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Disabled passengers say no to Tube staff cuts

Transport for All

Disabled and older transport users took action...

Disabled and older transport users took action on Thursday against Transport for London’s threats to cut 950 members of staff from London Underground.

Around thirty Transport for All members gathered at Westminster station, hours after the Mayor of London announced that 950 Customer Service Advisors on the Tube would lose their job – that’s about one in six customer service staff (although around 200 staff will be recruited to staff the night-time Tube). While there will be about a third more staff at six ‘gateway’ stations such as Kings Cross St Pancras and Victoria, staff will be cut at 125 smaller Tube stations, with just one member of staff at certain stations at some times of day

At the moment, London Underground offers disabled and older passengers a ‘turn-up-and-go’ assistance service, helping us buy tickets, plan routes and get down to the right platform without having to book in advance. This assistance enables thousands of disabled Londoners to be confident to travel. Visually impaired passengers find it particularly helpful, and RNIB awarded TfL ‘exemplar’ status for its turn-up-and-go service. But with fewer staff available, disabled and older passengers are deeply concerned about whether staff will be available to help.

Earlier on the day of the protest, Transport for All members questioned Gareth Powell, Director of Strategy and Service Development at London Underground. Claire Lindsey, who has autism, said: “I rely on staff to take me to the platform, if there are less staff it will be more difficult.“

The recent introduction of manual boarding ramps at 35 stations opened up many more routes to wheelchair users, but manual boarding ramps depend on a member of staff to operate them. If staff cuts go ahead, fewer staff will be available to operate the ramps on top of other tasks.

TfA member Jeff Harvey uses the Tube frequently. He said:

“Staff not only need to be visible, but they also have to be available to help. I use a power wheelchair and a ventilator. Often I cannot speak loudly and I cannot reach out to operate a ticket machine or swipe my card to open a gate. If a member of staff is dealing with something and isn’t right by the barrier, getting their attention can be difficult for me. With a ticket office, there is always a person in a known location, who I can communicate with.

“Even now, on occasion, I must wait several minutes for someone to become available to help me get through a gate, or to get a manual boarding ramp. It seems likely that this will happen more often with fewer people. Maybe they will try to be more available, but if I don’t know where someone will be, it is difficult for me to go and find them. I may have to try to recruit other passengers to help me, or to go and look for staff; in other words, to do the customer service staff’s job.“

Clare, from Thoughtistic, has autism. She said, ““Having a member of staff there to assist means I can use the Tube, it makes me feel part of everyday life. If I turn up during rush hour or just after, I get a ‘why are you travelling’ attitude. I asked staff to escort me down to the platform or help me use the escalator, and they’ll just say ‘There’s the bus stop, you can get a bus to Greenwich’. So I now normally avoid the station at busy times.

“There’s one member of staff who’s always helpful though: Fred. If Fred is there, he’ll just take me down and make sure no-one walks past me on the escalator, and tells people, “You’ll just have to wait”. He’ll stand with me until the train comes and treats me normally”.

The end of the ticket office

Despite pledging in his 2008 manifesto to “ensure that there is a manned ticket office at every startion“, the Mayor also announced that he intends to phase out ticket offices. By 2015, it is planned, ticket machines will have taken the place of the staffed ticket office – although a Survation survey in October found that 71 per cent of travellers are against full automation.

However, many disabled and older people, including those with a learning difficulty; visually impaired people and those who are simply unfamiliar with computers will find it difficult or impossible to use ticket machines – especially when making more complicated requests, such as registering a Disabled Person’s Railcard to an Oyster.

TfL have said that they are redesigning ticket machines. Transport for All would urge them to learn from Spain and San Francisco, where ticket machines are audio enabled so that they are useable by visually impaired passengers.

Deaf passengers have voiced fears that the end of ticket offices will make it harder to use the Underground. Michael Theobald, a deaf activist from Ealing Transport Action Group, said: “Ticket offices use the loop system. Without that, a station is a very noisy environment. It is inaccessible. We cannot hear announcements“.

There are also fears that without the fixed point of a staffed ticket office, visually impaired people will find it harder to locate staff to assist them. At seven busy Central London stations, (Euston, Heathrow, King’s Cross St Pancras, Liverpool Street, Paddington, Victoria and Piccadilly Circus), there will be Visitor Information Centres where a member of staff will offer assistance. Elsewhere, passengers will have to find a member of staff within the station.

Visible, trained staff make stations safe

Sadly, many disabled people have experienced hate crime at stations, and staff are key to deterring abuse. In a Survation survey in April, “enhancing your personal security and safety” was ranked consistently as the most important benefit that staff provide to disabled passengers. CCTV cameras can never replace staff in making passengers feel safe waiting on a dark platform at night.

Transport for London insisted that cuts would not hurt the ability of staff to offer assistance, but would enhance the level of assistance as staff would come out “from behind the glass” onto plaforms.

Mike Brown, managing director of the London Underground, said: “My commitment is that all Tube stations will continue to be staffed and controlled in future, with more staff visible and available to help customers buy the right ticket, plan their journey and keep them safe and secure. We will continue to make the Tube more accessible and provide assistance at stations for all our customers who need it.”

A man standing in front of a painted brick wall smiling at the camera. He is holding a cane and is wearing glasses, a black jacket and a grey t-shirt. A man standing in front of a painted brick wall smiling at the camera. He is holding a cane and is wearing glasses, a black jacket and a grey t-shirt.

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