Tag Archives: National Express East Anglia

When is a wheelchair not a wheelchair: NXEA

Today the 10 Minute Rule bill for Epilepsy (Bill 112) passed its first hurdle! Yayyy to all MPs who stayed to vote. Boo to those who didn’t without good reason, particularly those who sat through PMQ but left the chamber immediately afterwards.  Please could they do better next time (4 March, second reading). My MP had a good excuse for absence – and wrote me a helpful letter to boot!

This bill is one of the first moves being made in parliament to raise awareness of epilepsy and recognise how very poorly people with epilepsy and their needs are treated in comparison with others . Valerie Vaz gives details here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/hi/house_of_commons/newsid_9220000/9220887.stm.

To mark this I’m sharing the disgraceful story of a Suffolk mother, Avril, whose two-year old daughter’s serious health problems include constant and  intractable epilepsy. Avril deals bravely and resourcefully with really horrible medical crises on a daily basis. Yet she also has to deal with appalling treatment from people who might be expected to help her. Her battles with public transport, and NXEA in particular, are a case in point:

The family can’t go out frequently but when they do, Avril’s daughter has needed to travel on public transport in her buggy, and now she’s older, in a wheelchair that looks like a buggy. And this is where the trouble starts.

“We’ve always had problems with train guards and bus drivers telling us to “just fold it up, it isn’t a proper wheelchair “etc.  In the end we got a medical letter to say she has to stay in her buggy to show to the people who refuse to believe us. We also have a letter from NXEA customer services to show train guards who question us being in first class with a standard class ticket because that’s where the wheelchair space IS.  So that prevents some of the trouble – but then on trains we also need to use ramps.

The last time we travelled on a train was from Manningtree to Ipswich. Manningtree has no lifts and a subway so we asked for assistance to cross the track and were told to take our pushchair down the subway. When we tpointed out the wheelchair was too heavy and not safe enough , he said “that’s not a wheelchair, it’s a pushchair”  Like we would make it up?  I told him we had confirmation it was a wheelchair and we required assistance.

Although he did grudgingly take us over, he insisted on reading the letters, handing them back without comment as our train pulled in and wandering off without releasing the ramp for us.

So here we are. The train ‘s about to leave and there’s a choice of either lifting her on or sitting and waiting for another half hour and hoping the same chap would get the ramp out next time… Would you have fancied your chances? We didn’t.  And anyway, as well as a sick 2 year old there’s her tired 4 year old sister to consider. So we manhandled my daughter and wheelchair onto the train ourselves – you know how high those intercity trains are – without the aid of  the ramp.  Her wheelchair weighs over 16kgs, my daughter weighs 12kgs, and then theres the oxygen and everything else that we have to carry for her.

I’m not one of these women who won’t get their hands dirty or who expect the men to do the lifting, but I was still feeling the pain in my c-section area the following day.

Our rare family day out was spoiled, but my  main anger and biggest concern was my daughter’s safety – and the fact we were being given trouble when we needed help.”

Avril complained at Ipswich – her local NXEA station – but although NXEA run services from Hertford to Harwich and Stratford to Sheringham, you have to complain locally. Avril was told that the letter had been passed onto the manager at Colchester, as Manningtree falls within the Colchester Manager’s responsibility. She called yesterday – 24th November – to find out progress to be told that her letter (of 17th October) had disappeared in transit! In short, the typical runaround!

NXEA installed barriers to prevent passengers evading their fares – but where are their internal barriers to prevent managers evading responsibilities!

On another tack, National Express East Anglia currently covers Suffolk Essex, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire.  Avril cannot be the only mother in East Anglia who has this problem. Surely it might not be beyond the wit of man for this vast company – which has  a monopoly of East Anglian rail  transport – to have sufficiently responsive internal systems to come up with a solution that will allow Avril and her daughter, and others like them, to travel without this difficulty.

At the moment they have to rely on whether individuals are ‘nice’ or ‘nasty’. What kind of service is that?

“It’s tough looking after my daughterand dealing with all the dramas and appointments that she comes with. Sometimes its nice to just be able to go out and try to forget that things aren’t ‘normal’. And then you meet an idiot like we did and it’s rammed down your throat again…..

My daughter will be using this particular wheelchair until she outgrows it at 4.  Not sure I can cope with another 2 years of the stress that comes with public transport. “

Post scriptum

Following another letter directly to the Managing Director of NXEA, an article in the local paper at Manningstree, and this blog, Avril did get a full apology from NXEA and a commitment to improve staff training on this issue.

Divestment in Suffolk: Cold Thoughts from a Broad

On Monday I was travelling by rail on the Lowestoft line – eg using a public service ‘divested’ into the efficient entrepreneurial private sector twenty-five years ago.

Standing in the freezing rain and howling winds of Darsham station, it was disconcerting to discover that the 15.38 had been cancelled. This left the ten or so passengers who expected to travel to Ipswich no option but to wait 2 hours in the cold on an unmanned station for the next train.

Luckily there is an intercom at Darsham (although installed on a windblown outer wall making conversation tricky) so I pressed the button and asked National Express East Anglia what plans they had to remedy their failure of service. At which point I discovered that this intercom went straight through to a call centre so far away from Suffolk (and, almost certainly from the UK) that the call-centre worker at the other end didn’t even know where ‘Darsham’, ‘the Lowestoft line’ or ‘Ipswich’ actually were. This limited his capacity to answer my questions or indeed explain what National Express East Anglia planned to do to reduce the four hour hole in their service provision.

Cynically, this seems to me to be an extraordinarily efficient and entrepreneurial solution to taking responsibility for manifest failures in a public service.

I was travelling from Darsham because I had been delivering party leaflets warning Suffolk residents about the likely consequences of Suffolk County Council’s divestment plans. As I sat, shivering, in the rain, I wondered whether a divested Council would turn out to be as singularly unresponsive, uncaring and absent as NEXEA’s service was on that day!

This was also published as a letter in EADT 11 November 2010

Report to Woodbridge Town Council AGM

Another busy year has passed. Not only has the recession continued to hit, but it is expected that the situation will worsen considerably over the next few years, putting further pressure on future budgets.

The other main story is that SCC  will continue to exist after the Government announced no change in the structure. What a waste of time, energy and money, eh!

Locally, I was delighted to be re-elected as your County Councillor in June.

This year I have been interested in Woodbridge transport in the widest sense: roads, buses, trains, parking, cycling, walking…

County Budget for 2010-11

One of the most important jobs for the Council is to set the budget for the upcoming year.  The strain on the public sector is starting to bite, and this budget will probably be the last before the 15-20% cuts, which have been suggested, will start to hit.

This year the council increased the level of Council tax by 2.4%. This – as well as a slight increase in the level of Government Grant – means that there will be some areas in the Council eligible for additional spending, these include:

  • £1.5m as a one-off payment for roads maintenance to help deal with the effects of the particularly harsh winter (eg potholes)
  • £1.7m to investt in social workers to help support vulnerable children and their families
  • £1.6m to pay for the additional numbers and more complex placements of young people coming into the care system
  • £4m to help care for older people who most need specialist support
  • £1.6m to pay for extra landfill tax

However, there are still areas within the budget that are overspent, including Children and Young Persons by £2m, mainly due to the increasing cost for Home to School Transport and for Adult and Community Services by £1.7m due to the increasing number of elderly residents in our county.  In addition to this within the capital budget, Schools Organisation Review will be costing over £100m

At the Full Council debate the Liberal Democrats focused on the discovery that 500 additional employees now worked at the Council compared to the previous year.  Some of these positions were entirely Government funded forming some of the staff for the newly created Children’s centre.  However many of these aren’t funded from Government grant, and come at a time when the public service is under pressure as the recession bites.

Local Government Review

Throughout the year almost every Parish report has included updates on the Local Government Review.   The process which promised so much at the beginning has been regularly stalled, by court cases not only from Suffolk, but the other affected counties as well.  It was eventually reignited when the court cases were thrown out last December, after the Boundary Committee appealed.

After this decision, the announcement from the Boundary Committee about which form of local Government they would prefer was announced, with a recommendation to the secretary of state, of either a one Suffolk Unitary Authority or a North Haven Unitary Authority and a Rural Suffolk Authority.  This was then followed by a short six week consultation in which the public could react to the announcement from the Boundary Commission.

Onthe 10th of February the Minister of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government  announced that there would be no change for the County of Suffolk.  Instead there would be a County Constitutional Convention which would provide a new form of unitary government for the council hhas remained completely schtumm about how this could possibly be implemented or even a timescale to when it should begin.

Indeed, as I write this there is not even a government…

County Councillor’s Quality of Life budget

Last year I allocated Quality of Life transport money to three projects:

  • The Seal Crossing;
  • Cross Corner project and
  • bridging  the muddy ditch from Houchells Meadow to the back of Farlingaye High School.

Of these, the only one to have been completed last year was the smallest: the muddy ditch.  At the same time as this was done, (and at my request) SCC workmen altered the bars at the entrance to the footpath round the school grounds so that students cycling from Melton could access the school more easily. ) I have just been sent the plans for the Cross Corner scheme, which hopes to open out the area round the crossroads to provide greater accessibility for pedestrians and cycles.

The Seal Crossing

Although I allocated money for this last year, progress has been slow. I’ve therefore added an additional £5,000 from this years funding to the money I allocated last year for the island crossing at the top of Ipswich Road.  The aim is to get something that will allow people to cross in two stages, that will also encourage drivers to slow down by alerting them to the fact people (school students, mothers with buggies, elderly bus users and cyclists)ISurveyors have now been out to identify the best place and that plans are being drawn up.

Calming Ipswich Road

I’m allocating £3000 hopefully for a speed activated sign – – a solar-powered LED maybe?  for further along Ipswich Road, where it slopes steeply  down to the John Grose garage. Because the banks are steep and there are no pavements, no-one can safely do speed checks and there is subsequently a new entrance to the new housing coming out onto the road after a blind bend. I and the police and the town council are all really – and legitimately -worried about the danger of this.

The remaining £4000 is to go to traffic calming/cyclist and pedestrian protection in Sandy Lane. The difficulty with Sandy Lane is that not only are issues about pedestrians etc going along from adjacent houses, but it is a National Cycle route AND  at every high tide and a couple of hours on each side, the other footpath from Woodbridge to Martlesham is impassable (three feet depth of water across two or three hundred yards at the creek) meaning all sorts of walkers ramblers dogwalkers twitchers etc have to divert onto the road which is very windy and with steep banks and high hedges on the Woodbridge side of the railway bridge. I have walked this with three Martlesham parish councillors to get their ideas.

County Councillor’s Locality budget

The year’s Locality Budget covered a range of things:

  • An awning for Woodbridge Bowls Club
  • Funding a feasibility study for the Whisstocks  Development scheme
  • Contribution to the Woodbridge Shop link Radio Scheme
  • A new laptop for Homestart
  • Funding for Walking Maps of Woodbridge
  • A canopy for Farlingaye High School

Money has been carried over

  • to pay for measures to prevent poor parking in Hasketon Road (bollards!), and
  • grit bins for various Woodbridge locations so that future bad weather can be quickly and efficiently dealt with..

Public transport

In March Suffolk County Council mwas asked to respond officially to  the forthcoming Greater Anglia rail franchise tender . This was important, because it defines what we want from a new rail franchise provider for the next ten to twenty years. The response, which rested on the findings of the Rail Policy Group (of which  I am a member) saw much support from across the political spectrum to improve the quality and quantity of train services across the region. Important areas that were stressed included:

  • The need for an hourly service to Peterborough;
  • the hourly service to Lowestoft (this should be up and running as far as Saxmundham by December); this further depends on the building of the Beccles loop;
  • adjusting the timings of interconnecting trains to correspond better;
  • greater parity of  equivalent fares across the franchise area – currently the cheapest day return fare to London from Ipswich is twice what it is from Cambridge to London
  • more advance notice of replacement bus services and ensuring they carry luggage and bikes  that were carried on the train
  • more provision for bikes on trains
  • better links with bus services

We have had a much less satisfactory response to our councerns about buses. Although Woodbridge Town Councillors joined with me and members of the Seckford Almshouses to complain about poor bus services  these complaints have been met with the usual resounding silence from the authorities approached –  that is, the bus company and the  county council officers – and indeed our then MP John Gummer and the then Labour junior transport minister, Ipswich MP Chris Mole. Indeed, neither MP even acknowledged the letter.

Woodbridge Parking review

It seemed to have been going on forever, but the complicated and long-drawn-out process that is the new parking review for Woodbridge was nearly finished by the end of the year. In the last few months Suffolk County council sent out all finalised proposed changes to consultees (Fire, Ambulance, HGV etc) and the legal orders for changes to restrictions were written out.  All that now remains to be done is for the changes to be  formally  advertised on site / newspaper before the lining / signing changes to roads are made.