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Shocking upsurge in Tube lift closures due to shortage of trained staff

Added: 27 October 2016 | Updated: 27 October 2016

Disabled and older people are deeply concerned as they face a 118% increase in lifts out of service due to shortage of staff this year compared to last year. Transport for All (TfA) has met with managing director at Transport for London (TfL) and politicians.

2016 is not yet over, but it seems that the year will end with a shocking record. In 2015 the number of times a lift was closed due to shortage of trained staff was 65. From January to the 11th October 2016 the number has reached a new high with 142 reported issues. Our study* is based on data published by Up Down London (@TubeLifts) an online service which reports cases of broken lifts on the Tube network. East Ham has been one of the worst hit stations with 66 incidents (17 times in May alone and 15 in August). Up Down London even published, on the 11th September, the following Tweet “East Ham: step free access is not available at this station after 23.00 and before 07.00 each day”. It is difficult to understand why a station has been hit so many time without any effective action from TfL.

We are not speaking about minutes but hours of lift closures. According to the only data we’ve got from TfL**, the average length of time of lift closures is 3:29 hours with the appalling record of 20:10 hours (full day) at East Ham on the 25th and 26th June of this year.

An intolerable situation faced by disabled and older people

TfA Trustee Mohammed Mohsanali, who is visually impaired lives next to East Ham Tube station. He says: “For many disabled and older people, working lifts are essential for everyday travel as they are the only way of accessing Tube stations without using steps. Less than one in four Tube stations have step free access and on any given day, some of these are closed due to lift maintenance works and breakages. When, on top of that, avoidable staff shortages shut lifts, it makes our life very difficult and stops us being able to get to work, university, and to see friends and family”.

According to TfL, Tube lifts are closed for safety reasons when a trained member of staff is not present. Staff are required to have training and licences to operate lifts in the event of circumstances such as a fire. Surprisingly, every day, in buildings across the land, disabled people use lifts despite there being no staff with this particular fire training. We respect TfL’s policy, but there is no excuse for them to not have a sufficient amount of staff at each station to guarantee that the lift will be available non-stop.

Yragael Drouet a wheelchair user told us: “This has happened to me many times. Every time a lift is not working, this causes me lots of stress having to plan another journey and knowing that I will arrive on average one hour late to work”

Some of the reasons given by TfL are particularly shocking like the one published on Twitter on the 12th January by @TubeLifts: “Hammersmith: Step free access is not available to the westbound platforms due to staff training.” It is difficult to believe that this situation wasn’t planned and couldn’t be avoided.

Taking action

Picture of tfa members protesting in front of oakwood station

TfA has previously raised concerns about the growing number of Tube lift closures, which have in part been caused by the cut of 950 members of staff at London Underground stations. Some Tube stations only have one member of staff present at certain times of the day, potentially impacting upon TfL’s Turn-Up-and-Go assistance for disabled passengers. It’s unacceptable that our freedom to travel is being undermined in this way. Last year, with the support of local Assembly Member Joanne McCartney (new deputy mayor), TfA’s members gathered in front of Oakwood Station on the Piccadilly Line to challenge the surge in lift closures due to staff shortages.

Recently, TfA met Deputy Mayor for Transport Valerie Shawcross and the new Managing Director of London Underground Mark Wild to raise our concerns and ask them why lifts were so frequently taken out of service due to lack of staff. They said that they will look into this and TfA will make sure that they do. We also met Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon who last year uncovered the fact that hours of lift closure due to staff shortage had risen by more than 50% between 2013 and 2014.

Disabled and older people have two demands to TfL:

Unfortunately, too few disabled and older people know that they could be entitled to a taxi when a lift is out of service. According to TfL: “If you arrive at a Tube, TfL Rail or Overground station and the lift is unavailable, staff will help you to plan an alternative journey to your destination. If there isn’t a reasonable alternative route, we’ll book you a taxi (at our cost) to take you to your destination or another step-free station from where you can continue your journey.”

* TfA made an FOI, but a month laterTfL has still not been able to provide this information.

** Data for the period January to June 2016 https://tfl.gov.uk/corporate/publications-and-reports/lift-availability