Six train companies are discriminating against disabled passengers at nearly 300 rail stations across the south-east of England, according to new research.
The research shows that c2c (which runs between London and Southend), Chiltern Railways, Greater Anglia, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), Great Western Railway (GWR) and Southeastern are all regularly denying “turn up and go” services to those who need boarding assistance.
Between them, their staffing policies mean there is either occasional or permanent denial of “turn up and go” services at 292 stations, or one in nine of all rail stations in Britain.
All six rail companies offer policies to mitigate lack of access for “turn up and go” passengers at their stations, such as sending staff from a mobile team or another station, or providing a taxi service, but these are all likely to mean significant delays or an inferior service for disabled passengers needing assistance with boarding.
The analysis by The Association of British Commuters (ABC) shows how many stations there are where it is impossible for disabled passengers to secure immediate assistance with boarding a train without booking in advance, because of the companies running driver-only operated (DOO) trains to unstaffed stations.
The six operators are currently the only ones in Britain that are believed to combine DOO train services with unstaffed stations*.
ABC’s figures show many of the stations operated by each company have this combination of DOO trains – those without a member of customer services staff on board, where the driver has responsibility for opening and closing the doors – at times when they are unstaffed, either sometimes or all the time.
The figures show that c2c has 96 per cent of its stations not available for turn up and go travel (92 per cent sometimes not available, four per cent unavailable all the time); with 71 per cent at Chiltern (43 per cent sometimes, 29 per cent all the time); 45 per cent at GTR (36, nine); 38 per cent at Southeastern (37 per cent, two per cent); Greater Anglia, 32 per cent (22 per cent, 11 per cent); and GWR, 16 per cent (eight per cent sometimes unavailable, nine per cent never available).
ABC said its research showed there were “no go areas” for disabled rail passengers across the south-east and London, with particular hotspots in the London boroughs of Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich and Lewisham, and the counties of Buckinghamshire, Essex, Oxfordshire and Surrey.
The findings should increase pressure on the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to act on the claims of widespread discrimination.
ABC is using the figures to attempt to persuade EHRC to act against all six operators for breaching the Equality Act.
It says in the report that it believes EHRC “now has no choice but to investigate, and apply its full legal weight to breaches of equality law by train operators”.
GTR has already admitted, in a document leaked to ABC in September, that it had been breaching access laws for more than 10 years across large parts of its rail network because of insufficient staffing levels across its Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern rail franchise in England.
Disabled people, accessibility experts and campaigners have repeatedly warned of the “escalating human rights crisis” for disabled passengers caused by staffing issues across the rail network.
Reports have suggested that the government’s rail reforms are likely to see about four-fifths of ticket offices closing, while campaigners led by ABC have called on EHRC to take “urgent action” on railway staffing.
Last month, a leading expert on accessible transport quit his role as a government adviser after accusing ministers of backing policies on de-staffing the rail network that discriminate against disabled rail passengers.
Matthew Smith, a key member of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), told the government that its already discriminatory staffing policies looked set to get “drastically worse” if it went ahead with secret plans for mass ticket office closures.
He said in his resignation letter that DPTAC had repeatedly warned the Department for Transport about the “toxic combination of driver-only trains and unstaffed stations” and urged it to secure legal advice.
Each of the six companies insisted this week that their policies have been approved by the regulator, the Office of Rail and Road, and that they had measures in place to offer alternatives to disabled passengers who turned up to an unstaffed station visited by DOO trains.
These measures include mobile units that allow staff to travel to an unstaffed station if requested by the passenger, with help points available at stations for disabled travellers to seek help.
A GWR spokesperson declined to say if it accepted ABC’s figures, or if they showed it was discriminating against disabled passengers, but said: “ABC has reached some headline-grabbing but rather spurious conclusions based not on GWR’s policies but on a leaked document from another train operator.”
Southeastern also declined to say if it accepted the ABC figures, or if they showed it was discriminating against disabled passengers.
But a Southeastern spokesperson said its assistance was “well above the rail industry average” and it would “continue to improve the service we offer”.
GTR said it did not accept that it was discriminating against disabled rail passengers, and that the research was inaccurate because the rail industry had failed to update the websites where ABC had sourced its figures.
A GTR spokesperson said: “We are dedicated to making sure all customers can travel independently with confidence across our network and are happy to discuss this with the EHRC.”
A Greater Anglia spokesperson said: “We do not accept that these figures show that assistance is not available at these stations.
“They represent staffing levels at stations using the criteria ABC adopted.”
She said the figures did not show it was discriminating against disabled passengers.
Another Greater Anglia spokesperson had said earlier: “We have markedly improved accessibility on our trains and across our network over the last three years and the accessibility features of our Stadler-built trains have set a new positive benchmark for accessible trains on the UK rail network.”
She said the company had 134 stations, and not 133, as suggested in the analysis.
A Chiltern Railways spokesperson said its figures differed from those in the ABC report, and it insisted that with its unstaffed stations it made reasonable adjustments for disabled passengers, in line with its legal obligations.
He said: “We are committed to delivering and continuously improving this policy.”
A c2c spokesperson declined to say if it accepted the figures, or if they showed it was discriminating against disabled passengers, but she said: “We can reassure customers that we are committed to maintaining and improving current standards of accessibility to make the railway as accessible as possible for all our passengers.”
She was another to claim that some of the information used by ABC in its report was incorrect because of the rail industry’s failure to update the source material.
EHRC declined to comment.
*ScotRail may run some DOO services to unstaffed stations in the Glasgow area, but the company has refused to release figures to ABC that would allow this analysis to take place
Picture by ORR
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…