of the trams in Edinburgh and the catastrophe of the engineering works it caused I think that SPT have made the right decision in not including disabled access in their upgrade proposal. I wish that it was possible to do so. Unfortunately I know that it is not.