Between 2013 and 2014, the overall hours of lift closures on the London Underground rose sharply by over 50%.
In the past two years, disabled and older passengers travelling on London’s Underground network have faced a troubling increase in the time of lift closures at Tube stations. 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.
During 2013, lifts at London’s Tube stations were closed for a total of 476 hours. Worryingly, the periods of Underground lift closures surged above 50% in the following year, to 734 hours in 2014. The data was revealed by the Liberal Democrats’ leader in the London Assembly, Caroline Pidgeon, through several transport questions to the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.
Shortage of staff
Up Down London, an online service which reports cases of broken lifts on the Tube network, recorded 27 separate occasions between January and August 5th 2015 where lifts were closed due to a shortage of staff at an Underground station.
Caroline Pidgeon, who is also Deputy Chair of the London Assembly’s Transport Committee, argues that many Tube lift closures have arisen due to a lack of trained members of staff at Underground stations. Staffs are required to have training and licences to operate lifts in the event of circumstances such as an emergency or fire. Tube lifts are closed for safety reasons when a trained member of staff is not present.
In 2014, there were 126 instances when a lift at an Underground station was closed without prior warning because a trained member of staff was unavailable. The three London Underground stations with the highest number of lift closure incidents in 2014 were: Wood Lane (16 incidents), Southfields (14 incidents) and Oakwood (14 incidents).
Caroline Pidgeon expressed her concern about the rise in Tube lift closures, stating that: “It is a disgrace that London Underground is effectively denying access to the tube for many disabled people and others who rely on using a lift, simply due to a lack of trained staff.”
Challenge to disabled and older people accessing the Tube network
Transport for All trustee, Mohammed Mohsan Ali, described the increasing hours of Tube lift closures as “alarming news” for disabled and older people, adding: “With large sections of the Tube network inaccessible, broken lifts are an additional frustration, ruining plans and adding considerably to our journey times. It’s unacceptable that our freedom to travel is being undermined in this way.”
Transport for All has previously raised concerns about growing Tube lift closures, which have in part been caused by cuts to 950 staff at London Underground stations. Some Tube stations only have one member of staff present at certain times of the day, potentially impacting Transport for London’s ‘turn up and go’ assistance for disabled passengers.
The increasing hours of lift closures at London Underground stations presents a significant challenge to disabled and older people accessing the Tube network.
Eleanor Lisney, a member of Transport for All and a wheelchair user, described her experience of a recent lift closure at Westminster Station. She said:“It was more frightening because it was unexpected. My chair was low on battery and I was scared that I may not have enough power to get home. I can’t just trundle off to Waterloo and it’s very hard to get a taxi. You could become stuck. Luckily a friend went in and found a member of staff, who took me around a back way to a lift that was only used by workers.”
She added:“It feels like sometimes they don’t realise the importance of making the Tube accessible. It’s hard enough that so many stations are not step-free. But when the accessible ones are also put out of action it makes life very difficult.”
TfL’s taxi policy means that if you arrive at a station where the lift is closed, Transport for London will pay for a cab if a single bus journey cannot take you to the next accessible station. We would like TfL to publicise this more widely.