Assistance dogs play the smart card to support rail customers

People who rely on assistance dogs to get out and about should find train travel easier thanks to a new UK-wide scheme that has been developed with the help of a disabled Southern and Thameslink passenger.

Thousands of people with physical disabilities or mental health problems are being provided with a handy laminated card that will explain why the assistance dog needs to sit under an unoccupied seat. By raising awareness, this simple card should also improve the overall experience of passengers who want to use the railways with their assistance dog.

The cards can be particularly useful on services where it’s not possible to book a seat in advance. Most assistance dogs are trained by well-known charities registered with Assistance Dogs UK.

Fiona Bower, of Bexhill, East Sussex, has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. For the past six years she has had the help of ‘Mr Wiz’, her Golden Retriever assistance dog. Mr Wiz was trained and continues to be supported by the charity Canine Partners, based near Chichester.

As a member of Govia Thameslink Railway’s volunteer Access Advisory Panel, Fiona advised GTR that was working with the industry body Rail Delivery Group in developing the scheme.

She emphasised that having adequate space was vital for assistance dogs to be able to have their owner in sight at all times and perform their roles properly. That includes being able to settle and be comfortable and away from other customers who may be tempted to pet them.

Fiona said: “Mr Wiz, my registered assistance dog, and I welcome this new initiative which will be of tremendous benefit to all those passengers who, like me, depend on a specially trained dog to care for them.”

Jacqueline Starr, Chief Executive Officer of the Rail Delivery Group, said: “We’ve all seen guide dogs when they are out and about supporting their visually-impaired owners. It’s less well-known that many of our other four-legged friends have their own skills and character quirks that help people with a range of support needs. These include people with physical disabilities and those with autism, epilepsy or other complex health conditions.

“Many of these conditions are not visible so we want to make life easier for the people whose daily lives they affect. Being able to place the card on the seat next to them – together with the other ID the dogs carry – should achieve that on their train journeys. It will also help fellow passengers adjust to the sight of assistance dogs doing their job while apparently relaxing under a spare seat.”

The cards, which were tested with charity Assistance Dogs UK, can also act as a red flag for customers who are allergic to dogs or afraid of them.

Vicky Worthington, Development Manager with Assistance Dogs UK, said: “More than 7,000 people rely on a highly trained assistance dog from one of our member charities alone. They enjoy the greater independence that such dogs bring, including when traveling.

“We’re delighted to support this scheme and very pleased to see that rail companies are making it easier for disabled people and people with medical conditions to travel while educating the public about how these wonderful animals change – and even save – lives.”

To have an ‘Assistance Dog Under Seat’ card printed and posted direct to your home free of charge, email or telephone National Rail Enquiries Customer Relations:

[email protected]
Tel. 0800 022 3720

Image credit: Govia Thameslink Railway

Latest Rail News

Transport Secretary makes historic first journey through a completed HS2 tunnel

Today Mark Harper, Secretary of State for Transport, and HS2 Ltd Chief Executive Mark Thurston went 33 metres...

More like this...