Johnson leaves platform open to mayoral rivals


The three leading candidates seeking to replace Boris Johnson as mayor of London have laid out policies on accessible transport, disability hate crime and affordable housing in a bid to attract the votes of disabled Londoners.

Johnson caused anger among the audience by failing to turn up to the “hustings” event – organised by the user-led organisations Inclusion London and Transport for All (TfA) – despite having been invited nearly four months ago.

The other three main candidates, Labour’s Ken Livingstone, the Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick, and Green candidate Jenny Jones, summarised the policies they hope will convince disabled voters on 3 May, and answered questions from an audience of about 100 disabled people.

Livingstone, Johnson’s main election rival, pledged that the social model of disability would “underpin” his administration.

He promised that a third of London’s 270 underground stations would be made accessible and all bus-stops would be accessible by 2016. Only 63 tube stations are currently step-free from street-level to platform.

He said that all of London’s councils were struggling to fund the disabled and older people’s Freedom Pass because of Johnson’s “absolutely horrendous” fare increases.

And he warned that if Johnson won a second term there was “a real danger… that borough councils are going to start withdrawing or reducing the scope of the Freedom Pass”.

He said that his own pledge to cut bus and tube fares would save London boroughs £22 million in funding for the Freedom Pass.

Livingstone backed an idea suggested by a member of the audience to install some stairlifts in tube stations – rather than expensive vertical lifts – if the idea could be shown to work.

He also said he would set up a Transport for London co-operative to provide cheaper fuel to domestic consumers.

Brian Paddick, a former senior officer in the Metropolitan police, said the involvement of disabled people in tackling disability hate crime had been “late in coming” and that he would hold the Met police commissioner to account to “make sure that is done”.

He said there was need for a “change of culture in the Met so they actually take hate crime seriously, and particularly hate crime against Deaf and disabled people”.

Paddick said the service provided by bus drivers to disabled passengers should be written into bus companies’ contracts with Transport for London, and if drivers failed to comply with those terms the companies should be fined.

He also backed the idea of installing stairlifts in tube stations, and said he would prioritise introducing step-free access at the stations that were “most important” for disabled Londoners.

He said: “This is about your rights, your fundamental human rights, and I don’t care if we have to spend more money to make stations more accessible.”

Paddick said his party had identified brownfield sites in London where 360,000 homes could be built over the next decade, and that he would lease land owned by the mayor to developers so they could build social housing at “genuinely affordable rents”.

Jenny Jones accepted all the key demands laid out in Inclusion London’s own manifesto, including engaging with disabled people, tackling disability hate crime, increasing accessible and affordable housing, and supporting inclusive education and training.

She said there had been a “transport apartheid for far too long” and accepted all five of TfA’s key demands in its manifesto, on penalties for bus companies that fail on access, step-free tube stations, staffing of London Underground stations, funding for Taxicard and accessible bus stops.

She said TfA’s target for all bus stops to be accessible by 2018 should be brought forward to 2016, while she wanted to “immediately review” training of bus drivers, with the involvement of disabled people’s and older people’s groups.

She has also pledged to create new standards and targets for accessible high streets.

She told the meeting that the next mayor would have to start building “affordable, secure, accessible housing”. She has promised that 15 per cent of all new homes would be wheelchair-accessible.

She also criticised the “appalling decision” to allow Atos and Dow Chemicals – both of which have been heavily criticised by disabled campaigners – to sponsor the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

Johnson’s Conservative stand-in, the London Assembly member Richard Tracey, defended the mayor’s record on increasing the number of step-free tube stations and accessible bus stops and hailed his success in ensuring that 100 per cent of buses now have wheelchair ramps. He also promised to take the idea of installing stairlifts in tube stations to the mayor’s policy team.

But a spokesman for Johnson later declined to say whether the mayor had any targets for making all bus stops accessible, or for improving step-free access at tube stations.

22 March 2012