Coronavirus: information and updates

Asking staff for help on public transport

When travelling on public transport, sometimes things can go wrong, so it's important that you can ask staff for help and complain if there is a problem.

It can help to know your rights and plan your journey. This can make you feel more confident about what to do if things go wrong.

Book in advance if you need assistance. If you let transport companies know what equipment or help you need to travel, like a ramp, you can give them time to prepare.

Ways to plan and get assistance

Warning Coronavirus and face masks on public transport

Public transport providers may require passengers to wear non-medical face masks to protect others. But there are exemptions if you cannot wear a mask. These include if:

  • you cannot put on, wear or remove a mask because you are disabled, have a medical condition or mental health condition

  • your condition means that putting on, wearing or removing a face covering would cause you severe distress

  • you are travelling with or assisting someone who relies on lip-reading to communicate

If you need to eat, drink or take medication, you can remove your face mask to do this.

People who do not have to wear a face mask (GOV.UK)

You do not need to prove you cannot wear a mask. If you’re worried about what other people might say or do, you can use ‘exemption cards’ to explain that you or your child cannot wear a mask. You can have it on your phone or print it.

Exemption cards and badges (GOV.UK)

You could also try getting a sunflower lanyard. This tells others that you have an invisible condition or impairment. You can get them free at supermarkets, including Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Argos, Tesco and Morrisons.  

Sunflower lanyard (Hidden Disabilities)

Your right to travel on public transport

By law, you have the right to the same level of service as every other passenger using public transport. In practice, this means that the service may be different.

For example, you can get help to get on or off a train but only if the station has staff and there's space on the train. Booking assistance in advance could also mean that you’re more likely to get the things that you need.

All transport providers have a duty to provide an accessible service. There are different standards for trains, taxis, buses and planes.

Your legal rights to accessible transport (GOV.UK)

What you can expect

Some staff may not understand how they can support you. Disability awareness training can help. For example, Transport for London (TfL) works with disabled people to train staff on how to support disabled customers.

Asking for help

Be clear about what you need. If you’re asking for help on the day or booking assistance in advance, you should:

  • explain what support you need as staff may not know
  • make sure your request is polite but firm: you’re trying to work out a solution together

It can help to build relationships with staff at stations or on routes you regularly travel. Thank the staff if they have helped you. Knowing you have good relationships with staff can make you feel more confident.

Challenging staff when you have a problem

Challenge staff if you have a problem or do not get the help you need. Explain in detail what went wrong, stay calm and stick to the facts.

Dealing with stress on public transport

If you cannot resolve the problem, ask to speak to a senior member of staff or someone in customer service. Be firm if you need to be.

Staff may offer you a compromise that is unlawful, such as asking you to fold your mobility scooter before you board the train and offering no help. If this happens, it’s up to you to decide whether to travel or not.

If you’re in the middle of a journey

Talk to a member of staff as soon as you can. The sooner you do this, the more likely they can put things right. For example, if your booked assistance did not arrive and you’re stuck on a train, the train may be able to stop at the next station and provide a taxi.

What to do when something goes wrong on your journey

If staff mistreat you

Most staff should be helpful, but they might:

  • question your right to a Disabled Person’s Railcard or bus pass
  • drive off without stopping to let you get on
  • dismiss your request for help or equipment
  • allow others to mistreat you, such as when the driver does not help you if a passenger refuses to fold a pushchair to make way for your wheelchair

If they do, you can make a complaint.

Making a complaint

Reporting issues to the transport operator will help them to make their service better.

You can complain if your journey goes wrong and the transport company should investigate it. You may be entitled to compensation if there is a delay to your journey or something goes wrong.

If you’re comfortable using social media, making a public complaint on Twitter or Facebook can also help.

Complaining about public transport

Last reviewed by Scope on: 19/07/2021

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