Disabled people must keep fighting for their right to travel on public transport, and should “challenge the status quo”, an accessible transport campaigner has told a conference.
Alan Benson, chair of the user-led, pan-London organisation Transport for All, told Transport for London’s Access All Areas conference that the pace of access improvements to the capital’s public transport system had slowed since the “watershed” of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Benson (pictured, centre), a wheelchair-user, said that in the last week he had missed a train because of slow assistance from rail staff, missed buses because the wheelchair spaces were full, and had been stuck at Bank tube station because the lift broke.
But he also told the accessible transport conference that in the last week he had travelled successfully to 10 locations across the city using public transport run or managed by Transport for London (TfL).
Among improvements made by TfL, he highlighted the Please Offer Me A Seat scheme, which provides disabled people with a badge to let other passengers know they need a seat.
But he said he believed its most “transformative” scheme was a training programme provided to TfL managers by Transport for All (TfA) and Inclusion London, another pan-London user-led organisation.
He said: “Disabled people, many of whom are here today, are teaching the people who commission and run the services just what impact their choices have.
“The results are transformative, both now and for the future. No-one else in the British transport sector is doing this.”
He told the conference: “Public transport is vital for disabled and older people to contribute to society, but most importantly we know that access to public transport is our right.
“Don’t give up. We are where we are today because, to quote Newton, we stand on the shoulders of giants. We are those shoulders for those that come after us.
“But mostly don’t give up because you have rights, the right to live the life you want to. And when your journey does go wrong, tell TfL. They do listen.”
He also said that passengers and transport operators should “challenge the status quo” so as to produce new ideas and “turn conventional thinking on its head”.
Benson said the transport industry needed to take more risks and not be so “resistant to change”, and he suggested that TfL should allow disabled passengers who were happy to take such risks to do so.
He said: “I know, for example, that there are some wheelchair-users who are perfectly comfortable using an escalator and I know of one who regularly does it, but it is definitely not widely known or it’s not [something] that staff are very comfortable supporting.”
Gareth Powell, TfL’s managing director of surface transport, told the conference that 84 per cent of disabled Londoners “say transport is affecting their ability to get around and live their lives”, which he said was “not good enough”.
He said: “We want to try harder and listen to what suggestions you have and make that better.”
Powell admitted that there were too many examples of TfL infrastructure projects that, even if they provided step-free access, still failed to be fully inclusive, for example by ignoring the access needs of autistic people.
He welcomed the TfA and Inclusion London training programme and said: “I have colleagues in design teams right across TfL who are being trained in how to design projects better so that right at the start of these projects we make them as inclusive as possible and see that all the way through to the end of those projects.”
But he warned that there were significant “challenges” with funding, with TfL “struggling to get our voice heard with central government”.
He said TfL had had its annual operational grant from the government cut from £700 million to zero, while there was no long-term certainty over funding for capital investment.
Powell said the government’s imminent three-year spending review would be “a critical moment for us to make sure that all of our infrastructure needs are on their agenda”.
TfL says 95 per cent of its bus stops are now accessible, while there are more than 200 step-free stations across its network, including 78 London Underground (LU) stations, 58 overground stations, six TfL-run rail stations and all Docklands Light Railway stations and tram stops.
Eight more LU stations are set to be step-free by March 2020, with work underway at a further seven.
The Access All Areas event also included workshops and an exhibition of accessibility innovations, including an electric bus and taxi, a driverless car, and a new Station Real Time Information App.
The app allows LU station staff to report station incidents that may affect passenger journeys, such as a lift going out of service, and also allows LU staff to record disabled passengers who wish to use TfL’s Turn Up and Go service, which provides assistance to disabled passengers who have not booked help in advance.
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