My Access all Areas address

Welcome to Access All Areas 2019. My name is Alan Benson. I’m Chair of Transport for All. We’re the only charity campaigning exclusively on disabled and older people’s right to travel.

Get the shameless plug in early. Please do visit our stand while you’re here.

Anyway, we spend a lot of time working with TfL. It’s our role, using our experience, to help TfL improve their services. We also hold their feet to the fire when needed.

It’s as this critical friend that I’ve been asked to speak to you today.

I think there’s some nervous TfL staff here. I haven’t shared with them what I’m about to say. They don’t know if I’ll be the Critical or the Friend. If I’m not around later you know why.

So, I’ve got five minutes and about two hours’ worth of material. Here goes.

We know that access to public transport is vital. Vital for Physical Health. For mental health. For access to work. For access to social and cultural opportunities. Public transport is vital for disabled and older people to contribute to society. But most importantly we know that access to public transport is our right. We also know it’s not easy.

In the last week I missed a train because of slow assistance. I’ve missed buses because the wheelchair space was full. I’ve been stuck at Bank when the lift broke. Yes, I broke it. Apologies to anyone affected.

But, in that same week I’ve been to Stratford, Southwark, Camden, Docklands,  Greenwich, Lambeth, Westminster, Hammersmith, Richmond and the City. All on public transport run or managed by TfL.

This is only possible because of changes in the last 30 years. Changes in law, changes in approach and changes in attitudes. The Olympics in particular felt like a watershed. Since then, I think the pace has slowed. We must keep that pace up.

To prepare for today I asked around. What was the number one thing TfL has done to improve access recently. Some answers were unsurprising. Introducing new trains that have made many more stations level access, the taxi replacement policy was mentioned,  and of course the Please Offer Me A Seat badge. This has changed lives and gone global.

My choice is the Training Programme for Managers. Disabled people, many of whom are here today, are teaching the people who commission and run the services just what impact their choices have. The results are transformative, both now and for the future. No one else in the British transport sector is doing this.

Looking ahead we are already seeing the impact of  The Mayors Transport Strategy. Newly Step Free stations, with more to come. The goal to reduce excess journey times is really welcome. The Healthy Streets agenda will benefit everyone, but our voice must be heard.  The environment created must be accessible and inclusive, particularly for those with sight impairments.

But budgets are tight. Increasingly so. It’s crucial that Access programmes do not suffer.

I want to close with two thoughts two messages for you to take away.

The first is aimed at every disabled and older person here today, at every disabled and older traveller in London, indeed across the country.

Don’t give up. Things can seem bleak. When it’s cold, when it’s raining and you’ve not been able to get on that bus for whatever reason.

Don’t give up. We are where we are today because, to quote Newton, we stand on the shoulders of giants. We are those shoulders for those that come after us.

But mostly don’t give up because you have rights, the right to live the life you want to, and when your journey does go wrong tell TfL. They do listen.

My second message is to everyone, passenger and operator alike. It’s a clarion call to be disruptive. To challenge the status quo. “It’s always been done like this” is not good enough.

We need new ideas. Like the Please Offer Me a Seat badge. Like the “Look Up” campaign.

We need to turn conventional thinking on its head. If you can’t raise the platform then lower the train like Greater Anglia are doing.

Today is an opportunity to pass your ideas to TfL. Use it. After today talk to TfL directly,  or use TfAs helpline. We’ll pass the ideas on.

Thank you for listening. Enjoy your day.


About Alan

I'm an Economist, Geek, Campaigner & wheelchair user who's been using all forms of public transport for 20+ years.
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