‘Are you OK?’: mental health and transport

07 March 2016

For a long time in my twenties I could not use the tube. Having been ill while travelling, coming back to re-take some exams and being generally pretty unclear about where my life was going, made me anxious. I just could not bear the idea of the tube getting stuck in a tunnel. To this day I can only get on tubes if I can get into a space which allows for a bit of movement. I suspect this is a very common feeling.

So, it was both a privilege and really thought-provoking to attend the recent Department for Transport, Mental Health Action Group and Anxiety UK Mental Health and Transport Summit. You can see the agenda and some of the slides here.

Alastair Campbell’s powerful and honest opening address about his own issues really set the tone. Not an easy issue. Many metro type systems are always going to be crowded – so how do you deal with anxiety? Yet our National Rail Passenger Survey has nearly one in 10 passengers classing themselves as disabled. Our Bus Passenger Survey shows one in four passengers disabled. We intend to make more use of this data.

The answer seems to lie in us passengers checking that others are OK and with better staff training. Big improvements have been made in physical access to trains and buses. Now the hidden disabilities perhaps need more attention.

The various ‘Blue Assist’ cards and badges seem to offer help for some – a clear ‘official’ request for help. Have a look at the scheme run by First Transpennine Express, amongst others – seems like a good example of what perhaps ought to be a national scheme? Good things have also been happening in Blackpool involving the redoubtable Stephen Brookes MBE that are also worth looking at.

Interestingly very little mention of car driving. Yet Motability, the charity that leases low cost cars to disabled people and their carers, over 630,000 people have benefited from a car! What are the issues that disabled or anxious drivers suffer? I suspect more work needs to be done in this area. The very useful sounding Driving Mobility Centres that provide assessment, advice and information could also perhaps focus more on public transport?

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