Dial-a-Ride Report: From Door to More – Serena’s Story

On 6 July, Age UK London (AUKL) and Transport for London (TfA) launched the Dial-a-Ride report: From Door to More. The report was the result of in-depth research carried out with 14 Dial-a-Ride service users of varying disabilities and ages. The report outlines how the door-to-door free bus service is essential to everyday life for users – but there are flaws.

On 11 July the group attended a meeting at City Hall, chaired by Caroline Pidgeon, Member of the Greater London Assembly who has for some time been calling for improvements to the service. They were able to speak directly to representatives of Transport for London (TfL) about their experiences – both good and bad. During the meeting the users, and our two organisations, were also able to outline our key recommendations in the report directly to TfL.

One service user who wanted to remain anonymous, so we shall call her Serena, tells her story.

Serena’s Story: Dial-a-Ride has given me back my independence and I am forever grateful

Hi my name is Serena and I would like to talk about the Dial-A-Ride (DAR) service.

I suffered from a brain stem stroke at the age of 25. I was at work when this happened, I was completely independent and had no health issues.  At first I did not know what was happening to me, I lost my balance, I could not eat properly and my whole left side had frozen.

My manager called the paramedics and I was taken to hospital and I went into a coma for a few days (I cannot remember how long). The doctors told my family and friends that there was a 50% chance that I would survive.

Luckily, I woke up but I could not speak, I could not eat, I could not move, I could not breathe fully (I was on 80% oxygen), I had tubes in my head, I could not go to the toilet,  I literally could not do anything! My only form of communication was blinking

My whole life had changed, before I could do everything and anything, but now I had to rely on carers. I was completely dependent and immobile. Being able to just sit upright (which took me ages) was a big achievement for me! I was in ICU for 6 weeks and in hospital for nearly one year. When I was eventually able to use an electric wheelchair, I was really happy and excited!

My electric wheelchair was like a god-send for me as it enabled me to be independent. I had a tracheostomy (a breathing tube pipe) which went through my neck and when this tube came out then finally I was discharged from the hospital. After hospital I went into a care home until they had found me a suitable, adapted property.

Unfortunately, I could not live with my family as I had before the stroke as their house was not accessible. Accessibility is so important to me and being disabled has made me realise just how crucial this is for me. Being in a special accommodation for over one year did depress me.

I could not do what I wanted to do as I was wheelchair bound, I could not work due to my health problems, I could not drive due to my condition, I could not see my family or friends and I could not even go on holidays or adventures!

Finding Dial-a-Ride

I was told about Dial-a-Ride by my social worker. I had never heard of the service before. When I first used this service (in 2015), going from my special accommodation that I was residing in, to my family home, I was so happy! I was really pleased with how accessible the vehicle was and how friendly and professional the drivers were! I had to initially travel with an essential escort in my electric wheelchair but after a few times I did not need to travel with an escort and I was able to travel myself in my electric wheelchair.

The more I used Dial-a-Ride the more familiar I became with how the service works. I am really happy with this service and how they cater for disabled people and how Dial-a-Ride makes travelling easier and more accessible. Dial-a-Ride has given me back my independence and I am forever grateful for it. Without Dial-a-RideI would still be depressed and stuck in the care home inside a room with just four walls to stare at (that too from a young age!).

I have always used the service a lot, especially going to my family house, for shopping, exercise class and appointments. Even going to my family house and coming back very late was, and still is, giving me some purpose in life. I had been feeling like a burden but Dial-a-Ride has helped me overcome this and I do applaud London for having such a wonderful service for disabled people as it helps us be more independent.

Dial-a-Ride improvements

Now, I’ll talk about things that needs improving with Dial-a-Ride. Firstly, my stroke paralysed my vocal chords, I had a trachea and even when it came off I could not eat and was fed through my stomach! My voice was not strong enough, I got tired very easily and I had to see a Speech and Language Therapist regularly.

My brain was fine, I did have cognitive problems initially and I do tend to forget things easily but I do feel I had mental capacity – luckily! I did not like relying on people, I never have, as I was very independent before my stroke. I did have a low voice due to my vocal chords palsy and whenever people could not hear me on the phone then I would get upset and frustrated.

Eventually my voice became stronger (I still have a vocal chords palsy) and I was doing my own bookings with Dial-a-Ride by telephone. I found that the customer service assistants were very friendly and helpful however there were a few staff that lacked customer service skills, lacked empathy for disabled people and, were just plain rude!

There were a few occasions when some of the customer service staff would shout at me and tell me to speak clearly even though I was speaking as clear as I could. At one point I got very annoyed and told the customer service assistant that due to my stroke I cannot speak any clearer, other people can hear me clearly and if she has a problem understanding me, then I want to talk to someone else or a manager. As soon as I said that then she could hear me perfectly well.

There are a few people in the office that speak to customers in a rude manner and I just don’t understand how they can get away with this? I have complained quite a lot of times about this and even asked them to listen to the phone calls, however it seems like nothing has really been done about this.

Understanding needs

I don’t think that certain people truly understand the life of disabled people and how hard things can be.  I use the service a lot as Dial-a-Ride enables me to be more “normal”. The lack of customer service skills really frustrates me. I have encountered numerous situations where I have even been told “you get too many trips” and it seems as some staff have a problem with me using the Dial-a-Ride service.

I am not scared or ashamed to use Dial-a-Ride as this service is a life saver and enables me to get around London by myself, unfortunately I cannot use the public transport due to my mobility problems. I have started using a walking frame, as Dial-a-Ride is a door-to-door service, I feel comfortable about this.

When I get told that I am using Dial-a-Ride a lot then this really upsets me as I don’t feel people understand just how crucial it is for my state of mind? I have even checked with Dial-a-Ride and they confirmed that there is no restriction to the number of bookings. I really don’t understand how the customer assistants working for Dial-a-Ride can be so uncaring. Do they not realise the difficulties of disabled people? Why are they even working for Dial-a-Ride if they cannot understand disability?

Another frustrating thing is the way scheduling is done. I remember that I was on bus for nearly two hours! I understand that Dial-a-Ride service is a ride sharing service but to be on the bus for a very long time is not only tiring but frustrating! Dial-a-Ride state that one hour is the limit but even one hour is tiring for us disabled people!

Making phone calls is also is very frustrating. Customers can be waiting on the phone for over half an hour. It is not a freephone number and people without minutes would avoid calling due to phone costs incurred. I have had many occasions where I have waited on the phone for over half an hour and when I get through, the phone line cuts off! This is very annoying.
Most drivers are very helpful but there are a few who don’t seem to care or acknowledge people’s disabilities. I have had drivers who come extra early to collect me and are impatient to wait even though they come much earlier than my given time.

Scheduling definitely needs to be improved. I tell customer service that I have an exercise class or an appointment at a set and crucial time, I miss the appointment due to Dial-a-Ride arriving late or delays because they are collection other customers from long distances.

This is unfair for us disabled customers as appointments and exercises are very important in our life and we heavily rely on DAR. There has also been times when DAR comes too early, for example my appointment is at 9am but I arrive at 8am. I have been stuck outside in the cold and rain due to the bus coming too early and the building not opened! Again this is very unfair.

Dial-a-Ride has changed my life

So even though Dial-a-Ride is a wonderful service for us disabled people as it gives us independence, it definitely needs improvements. I am very grateful for Dial-a-Ride as it has definitely changed my life after suffering from a stroke and has helped give my independence back 😊

I have been given a unique and important opportunity to contribute to the Dial-a-Ride report on Dial-a-Ride a joint project between Age UK London and Transport for All.

I have also recently attended a very useful meeting where I was able to share my experiences with the Head of Assisted Transport at Transport for London. I am very glad and feel privileged to be involved in this project, and the event, as talking directly to the people involved with Dial-a-Rice gives users a better chance to express our experiences and concerns and to talk directly to the main people involved in the service.

I definitely want positive changes to Dial-a-Ride as I want to help other users, and want TfL to recognise how essential the service is for disabled and older passengers, and how very important it is to us!

Age UK London

Age UK London is the new name for Age Concern London. We act as the collective voice of London's Age UKs and Age Concerns, working to improve the quality of life and enhance the status and influence of older people in the capital.

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