Disabled and older people gave a cautious welcome to news that 34 London railway stations are to introduce ‘turn-up-and-go’ assistance from this April. From April, passengers requiring assistance (e.g. a ramp or being guided to the right platform) will no longer be advised to book 24 hours ahead.
Disabled transport users using London Underground have always been able to ask for assistance without pre-booking; and last year, London Overground introduced ‘turn-up-and-go’ for the first time. Yet most rail companies request that passengers who want to use the Passenger Assist scheme book 24 hours ahead, by phone or online.
Last summer, the Rail Delivery Group (then ATOC, Association of Train Operating Companies) trialled ‘turn-up-and-go’ assistance as these 34 rail stations with RICA. The results were positive, with passengers finding no difference between pre-booked assistance and ‘turn-up-and-go’ assistance. To be confronted with another ‘trial’ is therefore rather galling: last summer’s trial proved that this system works for passengers and staff, and Transport for All would like ‘turn-up-and-go’ to be introduced fully.
In August 2014 Transport for All wrote to the Rail Delivery Group urging them to introduce turn-up-and-go at all rail stations in the UK. The peer and former Paralympian Tanni Grey Thompson has also supported the end to 24-hour booking, saying in March 2014 “The entire London Overground network is “turn up and go”. I would urge other rail companies to follow suit.”
To travel spontaneously like everyone else
The inability to use rail services spontaneously like everyone else is greatly resented by disabled transport users. Whilst in practice, many disabled people do request assistance without booking ahead and are often accommodated, it’s enormously frustrating to have to argue with station staff. The 24-hour booking system means it’s virtually impossible to be able to make last-minute plans; or linger at a party, at work or on an outing until you want to leave; not to mention the anxiety when transport delays inevitably make you late.
Gwynneth Pedler, a TfA activist and scooter user, was one of those who participated in the trials of ‘turn-up-and-go’ rail assistance, using ramp assistance forty times overall in ten journeys.
“Every visit was successful; the station staff were welcoming, knew what to do and made sure I was safe.” Gwynneth said. “Once I was on the train they phoned ahead to let the receiving station know which carriage I was in so they could be ready with the ramp. Nobody let me down; it worked perfectly and the freedom to choose when to return home was so empowering.”
“Clearly, booking ahead is not an insurance policy for a trouble free journey – I have been let down many times when I’ve followed the system and booked ahead. For example, I booked 24 hour ahead to travel from Upminster to Southend; only to be let down by an unstaffed station!”
The policy of needing to book 24 hours ahead to use the railway in England contrasts with the Scottish system, where disabled travellers are requested to give only four hours’ notice.
- You can hear Gwynneth discussing Turn-Up-and-Go assistance with Lianna Etkind of Transport for All and David Sindall of the Rail Delivery Group eighteen minutes in www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/b04yb2x6
Please note that the list of stations has not yet been finalised but we will publish it as soon as we know.