Cane walking (part two – public transport)

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Travelling by public transport while using a cane is quite an ordeal here in The Netherlands. To get into a tram, bus or train I have to hoist myself into the carriage, as there’s usually steps. More often then not this hoisting is preceded by a jump, as the platform and the carriage do not line up. Arrived at my destination, I then have to find a way to get out of the vehicle. This “getting out of the carriage”-motion can only be described as “ejecting”: I have to throw myself out and hope that I manage to land safely on my “good” leg, at the risk of breaking said leg, my cane and/or landing face forward onto the pavement/bike path/road. Back in my competitive figure skating days, I could have never foreseen that those years of training would ever come in handy in a completely different setting, but they do.

Seeing that getting in and out of carriages is a nightmare, changing vehicles or modes of transportation is pure hell. After ejecting myself out of the bus/tram/train, I need to first fight my way through the people blocking the exit. For the non-Dutch: this is a Dutch thing. The people who want to get on the vehicle, all huddle together right in front of the exit, despite it being obvious that there’s people who need to get out first. I know, it makes no sense, but they almost all do it. I’ll make a short documentary about it one day. So yeah, after fighting my way through the huddle, I have to barge through a herd of people who are in a hurry to catch their connection. In the mean time, I have to hope/furiously check if the vehicle I need to change to hasn’t changed platforms. Having found my new tram/bus/train, I again have to hoist myself inside, and hope there’s a place where I can sit. On the train, the designated seats for the elderly/handicapped are wonderful, but on the bus they’re often really high up, forcing me to hoist and jump again. The person who designed these allocated seats has clearly never thought about the physical state of the people who need them.

Another reason why changing vehicles is hell, is that I often miss my connection. I am unable to eject myself from one train, then limp my way from platform 20 to platform 3 and then hoist myself into another train in 6 minutes. Which means that I have to leave home earlier and that my journey takes longer. A lot longer: where cane-less I usually get from a particular A to a particular B in 50 minutes, with my cane it takes me 1 1/2 hours. Times two, this amounts to 3 hours of travel instead of my usual 1 hour and 40 minutes. It’s exhausting. And this is when all goes well. I haven’t counted the times I had to cripple myself up and down stairs while crying in pain because of elevators that were “Out of order”, making me then miss yet another connection, making my journey even longer.

On the other hand, I must admit that most people were very friendly and helpful as soon as they saw that I was using a cane. In the entire period there was only 1 asshole who almost body checked me off the escalator with her bag. Everybody else was super nice: people gave up their seat, asked the bus driver to wait for me, carried my bag or held the door for me. Also, the cane proved a great conversation starter: I have never had so many interactions with strangers in public. Some people just said “Great cane!”, others cautiously inquired about “the leg”. One lady told me her sister had the exact same cane, and a gentleman of around my age told me the story of his paralysed arm.

Despite my aversion to the whole “Suffering is a learning experience!” way of thinking, I must admit that this experience has given me insights that I didn’t have before. Sure, I knew that walking around in this world is a lot harder when you have mobility issues and that there’s still a lot that can and should be done to make this easier, but I had severely underestimated the extend of it. The fact that I, with what in the grand scheme of things is a temporary, minor injury, have had SO MUCH TROUBLE getting from A to B, means that there is a truly HUGE group of people who are currently shut off from (travelling by themselves by) public transport, which is effectively shutting them off from a part of society. And that is, again, most definitely Not Ok.

Here are some links to Dutch organisations who are working hard to change this: