We don't want to take a step back in accessible transport when we've only just started to take steps forward
This year there are going to be a lot of changes on the London Underground, and they may affect your ability to travel. By 2016 all of the ticket offices on the tube will be closed, and 900 staff are being cut from tube stations. Transport for London have called this programme of changes ‘Fit for the Future’, but is it really a ‘fit’ for all Londoners?
We know that lots more passengers use ticket machines now, instead of ticket offices, but what about those Londoners who need extra help getting around? What about those who need induction loops? Where will those people go now to find assistance, particularly as the Tube operates with far fewer staff?
Over the last month I have been investigating what these changes mean for Londoners who have access needs. In the process I met some fantastic people, and discovered just how important it was to them to be able to use the tube network. The closure of ticket offices, and especially the loss of staff, has a significant effect on Londoners with disabilities. I want to make sure their voices are heard.
I met with Jeff and Mike, who are both members of Transport for All, an organisation that has been championing accessible transport for over two decades. Both Mike and Jeff spoke about their specific needs.
I met with Mike Theobald at Queensway; one of the first stations to lose its ticket office. Mike has lived in London for years and, like most Londoners, relies on public transport to get around. He has had hearing aids all his life, and requires the use of induction loops when travelling on the Underground. An induction loop makes it possible for an individual to hear the voice of a staff member speaking into a microphone, and hear it directly in their hearing aid. This makes communicating with staff much easier and clearer.
Yet once the ticket offices are closed this will no longer be available. As Mike says, the announcements made on the tube are very hard for him to hear – with less staff and no induction loops, he fears that it will be difficult for him to know what is going on. It is vital that Transport for London find a way to keep induction loops going and make sure there are staff around to help people like Mike.
I also went to Kilburn to meet with Jeff Harvey. He moved to London a few years ago and lives with his wife. Because Jeff is in a motorised wheelchair any small step means he cannot access the tube. He requires the use of a Manual Boarding Ramp to get on the tube. With this only available at certain tube stations, Jeff says 75 per cent of the tube is inaccessible to him. He has found that the transport system in London can be very good, as long as there is a member of staff around to help him. Kilburn station has recently gained a Manual Boarding Ramp, which is great for people like Jeff who rely on them.
However staff cuts are a major concern for Jeff and others, because the Manual Boarding Ramp cannot be deployed without a member of staff. Jeff says it is already difficult to find assistance at times, and this will only become more trying in the next year.
I do not want to see Londoners like Jeff and Mike unable to use the tube and access the fantastic benefits that London has to offer. The changes to the London Underground are happening now. We want to make sure that TfL know how much this will affect Londoners. We do not want to take a step back in accessible transport, when we have only just started to take steps forward. I want to see an Underground that is truly ‘fit for the future’ for all Londoners.
If you experience any changes to your journey in the coming months, or you would like to send me a personal account of the challenges you face with accessibility on the London Underground, you can email me your story at [email protected].
And if you experience any difficulty in travelling make sure you let Transport for London know.
You can write to:
TfL Customer Services,
14 Pier Walk,
London SE10 0ES
Transport for All also have a helpline you can ring if you need any advice or experience any difficulties in travelling in London. Call them on 020 7737 2339.
We want to hear from you and make sure that the London’s transport remains accessible for any Londoner.
Val Shawcross AM is the London Assembly Labour Transport Spokesperson. Follow her on TwitterLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.