Gwynneth, a member of RicaWatch, the consumer research panel, lives in London and is a Disability Rights campaigner on transport and access with Transport for All. When Gwynneth lived in Oxford, her team at OXTRAG received a National Transport Award for a scheme to encourage wheelchair and mobility scooter users to use public transport more.
Love them or hate them, you might be scared of them and think they’re a menace. Whatever your opinion, mobility scooters are here to stay. Statistics show that sales and outlets are increasing as more and more disabled people see them as a way of keeping their independence and contributing to society. And, of course, with an ageing population the sales will rise even more. (See Rica's recent research report on mobility scooters)
I’ve owned a mobility scooter since 2002 and can’t imagine life without it. I’ve travelled extensively, contributing many hours in work for voluntary organisations and, what's more, I kept my independence. This is what I consider scooters are for!
I was fortunate in my final choice of scooter and although I had my list of criteria I still had to compromise. My choice of firm came from information gathered at the Mobility Roadshow and from websites. I never considered buying online as I think it is important to get the feel of a machine before committing yourself to a particular model. You can read about someone who bought their scooter online here. A rep brought a couple of scooter models that, in my opinion, fulfilled my criteria and having tried them out on the pavements, I bought mine straight away. Now 12 years old, battered, covered with black tape and with bits missing it is still my favourite machine. Before you buy, check out this useful online powered wheelchair and mobility scooter search here.
Identifying your criteria is essential so don’t be persuaded by an enthusiastic rep to change your mind, it may be an expensive mistake. Also the actual controls vary and Rica has tested some – see here.
Some practical tips:
- Shopmobility schemes are great. I've always found them willing to help and advise plus you can try out different scooter models before you buy.
- Be considerate: in my opinion the most important thing to remember is to be considerate to other pedestrians who’ve just as much right as you to access the pavement safely.
- Safety: the magnetic brakes on scooters do click on quickly but often pedestrians walk into us rather than the other way round.
- A warning: care needs to be taken when hanging bags on handlebars as they can get caught in the controls.
So should we have to have a licence and, if so, what difference would it make?
I doubt if any. I have strong feelings about this as I regard it as discrimination. Bicycles cause far more accidents than scooters and I’ve seen skateboards going at great speeds in busy shopping centres. Actually the answer is in our own hands and that is to ride considerately and with care at all times.
The increase in accessible transport is exciting although there’s still a long way to go before disabled people can travel with confidence. It’s important to put in a complaint when things do go wrong – it’s the way transport operators improve their service. See this information about accessible public transport. I have been on most public transport systems and the feeling of freedom is wonderful. By next year, all buses must be accessible to scooters. More train operators are opening up too although many of them require you to have a permit (free of course). Find out more on mobility scooters on buses here.
There is the issue of space, of course. After the latest court ruling, we are now competing with parents with buggies. Read Doug Paulley's view on the First Bus courtcase here. In Oxford, where I used to live, there was a space on buses for both buggies and wheelchair users and they had more flip up seats.