Basically if you can't walk or have difficulty walking you have three options:
- a manual wheelchair
- a powered wheelchair
- a mobility scooter
Powered wheelchairs or powerchairs are great. They offer greater independence and supportive seating but they are very heavy and very expensive! They can cost anything between £1,500 to £30,000. You can't just fold them up and put them in the car, you need a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle or WAV with a ramp or lift to load the chair and passenger. This makes them impractical for many people. You can take them on public transport though.
Mobility scooters are an affordable and transportable alternative to powerchairs. With prices starting at only £400 they are much cheaper than powerchairs but they offer the same level of independence. The smaller car boot scooters can be taken apart and easily transported in the boot of a family car so you don't have to exchange your car for a van like WAV. The only down side of scooters is access to public transport. Why? It's complicated!
Scooters come in many shapes and sizes, from a tiny transportable scooter that can fold up into a suitcase to massive Class 3 vehicles than can be legally driven on the road.
All three of these vehicles are classed as a mobility scooter but as you can tell they are all pretty different.
There is no way a Class 3 scooter (as shown in the third picture) would fit on a bus or a train but it is technically still a mobility scooter so in order to deal with this issue many transport companies put a blanket ban on all mobility scooters in place. That pretty much discriminates against every scooter user, even those with tiny scooters.
Some transport companies came to realise this wasn't fair on their disabled passengers. They decided that the smaller scooters were OK to to on trains and buses so they set up schemes whereby scooter users could get a permit if their scooter was within their requirements and if they could show that they could safely manoeuvre the scooter in tight spaces. For most schemes the scooter must be less than 120cm long and less than 70cm wide.
The problem for scooter users is each bus and rail company has their own rules and permit schemes, so if you like to travel a lot then you need check the rules each different transport operator before you can travel and then apply for the relevant permits in good time before you plan to take your journey.
It's a total nightmare and people often don't know about these rules until they have a confrontation with a guard who tells them they can't travel with their scooter. To the passenger their mobility scooter is no different to a wheelchair but according to the very letter of the rules it isn't.
Some operators still have a blanket ban on all mobility scooters except those than can be folded up into a suitcase and carried on the train as luggage. That is rather short sighted as most disabled people who use scooters do so because they have great difficulty in walking!
We urgently need some kind of national scheme that identifies which mobility scooters can safely travel on all forms of public transport. Until that happens then more disabled passengers will be unfairly discriminated against and that is just not acceptable.
To check if your scooter is allowed on a train it is advisable to check the National Rail website. It gives the policies for each individual transport company. And don't forget to book assistance at least 24 hours before you travel as ramps are not always readily available.