South West Trains (SWT) proposed plan to ‘trial’ turning off Tannoy announcements at Waterloo Station has been scrapped. Opposition from disability groups concerned about the impact on visually impaired passengers forced a U-turn over the decision.
The original “trial” had been scheduled to run between 22nd September and 5th October. The proposal to turn announcements off was a result of noise complaints from local residents. SWT suggested that VI passengers wanting to know what platform their train would depart from and when could find a member of staff to consult.
The decision not to proceed is a victory for disabled passengers. Transport for All (TfA) along with Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) had vehemently opposed the idea when we met SWT to discuss this issue last month.
TfA expressed their concerns to SWT in a recent letter. We argued that the plan would leave some visually impaired passengers who rely on audio announcements with less freedom and independence when getting around the station; pointing out that finding staff is not always easy and there are sometimes long queues to speak to them. We also expressed concern that the turning off of announcements at Waterloo might encourage other stations across the UK to follow suit.
TfA also canvased the opinion of visually impaired passengers to gauge reaction. Terry was dismissive of the complaints SWT claimed they’d received about noise;
“This reminds me of the rich folk who moved into the country and then started complaining about farmyard smells“.
Birmingham New Street station trialled turning off announcements several years ago – but were also forced to rethink after blind and visually impaired passengers objected to this attack on their freedom to travel independently.
TfA volunteer Luke Baily welcomed the news of the U-turn:
“I’m delighted that SWT have listened to the united voice of disabled Londoners and agreed to back down. Turning off announcements would have a substantial effect on the ability of some disabled passengers to travel safely and independently, particularly those with a visual impairment“.
Richard Holmes, RNIB Regional Campaigns Officer for London, said:
“Losing the audio announcements would have been seriously detrimental to the many blind and partially sighted people who use Waterloo station to travel to work, visit friends, or to attend hospital appointments. However, we will be watching closely to see what steps are taken next and to ensure that extreme decisions such as these aren’t taken without proper consideration to the likely negative impact on people with sight loss.”
An SWT spokeswoman said: “We have been working with our stakeholders to develop solutions and we welcome the feedback received so far.
“We will be reviewing the feedback and carrying out further consultation before any decisions are made.”