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Carla’s advice to Dutch Rail NS and Valys

Written by Huib, published Friday April 13th, 2018

The article ‘NS and Valys do not meet the requirements for adapted transport with wheelchairs‘ was the start of a triptych about adapted transport in the Netherlands. Here you can read the third part of this tragicomedy, told by my friend Carla. She travels in an electric wheelchair, because she lacks an arm and her two lower legs. So she needs assistance from the NS and she uses the Valys taxi service. How well does this all work? And what are Carla’s recommendations for improvement to both companies?

Fifth train journey

“It is Saturday evening, waiting for the station in Den Helder. What am I doing in Den Helder in the middle of the night in winter? Well … a mistake by the NS and / or Valys. Today I went by train to Eindhoven and I would like to return to Amsterdam Sloterdijk today. I booked via Valys, the company that arranges the wheelchair taxi rides outside of Amsterdam, where you can also book a combined train and taxi ride. With Valys I could book the taxi with the train, so I did not have to make two separate bookings for the taxi and train.

Then I do not have to wait an hour at the station before I can take the train. This is called ‘administration time’. However, I had to wait an hour for the taxi to arrive. The ride had to be detoured this time, no idea why, but I had to go to Eindhoven via Den Bosch, which cost me extra taxi kilometers. And I also had to pay 4 euros extra, because I booked “on the day itself”.

When I was in the wheelchair taxi ready to start the journey, the otherwise very nice taxi driver told me that he would not catch the train, as he had to pick up two more people. One passenger did not show up, so the detour proved to be unnecessary later. I immediately called to report this to Valys. They could only book three trains later.

That was also difficult, because the trains to Amsterdam would no longer drive because of work done on the rail. I had to take the bus that the NS used to provide to passengers in these situation. I explained that I can not go in a regular bus with my wheelchair. “If I could not go to Amsterdam by taxi all the way?“. Well no, because then I can not travel the rest of the year, using up all my kilometers. Eventually I could take the train to Nijmegen one hour later from Den Bosch, change trains there and catch the train to Amsterdam.

At Amsterdam Centraal there was suddenly an assistance provider at the door, who gave me a rather grumpy look and told me to get out of the train. But I did not have to be there, as my Canta was at Sloterdijk, where I had applied for the assistance. So of course I stayed inside and at the same time I had a female employee of the NS on the phone, which I told him. She would arrange that there would also be assistance at Sloterdijk.

Finally I wanted to leave Amsterdam Sloterdijk station, but there was no assistance. The train doors closed again and I traveled onwards. After a lot of explaining in long telephone calls I had to drive for over an hour to Den Helder and take another train back.

It is now 6 PM and I am trying to get home since 12.30 pm. Or actually since 11.30 with the mandatory waiting time for the wheelchair taxi included. I had pity on myself during the ride this morning, because the train at station Breda stopped for fifteen minutes with the door open. Since I am obliged to sit in the hallway and could not go anywhere, I almost got hypothermic. At that moment I really felt like an inferior person and customer. I do not understand why the door had to remain open for 15 minutes at an outside temperature – 15 degrees Celsius.

But well, that was nothing compared to the ride back. Starting from Den Helder, I saw a text message from the NS that I had apparently received during the call with the Valys employee. The elevator at the Sloterdijk Station was broken again and I had to call the NS back. That was of course too late, because it was now already one and a half hour later. It would have been handy if Valys had known that when they were on the phone with me or if that the assistance that wanted to get me out of the train at Central Station, would have just said that. In the end I was traveling for seven hours and came home at 9.30 PM. Or including the hour waiting time for the taxi: for eight hours. I did not know that this was possible in the Netherlands.

So today I have traveled from Amsterdam, via Den Bosch, Eindhoven, Nijmegen, Den Helder and back to Amsterdam. In retrospect it turned out that I went for nothing! The organizer of the Rescue Two meeting, a new volunteer act as an actress with real amputations, appeared to have sent an email the evening before, to say that it the meeting was cancelled due to predicted snowfall. I had not read that mail. It seemed like a bad soap, which I ended up in, and actually had a laugh about it. ”

Suggestions for the NS and Valys

  • repair all lifts
  • remove the hour ‘administration time’; it does not take that long to type in anything
  • make sure the website works, if people have to book there. And do not let people co-write who have an amputated arm and therefore can not both make and write.
  • make sure that assistance is on the right station
  • close doors in cold weather
  • change the rule that able-bodied passengers take precedence during rush hour (especially if everything has gone wrong and disabled passengers just have to go home)
  • provide appropriate replacement transport or unlimited kilometers for the taxi in case of a breakdown
  • provide unlimited kilometers for the taxi to places where you can not get by train
  • do a screening or feedback system for grumpy drivers
  • do not prohibit your employees from being helpful outside of their hours of service
  • work together and spend the tax money so that people with disabilities benefit
  • do an experience training for planners, drivers and assistants, so that they can empathize with a customer’s position with specific customer needs. So that they also experience ‘control, appreciation and freedom’ during their journey.

Carla – coincidentally – gives the workshop ‘Living with a disability’. In it, she uses her experience as a professional dancer, choreographer, dance teacher and theater maker to let people experience what life is like without arms or legs. How does life change and how do others suddenly regard you? Do disabilities appear to be mainly limitations or possibilities. She is willing to do this workshop with employees and managers of both the NS and Valys.

Could you help getting her story read by both the #NS and #Valys, or possibly also the national equivalents in your own country, by sharing the article on Social Media and tagging both companies?

 

Huib Kraaijeveld, MA

Author of ‘Shifting the Lyme Paradigm‘, chairman of the On Lyme Foundation and founding member of the Ad Hoc Committee for Health Equity in ICD11 Borelliose Codes

If you found this article worthwhile, would you like to take a look at the crowdfund campaign that serves to finance my work in a sustainable and honest way.

drs. Huib Kraaijeveld

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