Transport for London admits step-free budget will plunge to zero


London transport bosses have finally admitted that they plan to invest nothing in projects aimed solely at improving step-free access to the capital’s tube network over the next three years.

Last week, Transport for London (TfL) was unable to explain why a document on its website showed investment in step-free access plunging from £47 million to zero in just four years.

TfL has now accepted that the figures are correct, but has blamed the fall on funding pressures dating back to 2009.

A TfL spokesman said these pressures “led to the deferral of a number of step-free schemes so that money could be used to preserve… vital line upgrades, which will result in a 30 per cent capacity increase on the tube for all Londoners, and accessibility improvements at the highest priority stations.”

The spokesman said that continuing work to improve step-free access – worth “tens of millions of pounds” – would continue to take place as part of larger station upgrade projects.

But he confirmed that funding solely for step-free access work would drop to zero next year.

A total of just 65 of 270 tube stations are step-free from street to platform, with another station to be added this summer, and another seven by 2018 through the station upgrade programme and the Crossrail project.

Transport for All (TfA), which campaigns for accessible transport in London and uncovered the TfL business plan which contained the figures, said: “76 per cent of tube stations remain totally unuseable to wheelchair-users, and other disabled people, because of a lack of lifts.

“London is a world city, yet the lack of a ring-fenced budget for step-free access means that disabled people are denied a fundamental freedom: to travel as equal citizens.”

The business plan outlines how much TfL will be investing across London Underground until 2017-18.

The “step-free access” section shows that investment in 2009-10 was about £47 million, before falling to about £33 million in 2010-11, about £28 million in 2011-12 and about £23 million this year, but will plunge to zero for the next three years.

Even in 2016-17, there will only be about £4 million investment in step-free access, and less than £10 million in 2017-18.

TfL said it had invested “hundreds of millions of pounds in making the transport network more accessible in the last few years, with improvements such as new lifts, trains, platform humps, wide aisle gates, tactile paving and audio and visual displays”, while its bus fleet was “the most accessible in the world”.

He said that “nearly 40 per cent of all stops and stations across London’s rail-based public transport network [which includes rail, tube and trams]are currently step-free”.

Meanwhile, TfL has announced new measures to improve access for disabled visitors to this summer’s London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

A series of short online films will help disabled people unfamiliar with London’s public transport system use TfL’s ticketing and journey-planning systems, buses, the tube, Docklands Light Railway and taxis.

TfL’s journey planner has been upgraded to make it easier to plan step-free travel online.

And TfL has also announced that 16 key London 2012 tube stations that have a gap between the train and platform – including Earl’s Court, King’s Cross, Oxford Circus, Southfields, Stratford, West Ham, Westminster and Wimbledon – will provide temporary manual boarding ramps for wheelchair-users.

When requested, staff at the departure tube station will call ahead to the destination to ensure that a ramp and member of staff will be waiting for them.

14 June 2012