Public Transport in the Capital for Disabled & Older Londoners
This paper has been prepared in order to highlight the importance that public transport in the capital has for its disabled and older residents, and to identify some key ideas for change which would have disproportionately positive results. The proposals have been developed from the daily experiences of disabled and older people.
Transport providers in the capital have all made commitments to improving accessibility and have programmes in place to meet their aims. The ideas contained in this paper are not intended as an alternative to or as replacements for these programmes.
- An independent audit of access should be undertaken across the Underground network.
- Bridging ramps should be installed at step free stations.
- Trained staff must be available during operating hours.
- Eligibility criteria for the Freedom Pass must be maintained.
- The Freedom Pass should be extended to cover all transport networks 24 hours a day.
- The Freedom Pass benefits should be extended to cover an assistant.
- All National Rail services within London should be available on a Turn-up-and-go basis.
- All electric vehicles should be fitted with noise generators.
- Improvements to the passenger experience at bus stops should be explored.
- Staffing levels must be maintained.
- A point of contact must be established at the entrance to all stations.
- The principles of Section 165 of Equality Act 2010 should be adopted.
Estimates for the number of Londoners living with a disability range between 11-16%, representing as many as 1.4m people. Disabilities related to mobility are the most frequently identified, constituting 62% of the total.
All research shows that as a member of this group an individual is more likely to be significantly disadvantaged than those without a disability.
Disabled People & Employment
Of the working age population, 50% of disabled people are in employment compared to 80% of the non-disabled population.
Disabled people are three times more likely to report that transport issues have prevented them taking up employment than their non-disabled counterparts.
Disabled People’s Spending
DWP figures estimate the Purple Pound, consumer spending by disabled people is worth £23Bn pa in London. Providing access to business is key to enabling this spend.
Disabled people pay a £550 per month financial penalty on average through paying more for products and services, e.g. insurance premiums, purchasing specialist equipment and buying more of everyday things like heating and taxis.
Public Transport for Disabled People
Disabled people are half as likely to have a car as their non-disabled counterparts and therefore access to public transport is more important.
The public transport infrastructure in London is amongst the best in the country for access. The entire bus fleet is equipped for accessibility including ramps and the audio/visuals system iBus. Older buses in the fleet often have ramps which are unsuitable and/or unreliable, but these buses are being replaced.
80% of the 19,000 bus stops across London are accessible, with a programme in place to increase this to 95% by the end of 2016.
The Underground network is much less accessible. Only 31 of the 270 stations currently have step free access to the train. An additional 35 stations have step free access to the platform. The 2012 Olympics acted as a catalyst for the introduction of manual ramps at some, but not all, of these stations.
Disabled and older people may also be able to use Taxi-card or Capital-Call services which allow subsidised black cab or private hire journeys.
Dial-a-ride offers supported journeys for people unable to use other forms of public transport. Dial-a-ride only supports local journeys up to a maximum of 5 miles.
Travel time is a key factor for disabled and older people. Journeys often take much longer due to the restrictions of accessibility. For example, a journey from Richmond to Brixton takes 30mins without constraints. The same step-free journey takes 1hr 14mins1.
There is evidence linking psychological and physical well-being to activity. It has also been shown that people with strong social networks have better health outcomes. There is a positive correlation between these and access to and use of public transport.
There are many policies, programmes and projects running across London’s transport infrastructure which have accessibility components either at their core or as significant side benefits. Many of these are vital to the long term development and improvement of equality of access. The following suggestions should not be taken as replacements or alternatives to any current projects. It is important that current infrastructure investment is maintained to ensure continued progress.
London’s tube system has two categories of restriction on improved access for disabled and older people. The primary and most recognised restriction is the infrastructure itself and often relates to its age. Examples of this have been highlighted above.
The Underground network is also subject to significant statutory regulation and extensive custom and practise built up over many years. The result is well practised processes and procedures embedded into daily operations. These can conflict with the aims of improving access for disabled and older people.
An independent audit of access should be undertaken across the network, and include input from disabled people. This audit should focus purely on the physical environment, and identified opportunities should assume a clean operational state. A panel comprising representatives of TfL, Unions and Disabled people, and chaired by a representative of the Mayor’s Office should then devise an improvement plan based on the recommendations, including the required changes in operational procedures.
The current stated target for step free stations across the TfL network is 50% by 2018. This is achievable due to the accessibility of Overground and especially DLR stations which raises the average. The previous, more challenging, aspiration from 2006 of doubling the number of step free stations on the Underground has now been abandoned. This would have seen 90+ step free stations, rather than the current 66.
Although the gap/step is reduced at stations offering level access to the train, this is still not practical for some wheelchair and scooter users. Small bridging ramps are appearing at some stations to cover this gap. Bridging ramps should be installed at all step free to train stations.
The number of lift outages across the network has risen between 2013 and 2014 by 50%. A significant number of these outages in 2014, 127, was due to a lack available of trained staff and therefore entirely preventable. Trained staff must be available at all step free stations during operating hours.
The Freedom Pass offers a lifeline to many disabled and older people giving them access to work and social opportunities that might not otherwise be available. For many it also enables cost effective travel to appointments, such as hospital visits, which would otherwise be provided through more expensive routes, such as patient transport. Eligibility criteria for the Freedom Pass must be maintained.
Whilst the Freedom Pass applies to all TfL managed services 24 hours a day, it is not valid on National Rail Services departing before 9:30am. As well as restricting travel, and differentiating from TfL services, this can lead to anomalies where one disabled person on a train has purchased a ticket but another who joined at a later station is travelling on their Freedom Pass. The Freedom Pass should be extended to cover London National Rail services 24 hours a day.
The Freedom Pass is valid for the holder alone, unlike the Disabled Persons Railcard (DPRC) which also allows a companion to travel. This additional benefit is offered by a number of regional councils outside London and across the entirety of Scotland. For disabled people requiring a Personal Assistant this restriction can add significant expense to travel, or severely restrict it. For many, travelling without a Personal Assistant is not possible. Having this help also means, in many cases, that the assistance required from transport staff is reduced or eliminated. The Freedom Pass benefits should be extended to cover the travel of a necessary companion.
Passengers requiring assistance on National Rail services are instructed to book at least 24 hours in advance. Where suburban services are used for commuting or social purposes this places impossible restrictions on disabled and older people’s freedom to travel.
A six month trial of Turn-up-and-go is currently under-way at 36 London stations. Indications of progress are not currently available although this follows a previous trial in Summer 2014 which had positive results.
c2c has, uniquely amongst train companies, announced that from September it will no longer require passengers needing assistance to provide notice of their intention to travel.
All National Rail services within London should be available on a Turn-up-and-go basis.
Electric vehicles offer major environmental benefits in cities such as London. However, the inevitable introduction of these almost silent vehicles presents difficulties for many visually impaired people who may be unable to tell when one of these vehicles is approaching or has stopped. This problem is compounded when vehicles pull up short of the stop, a common occurrence.
The Guide Dogs’ Silent but Deadly report calls for all silent vehicles to be fitted with noise generators. These recommendations should be adopted immediately for all public transport electric vehicles, including buses.
The adoption of electric vehicles offers an opportunity to improve the passenger experience at bus stops. A working group must be urgently established comprising both transport experts and affected disabled people to examine opportunities to go beyond the Guide Dogs’ proposals, for example considering external iBus style announcements.
Assistance on the Underground
Improvements in accessibility continue to open up the tube system for independent travel by disabled and older people, however, for many, either through the environment or personal circumstance, assistance provided by staff makes the difference between being able to travel and not. This will continue to be the case into the future. Staffing levels must be at least maintained to ensure that disabled and older people can still access the assistance they need to overcome the barriers present on London’s Underground.
The most reliable way of locating help when entering a station has been at the ticket office, especially for the blind and partially sighted. The closure of these offices and the redeployment of staff into public areas makes this no longer possible. Locating staff in an open plan entrance or ticket hall can be difficult, especially with a low eye level when using a wheelchair. A consistent and universal point of contact must be established at the entrance to all stations and comprehensively staffed during opening hours.
End PHV discrimination
It is common practice in London for Private Hire companies to charge wheelchairs a premium above non-disabled customers.
Section 165 of the Equality Act 2010 prohibits this practice but has yet to be brought into force. However, the more general provisions of the act which prohibit discriminatory practises are considered by Government to be applicable. Some authorities, e.g. Bradford and Middlesbrough, have taken enforcement action to tackle the issue. Currently TfL allow surcharges, often disguised as ‘large vehicle’ charges.
TfL must take a lead on stamping out this practice by challenging it and taking enforcement action where necessary. TfL already challenge discrimination against guide and assistance dogs with fines up to £1,000 or potentially revoking the licence. This practise should be extended to cover all discriminatory behaviour.
Alan Benson is an active campaigner for accessible public transport, with a principle focus in London. He is a wheelchair user and maintains a blog of his journeys at neveradulljourney.wordpress.com. He is a trustee of Transport for All and also a Citizen Advocate in South West London. He can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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1Calculations taken from TfL Journey Planner.