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Future of rail in London – Our response to the call for evidence

Added: 26 July 2018 | Updated: 27 July 2018

A month ago, the London Assembly Transport Committee launched an investigation into the future of rail in London, calling for views and information to inform their recommendations.

Transport for All (TfA) has responded to this call for evidence thanks to members and supporters’ feedback. There is still a week to respond to this important consultation and we really encourage Disabled and older people to take part in it. Click here to respond to it.

On the 10th July 2018, TfA Director April Clifford gave evidence to the London Assembly Transport Committee on this important subject, sharing positive and negative aspects of our railway network, as well as presenting our demands.

Over the last 20 years on the Railways, there has been a great deal of improvement; but over the last three or four years, we are seeing things going backwards.

Positive impact

There has been some good news; like where Transport for London took over train lines (for example between Liverpool Street and Shenfield). TfL’s focus on customer satisfaction led to positive transformations such as the implementation of Turn-Up-And-Go assistance, with station staff available from first to last train; and senior managers themselves working actively towards this goal. Staff availability is essential if we want a railway network open to Disabled and older people.

Some staff are often doing their best and can be helpful. We have heard positive stories from members who have developed very good relationships with staff at their local station. But the pressure on staff is huge as we see cuts in staffing and removal of trained staff.

The initiative from South Eastern Railway to launch customer services assistants called customer ambassadors at Waterloo, Canon Street and London Bridge is very welcome. But it is a shame that at the same time the same company leaves stations like Charlton, Westcombe Park or Blackheath (just to name a few) without staff in the mornings, evenings and on Sundays (the office is shut at those times).

Negative aspects

Our free advice line hears daily about issues faced by Disabled and older people travelling by train.

Assistance is a big issue. As you may know some railway companies are asking Disabled and older people to book assistance a long time in advance. But even when booked, the assistance is not guaranteed. It is shocking to hear stories from Disabled people who booked assistance, and then find no staff to help them when arriving at their departure station. It is even more infuriating to hear from Disabled people stuck on the train, because assistance failed to meet them at their arrival station. They then have two solutions: either being assisted by passengers, which is dangerous, or having to stay on the train to an unwanted destination. Most of those complaints about assistance concern Southern Rail who last year promised us that staff cuts as well as the withdrawal of their Turn-Up-and-Go assistance at 33 stations across their network, will have no impact on Disabled and older people. Recently, as part of our Rail Access Now campaign, we joined local activists to protest against South Western Railway who are taking the same direction as Southern, by withdrawing their “no guard on board, no train” policy which will impact on Disabled people having to travel via unmanned stations.

Finding staff and having them waiting for you at the right time and the right carriage on arrival (despite delays and changes), is not only important for wheelchair users, but for visually impaired people and people with invisible impairments such as autistic people.

The information available for Disabled people to find their own way is still poor. One big issue is the inconsistency in the way stations and trains are designed. The fact that assistance buttons and buttons for opening and closing the door have different layouts and are in different places for different railway companies, makes the life of Visually Impaired people very difficult. On top of this, each station comes with its own challenges: there is no consistency on where to navigate (e.g. signage), where to find help points or request assistance. Not to mention ticket machines themselves, which can be a real challenge. We have heard of some ramps not matching some trains, which makes them unstable and dangerous.

We have heard from many Disabled people struggling to access a priority seat, because of other passengers’ behaviour and poor signage on board.

One of the biggest challenges for Disabled people is the fact that most stations are inaccessible. Transport for All welcome the recent presentation from the Government of their Inclusive Transport Strategy with a clear objective to help ensure that all Disabled people “can travel confidently and easily”; and make transport fully accessible for all passengers by 2030. We look forward to seeing the impact this strategy will have London-wide.

Investments in new technologies are good but the reality is that not all Disabled and older people have access to a smartphone or internet.

When stations are accessible, there is nothing more frustrating than finding a broken lift. We have heard a dreadful story from a Disabled person who missed their connection because the lift was broken at the platform where they arrived at Clapham Junction. But the worst is that staff at Clapham Junction gave them the wrong information, and sent them to another station and back to get on to another platform, only to find out that the lift on the other platform was broken as well.

Finally, recent stories of wheelchair users who had to wet themselves because staff failed to let them know that the accessible toilet in their carriage was out of order, reminds us of the importance of accessible facilities, including audio-visual announcements.

Having audio-visual announcements is essential for Deaf and hard-of-hearing people, as well as Visually Impaired people. When it is there, it needs to be turned on and up. It is extremely frustrating to find the audio/visual equipment turned off or broken. Some trains like Thameslink have invested in new large screens, which even tell which carriages are less busy: could this be used more widely?

We are also very concerned by the general policy from some railway companies, allowing passengers to board only a few minutes before departures, or worse, displaying the platform number at the last moment. No need to explain that such situations are very difficult to deal with for people with a mobility impairment as well as other Disabled and older people.

Finally, the fact that the Freedom Pass can only been used at specific times is very restrictive.

Our demands

  1. We need an ambitious plan and investments into increasing the accessibility of our railway network in London. This includes stations and trains. The 2020 target for all trains to be fully accessible with working accessible facilities (including toilets) needs to be met. Railway companies also need to ensure that audio-visual announcements are on every train and platform and that they are turned on and up. Finally, it is important that all station upgrades are fully consulted on with Disabled and older people from the outset.
  2. We want guaranteed Turn-Up-And-Go assistance for every train and at every station for Disabled and older people. Disabled and older people are like everyone else, they cannot always plan their life in advance. We need to stop staff cuts on board trains and at stations. Finally, when Turn-Up-And-Go assistance is not available, a taxi should be automatically provided promptly and this policy should be clearly advertised.
  3. We also need trained staff who received proper Disability Equality Training delivered by a specialist Disabled trainer. This training needs to include all senior managers and decision makers, to give them the confidence and the skills they need to offer adequate support to their Disabled and older customers (for example not grabbing the arm of a Visually impaired person without asking them for permission). A good example of the great impact of Disability Equality Training is London Underground. The fact that all frontline staff and senior managers have received proper Disability Equality Training has had a positive impact on Disabled and older customers’ experience.
Disabled and older people are not second class citizens. They want to play their part in the society like everyone else; work, shop, enjoy all the entertainment that our great city has on offer, and meet friends and family. But this can only be done if they can travel with the same ease as everyone else.

Let’s not forget that an accessible capital would benefit not only Disabled and older people but everyone: parents with buggies, people with luggage, tourists, people who have to face difficult health situations.

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