The Access for All programme, which pays for improvements to access at rail stations, has had a great impact over the many years. Clapham Junction, Streatham Common, Streatham Hill, Crystal Palace and more than a hundred other stations are now accessible thanks to this programme.
However last week the Disability News Service reported that the fund for 2015 – 2019 would be lower than the previous period. Funding had plunged from £370 million over its first 10 years to just £103 million over the next four.
13 stations in the Capital have been chosen to benefit from this round of funding. Transport for All welcomes this great news which will have a very positive impact on the life of disabled and older people living around these stations. These are: West Hampstead, Queen’s Park, Tottenham Hale, Peckham Rye, Seven Sisters, Chatham, Hither Green, Walton-on-Thames, Battersea Park, Streatham, Petts Wood, Blackhorse Road, St Mary Cray, Goldalming, Whitton, Virginia Water, Theale and Barnes.
TfA members Paula Peters, who recently published a picture of herself campaigning for a lift at Petts Wood station (see above) says:
“Petts Wood station is my local station and it is a nightmare for disabled people to use. Those steps are really dangerous – they are difficult to navigate, especially in the winter months when there is frost, not only for disabled people, but for elderly people as well. I am thrilled to bits about the news. It is a really positive move – safety and independence are so important.
“There are still battles to come and I will continue the fight for all disabled to be able to use public transport across the borough.“
However, with the overall reduction in Access for All funding the rest of us may be in for a longer wait at our local train station. With four of five rail stations inaccessible to those of us who can’t do steps, cutting funding for access risks setting back transport equality yet again. The Government’s own ‘Equality 2025’ target for transport is that disabled people have access to transportation on an equal basis with non-disabled people. Yet with large swathes of the rail network out of bounds to disabled and older people this aspiration seems a long way off.
Funding from rail companies?
A spokesperson from Department for Transport says:
“We are looking at securing additional sources of funding.”
“’Direct government investment is not the only way railways can be made more accessible and we look to the rail industry to meet its requirement to make accessibility improvements in line with EU and UK standards whenever they carry out infrastructure work at stations.”
Transport for All agree that the rail industry, who reap significant benefits in terms of increased passenger numbers when access improves, need to pay its fair share towards rail access.
Transport for London has pioneered clever ways of leveraging third-party funds” for lift developments at Tower Hill tube station (paid for by a property developer through a “section 106″ planning agreement) and at Harrow-on-the-Hill (paid for by selling part of the station carpark for a housing development).
Clear economic benefits to access
We urge the Government to invest in rail access schemes and influence the rail industry to play its part in funding access improvements.
Cutting funding for rail access is not only a kick in the teeth to disabled and older passengers. It’s also a foolish measure that flies in the face of DfT’s own valuations of the economic benefit of the programme. The evidence is clear: station access improvements, whether lifts, signage or gateline upgrades, benefit all passengers and result in increased footfall and ticket sales. Indeed Department for Transport’s own cost-benefit analysis show a ‘conservative estimate’ of £2.9 of benefit for every £1 invested in the Access for All scheme.
It’s high time that the UK followed the example of other European countries and ensured that the rail companies as well as the government fund access improvements. Fundamentally we believe access improvements need to be written into franchise agreements so that train companies are compelled to invest in a railway that is open to all from the very beginning.