A disabled traveler and his friend are stranded in France after a nightmarish trip back and forth, where SNCF railway company staff have reportedly denied them ground assistance on several occasions.
Wheelchair user Jacob Berkson traveled from London St Pancras station to Paris Gare du Nord on November 30 with friend Martin Hill before heading to Paris Montparnasse station to catch the 15.18 train to its destination from Rennes.
However, when the train to Rennes arrived at the station, he said guards claimed there was “no time” to deploy the ramp to allow him to board the train.
“The Eurostar we were on was a bit late getting into Paris, so the connection to Montparnasse station was tight,” Berkson said. The independent.
âWe couldn’t take the metro between the terminals because it is not accessible, so we had to take the bus. This means that we arrived about five minutes before the train left, around 3:10 pm.
“There were a lot of train crews, maybe six to eight people there, and they seemed to want to get us on the train, but the manager said there was no time.”
He was forced to wait for the next train to Rennes, the last of the day. Staff advised the couple to return 30 minutes before departure time.
However, when this train arrived, he says, the same thing happened.
“[This time] the train guard said he could not access the ramp because he did not have a code. He radioed the access team who said they would not. The reason was not clear. Their reasons kept changing, but they finally said that there would be no one to bring us down to Rennes, âexplains Berkson.
As the train waited on the platform for 30 minutes as scheduled, he said, guards argued with him about the ramp protocol, claiming it was his fault, not the train operator’s. , for not having arrived earlier.
âWe were a little upset at this point, and the train left and we weren’t there. It was the last train of the day. We went to the ticket office and the man there said it was my fault. I said it wasn’t my fault, I did what I was asked to do.
“I said, it’s written in big letters that you can arrive two minutes before the train and we were there long before that.” He replied: “Yes, but you are disabled, you cannot expect the same”.
Ultimately, the couple had to abandon the second leg of their trip and find wheelchair accessible accommodation for the night.
âA nice lady called Fatima took us to the access team, who said they were there an hour before the train at 7 am. We couldn’t find an affordable hotel at the last minute, but thanks to friends of friends, we finally found an apartment close enough to the station, âsays Berkson.
However, the last minute bus connections from the apartment meant that they had arrived at 6:15 a.m. and the accessibility office at the station was closed, which meant they also missed the 7 a.m. train. .
Eventually the couple were able to catch the 11am train to Rennes, 48 ââhours after leaving London for the first time and paying for two new tickets.
“What I want to know is why do they need 48 hours notice? Mr. Berkson asks.
“What problem does this solve? What can’t they do without this advice? “
âSituations like that, being stuck is like when your wheelchair breaks. This is when you suddenly notice that you are disabled. I already had this experience years ago and I was always a little worried about it, but the last time I was in France they just put me on the train. Now it looks like they’ve backed off, âhe adds.
To make matters worse, the two travelers are now stranded in Rennes because they were unable to book an SNCF train equipped with a ramp to return to Paris.
âI don’t know how we’re going to get home. The train is reserved for Tuesday December 7th. We called over the weekend and they said we still weren’t giving them enough notice to get the ramp, âsays Berkson.
“I’m going to the station today to talk to them but I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The couple’s astonished friend, Sarah Lewis, took to Twitter to draw attention to SNCF’s accessibility policies.
âGod forbid, a wheelchair user needs to travel unexpectedly or craves spontaneous travel,â she tweeted.
“[They] need to come home and cannot afford to continue buying more train tickets than they are then prevented from using.
SNCF’s online accessibility policy states: âWe recommend that you book your assistance services in advance to guarantee their availability. We will do our best to accommodate passengers arriving at the station without prior reservation.
It emphasizes its free AccÃ¨s Plus service, which can be booked in Paris Montparnasse but not in Rennes, and offers âAssistance offered to access the platforms and get on / off the trainâ.
Accessibility activists say inclusiveness and flexibility for wheelchair users in transportation is years behind what it should be – disabled activist reportedly died of associated complications last month the loss of his personalized wheelchair, which was destroyed on a United Airlines flight.
The independent contacted SNCF for comment.