Accessible transport campaigners in London are continuing to fight for greater clarity around sweeping measure announced by the capital’s mayor as England begins to ease its coronavirus lockdown.
Sadiq Khan has announced plans to create what he has called one of the world’s largest car-free zones in parts of central London, as a way to “create more space for social distancing when walking and cycling”.
The mayor promised that access for disabled people “will be maintained” as part of his Streetspace for London plan, although he is yet to explain how that will be achieved.
He originally announced, separately, that free travel at peak times would be temporarily suspended for disabled people with a Freedom Pass and older people with 60-plus cards, many of them key workers.
The Labour mayor said the Conservative government had insisted that emergency funding for Transport for London – which has been hit hard by the pandemic crisis and lockdown – would have to be accompanied by the suspension of free travel for the two cards at peak times.
Friday’s announcements, particularly on the suspension of Freedom Pass use at peak hours, caused concern and threats of legal action from disabled people on social media.
Transport for All (TfA), the user-led charity which campaigns on accessible transport in London, said it was “extremely concerned” about the Freedom Pass announcement and “appalled” that the concession might not be valid at peak hours.
It said the pass existed “to redress societal and structural barriers that reduce physical access and economic opportunity” and was “not a favour bestowed upon disabled people and should not be treated as such”.
But the government has since confirmed that working-age disabled people will after all be able to use their Freedom Passes at peak hours, although it is not yet clear what the situation is for those with 60-plus cards.
TfA said there was uncertainty across the transport sector, including within TfL and bus and train companies, with “mixed messages” being sent to disabled people, and that the picture was changing rapidly.
TfA said it was talking to TfL and the mayor’s office in an attempt to “iron these things out” and to ensure that the “disabled person’s perspective” was heard and “to get answers that work for everybody”.
Alan Benson, TfA’s chair, said: “The problem at the moment is the uncertainty, not only what the new rules are but what services are currently out there, and what restrictions are out there.”
He said that car-free streets would mean less pollution and noise, which would benefit disabled people, but that disabled people would still need to be able to access those areas of the city.
Benson (pictured, centre) said: “I don’t believe anybody is out to stick us. They are just in a world that they have not been in before and they are working it out as they go along.
“I don’t believe it is creating enormous difficulties at the moment but over the next two or three months if they don’t get those messages sorted out, it will be an issue.”
Meanwhile, Transport for All is developing ideas on how the transport system in the capital should adapt to the pandemic to take account of the needs of disabled people and ensure that the impact of COVID-19 “does not regress the rights, opportunity and perceptions of disabled people who travel in and to London”.
Its ideas include providing accessible “hotspots” at stations and platforms, which only disabled passengers would be able to use as they waited for support; accessible and safe spaces such as priority seats and wheelchair spaces to be more “stringently enforced”, like blue badge parking spaces; and clear, accessible guidelines to be shared with disabled passengers on what they can expect from passenger assistance during the pandemic.
A spokesperson for the mayor said: “City Hall and TfL are still working through the details around temporary changes to the Freedom Pass, 60+ Oyster card and children’s travel in London, as required by the government as part of the funding deal agreed last week.
“Once these are agreed TfL will be fully communicating them to passengers before they are implemented.
“TfL will follow all of its statutory requirements and its policy of taking care of vulnerable passengers.
“As confirmed by the government in their written ministerial statement on Monday, there will be no changes to the disabled persons’ Freedom Pass.”
But he said today (Thursday) that there was “no further update on the Streetspace elements at this stage”.
*For sources of information and support during the coronavirus crisis, visit the DNS advice and information page
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…