New idea for funding rail access upgrades is ‘brilliant’, says MP


newslatestA disabled campaigner is hoping to create a new way of funding transport access improvements – by persuading London’s mayor to set up a public fund that would allow individuals, councils and businesses to contribute towards the cost.

Conrad Tokarczyk, from Hillingdon, west London, already has support for his idea from his local Conservative MP, Sir John Randall, and the neighbouring Hayes and Harlington MP, Labour’s John McDonnell.

Tokarczyk  has linked up on the campaign with Paralympian Natasha Baker, who won two gold medals at the London 2012 Paralympics, and also lives in Hillingdon.

They have launched a petition to make all of Hillingdon’s stations step-free within five years, and also want transport organisations to publish the costs of making each of the UK’s rail and bus stations step-free within five years.

They are particularly frustrated at the failure to make better progress on delivering step-free access to London’s tube and rail stations.

They are asking the Conservative mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to announce how much it would cost to make each station step-free, and then create a public fund for each station, which would allow donations from individuals, companies and local authorities towards those targets.

Tokarczyk said: “I’m angry that we still have a public transport system that fails disabled people.

“I’ve had to turn down jobs because I simply couldn’t get there by public transport, and driving wasn’t an option.”

He added: “Inaccessible public transport makes it difficult for many disabled people to access the workforce, healthcare and education.

“However, this is not an issue exclusive to disabled people. Britain has an ageing population; many older people experience mobility problems as a result of the ageing process.

“Failure to act will confine many older people to their homes, denying them freedom and the ability to live fulfilling lives.”

At present, only about a quarter of London’s 270 underground stations are step-free from street-level to platform, as well as about half of London’s overground stations, and the entire Docklands Light Railway and tram systems.

And only about 25 further tube and rail stations will be made step-free over the next 10 years.

Sir John has written to Johnson, asking him to consider the public fund idea, which he believes is “very innovative and very exciting”.

He said: “In the past, lots of public works were funded by public subscription, so I can’t really see why this might be different.”

He added: “It’s very important that we get the costings done, so we know exactly the sums of money we are talking about, and what we might try and get through a public fund.”

Johnson has told Sir John that the public fund idea is “interesting”, but would “probably not be a viable solution in light of the amounts required to fund projects”, although he admitted that Transport for London was using third-party contributions from developers and councils to fund improvements at Greenford and Tower Hill stations.

McDonnell said the public fund idea was “absolutely brilliant”, and added: “I think it will prove popular. I think local people will campaign to raise funds to improve access to their local station.”

And he said he believed local councils would also be able to use their planning powers to ensure developers invested in local transport through the public funds, while they would enable companies to make life easier for their customers, and improve access to their businesses.

In the early 1980s, McDonnell served on the first national committee that looked at access to public transport.

He said he thought at the time that the programme of work they suggested would produce an accessible public transport system within a decade, but he was to be “bitterly disappointed”.

He said: “I failed in that exercise and I’m hoping we don’t fail now.”

15 May 2014