Rail staff make 3ft 6in comic's life hell

Citing 'health and safety'

Stand-up TanyaLee Davis has reacted angrily after rail staff left her to dismantle her own mobility scooter on a station platform, citing health and safety fears.

The Canadian-born comic, who is 3ft 6in tall because of a form of dwarfism, claimed that British transport policy ‘make disabled people more disabled in this country’.

She uses her scooter to travel between gigs, but hit trouble yesterday when she attempted to board the 12.55 pm First TransPennine Express from Manchester Airport to Sheffield yesterday, where she was performing in the city’s comedy festival.

She was told she would need to disassemble the three-wheeled, seven-stone (45kg) scooter before she could board the train. But she cannot do singlehandedly, and staff would not help because of ‘health and safety’.

‘Under pressure, I had had to take the whole [scooter] apart,’ she told Chortle. ‘The battery is too heavy for me to pick up, so I was just panicking and thinking “Oh, my God!” There was nobody on the platform but luckily this man walked by.’

Thanks to the passer-by’s help, the 40-year-old comic reached Sheffield. She claims train staff ‘assured me that somebody would be there waiting for me and no one was. So I had to prise the train doors open with my body and hold them until eventually the guard came running’.

First TransPennine requires passengers with non-foldable scooters to have them safety assessed and carry a Scooter Card, otherwise they must be dismantled.

‘They just gave me a phone number to get the card’ says Davis. ‘I don’t know how long it will take to book an appointment or even where I have to go. I’m supposed to be getting the train back to fly out of Manchester Airport on Sunday morning. But now I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it and I’ll have to think of alternative ways of getting there.

‘There’s no consistency at all because each train company and train is different. Different trains have different ramps. It’s just so inconsiderate because they don’t treat disabled people as individuals, you’re lumped into one big mass. You would never get this in North America, it’s completely illegal.’

Davis, who lives in Las Vegas, performs all over the world and claims that the UK has the worst transport provision for disabled passengers of any country she’s performed in. This is just the latest in a series of snubs by jobsworth train, bus and taxi employees. Last year, she launched her Scooter Girl campaign to overturn a ban on mobility vehicles and to have them classed alongside wheelchairs in discrimination legislation.

At the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe, she was left stranded at 5am in the pouring rain after being refused access to buses. Lothian Buses stated at the time: ‘Under accessibility rules, scooters are defined as an alternative to public transport as they have a travel range of 12 to 20 miles.’

Yet Davis’ scooter has a top speed of 4.5 mph, so ‘it’s not alternative transport – I can’t travel far with it.

‘No taxis would stop for me in Edinburgh. I had to hide around the corner and get this man to hail one for me. Then I’d pop out of the shadows and the driver would be like, “Oh shit!”’’

She has previously been denied permission to board an 11.30pm train from Oxford to Reading after a Jongleurs gig. She was left ‘devastated and distraught’ when staff at Oxford station refused her access, telling her she would have to get a cab for the 40-mile trip. She was only able to find her way back because not all train operators operated the ban, and was eventually allowed on a later Virgin train.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson has written to her assuring her that she can ‘get on all the buses in London’. But in practice, ‘some still won’t let me on – though Lothian is the only bus firm that absolutely won’t let me on ever’.

Davis maintains that scooters were not included in the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act because there were not popular at the time, but they have grown in popularity as they have become smaller and sturdier.

She says: ‘I don’t want a carer and I don’t want a wheelchair, I’m not that disabled. I have limited mobility and this suits me fine. I just need to get where the hell I need to get to and not have people stopping me.

‘It pisses me off because I don’t rip off the government, I’m making my own living. But they make disabled people more disabled in this country. It’s soul sucking because in North America they pretty much do whatever they can for you. They may have strict policies but they’ll always be willing to help.

‘Yet here they’re never willing to help, it’s just “nope sorry we’re not allowed to do that because that’s against our policy and there are health and safety issues”. It’s so frustrating because I’m such an independent person and I’ve chosen to work in this country, yet I have to constantly deal with this.’

Matthew Hay, a spokesman for First Group, which operates the First TransPennine franchise, said: ‘I have spoken to all the members of staff involved and all remembered assisting Ms Davis on and off the train. Ms Davis made no complaint about this at the time and appeared satisfied with the level of assistance provided.

‘We are sorry if she was not aware of our policy regarding the carriage of scooters.

‘All scooters that can be folded down or dismantled and carried as luggage are welcome aboard our trains. Our staff can help to carry the folded down scooter on or off trains and can arrange for additional support with boarding through the use of a station wheelchair. They are not in a position however to assemble or fold down scooters.

‘Scooters vary enormously in terms of size, shape and capability and through our testing we have found that not all non-foldable scooters can either board or be accommodated on the train safely. Therefore, for non foldable scooters we operate a Scooter Card scheme so that customers can have their make and model of scooter assessed for safe travel.

‘Our staff at Manchester Airport and on board the train assisted TanyaLee Davis with her boarding and again in conjunction with staff from Sheffield station assisted with lifting the folded down scooter off the train.’

Report by Jay Richardson

Published: 8 Oct 2011

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