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Uber in the Capital: Accessibility around London

London today is a metropolitan paradise that is accepting of people from all cultures, nationalities and abilities. If you are disabled and find yourself in the UK’s capital, you should find that you’re able to live your life with relative ease, thanks – in part – to the hard work of Transport for London, the Office of the Mayor and the various local councils that can be located within the capital’s various boroughs. Combined, they help make London an accessible environment. Take the statistic, for example, that a massive 10% of new homes built in London have to be considered “truly” accessible.

Getting from A to B has always posed one of the most significant issues for disabled people, but London is renowned for its taxis, which for one thing, help people of all abilities to move around the city effortlessly (although congestion is a common problem!). Now, with the proliferation of smartphones, moving around the city is going to be one step easier.

In this article, we explore how London has evolved since the introduction of the welfare state to help all people become more mobile. We then take a glimpse into the future of London to see how emerging technologies such as smartphone apps like Uber will make traversing the capital even easier.

The Invention of the Welfare State

After World War II, Britain – like most of the rest of the world – was in a state of shock and decline. It took years to rebuild the nation, but one good thing that came from this era was the invention of the so-called welfare state. Starting with Sir Lloyd George and ending with Mr Attlee – the Labour Prime Minister of 1945, Britain slowly brought about the era of welfare.

A major component of this was the creation of the NHS in 1948 which saw all people qualify for free healthcare. Today, the NHS is commonly regarded as the best healthcare system in the world.

After WWII, many servicemen returned to the UK in wheelchairs, and attending the needs of people became a significant priority for the NHS. Mobility for the less able was high on the agenda, and this spurred on a series of innovations that eventually led to the creation of ‘Invacars’.

The Rise and Fall of the Invacar   

London in the 1940s and 50s was still a relatively inaccessible time for people with disabilities, and so engineers designed the so-called ‘Invacar’ – the one-seater motor car for people who required wheelchairs. The vehicle was specifically designed so that it was more accessible than regular vehicles of the time, and the programme was funded by the NHS, showing the government’s – and tax-payers’ – collective desire to help people become more mobile.

For roughly a decade, Invacars became a way for all people to travel around London – and of course the rest of the UK – but eventually the programme was dissolved. This was for two reasons. The first was that the NHS found it too difficult to carry the cost of the programme. The second one is that a large percentage of the Invacars were found to be defective. After years of safety breeches, the Invacars were deemed too risky.

Testament of the vehicle’s lack of safety can be Jim Rawlings of Disabled Motoring UK, who he has “a personal friend who used to drive one across the moors in Yorkshire,” who claims “He had to carry half a sack of King Edwards to weigh it down because it was so susceptible to crosswinds.”

Therefore, despite best intentions to help people with disability be more mobile, the Invacar programme was abandoned. So that was the London landscape then, what does it look like now?

Here and Now in London: Accessibility Everywhere

Today, London is the city that never sleeps that we all know and love. Moving from one end of the city to the next is doable (though it takes a long time – London is massive!) regardless of how able you are thanks to innovations like wheelchair accessibility across the Underground, ramps on buses, and wheelchair accessible taxis.

If you operate a taxi in the capital today, you’re missing out on a sizable market if you’re not providing disabled-access taxis. By upgrading your fleet, you’re not only providing an inclusive service, you’re also going to increase your profit.

Marrying 21st Century Technology with Taxying

Thanks to the proliferation of smartphone technology and apps like Uber, you can now order a taxi to wherever you are in the capital, suggesting a time and place you’d like to be collected from, and your destination, with a rough estimation of the cost.

Ultimately, it is technologies such as these combined with an already great London taxi system that will proliferate in the coming years. Surely, with the ever-expanding nature of the capital, we’ll also see a greater merging of public and private transport modes, and people spend less time in private cars and more time using public transport. This is obviously good news for people with disabilities, so accessibility-friendly culture of London seems like it is only going to get better.

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