Countless tributes have been paid by friends, fellow campaigners and colleagues following the death of Alan Benson, an “astounding campaigner and ambassador” who played a major role in the fight for an accessible transport system.
As well as being co-chair of Transport for All, he was a long-serving deputy chair of London TravelWatch, a founder member of the Campaign for Level Boarding, and co-chaired the Department for Transport’s inclusive transport stakeholder group.
Transport for All (TfA) said it was “heartbroken” by his death on Sunday and described him as “an astounding campaigner and ambassador for the disabled community”.
Benson (pictured) was awarded an MBE for services to public transport for disabled people last year.
He described at the time how his activism began when – as a powerchair-user – he was left stranded on a train platform in the run-up to the London 2012 Paralympics.
He had secured a degree in computing and economics, and a masters in management innovation and change, and used those skills mostly in jobs in further and higher education before moving to London in 2011.
He told TfA last year: “I moved to London and started regularly commuting around 2012, when the plans for the Paralympics were in full swing, and there was this huge push from the government to present London as an accessible capital.
“And then, while there was all this publicity about the legacy of the Paralympics, how accessible our transport was, what an example London was going to be, I was left stranded on a train platform.”
After attending a couple of parliamentary meetings on accessible transport and contributing to a Channel 4 investigation, he was introduced to TfA and became a board member.
He told TfA in 2022: “The campaigns I remember are the ones that make the greatest amount of change, even if they’re not obvious, even if most people won’t see them.
“So, for example, there is now a new standard of lift signage across the London Underground: it makes a lot more sense, is less technical, more human, more accessible. And a lot of people won’t have noticed this change.
“But for many disabled people, this makes a huge difference to their ability to navigate stations and move through the world freely.
“I’m also really proud of the training we did with senior staff at the Underground.
“Often the most important work we do is changing attitudes, changing industry standards, because this is what results in lasting, widespread change.”
He stressed the importance of collaboration and co-production and the support of other campaigners, organisations, charities, transport operators and allies.
Last year, he was given the freedom of the borough of Richmond, where he lived, and the council’s leader, Gareth Roberts, spoke this week of his “remarkable contribution to the lives of disabled and older people, particularly in London” and his “immeasurable legacy”.
The user-led charity Ruils, which is based in south-west London, paid tribute to the “major role” he played – which included nearly seven years as a board member – and said it would miss his “drive, determination and wry humour”.
His influence and popularity were reflected this week in the many online messages of condolence from fellow disabled activists and industry professionals.
Among the messages left on an online tribute page, many spoke of his kindness, generosity and sense of humour, as well as his “massive contribution to improving transport accessibility”.
One said: “Heartbroken. Alan was the most fearless of campaigners – his legacy will live on and we can but try our best to carry on with his work the best we can – he has changed the life of so many.”
Another described him as “one of the kindest, wisest and best people you could ever meet”.
Among the messages from industry figures, Andy Lord, London’s transport commissioner, said the news of his death was “absolutely devastating and heart-breaking”.
Peter Wilkinson, managing director of passenger services at the Department for Transport, said: “Alan was a star and a truly committed and passionate champion of passengers. He will leave a giant hole behind him.”
London TravelWatch – London’s statutory transport watchdog – said it was “devastated” by his death and that he was “held in deep affection by everyone here”.
Tony Jennings, a fellow co-founder of the Campaign for Level Boarding, said Benson was “a friend and a pragmatic disability rights campaigner, who worked tirelessly in collaboration with the transport industry to help improve accessibility and remove the barriers.
“He was a supportive advocate for disabled people and generous with his time, leaving a legacy for other campaigners and activists to continue the fight for equal access.”
He said they shared a “passion for cricket and cake”, with Benson a loyal supporter of Surrey, who would frequently post on Twitter about his frequent trips to the Oval.
He said: “He will be greatly missed by family, friends and the disabled community.
“Strength to Yvonne, his soulmate and constant support at this terribly sad time.”
Another accessible transport campaigner, Doug Paulley, described Benson as “a true diplomat, committed campaigner and gentleman” and said his death was “a giant loss”.
He said: “I got to know him through the First Bus case, where he was a stalwart supporter, and have conspired with him ever since, along with his lovely partner Yvonne.
“But he also had become a firm friend, with his cheeky and impish sense of humour yet kindly advising and reeling me in where required.
“I mourn his loss for me, for disabled and other groups he supported, but particularly for his friends and his lovely partner.”
Picture: Transport for All