An audit for the rail regulator has found failings in the accessibility information provided by a train operator in all but one of 32 stations that were inspected, according to a new report.
The audit, commissioned by the Office of Rail and Road, found multiple failings by rail operators in the information they provided about station accessibility on their own websites and the information provided by National Rail Enquiries.
The Office of Rail and Road audited 32 stations run by one train operator and found incomplete or inaccurate information about step-free access for 13 of the stations, with no information about meeting points* at all but one of the stations, and problems in five other areas across “multiple” stations.
Other train operators had “gaps” in the information provided about station staffing hours (with 16 operators failing in this area) and the availability of seating in the station (17 operators failing).
In its annual rail consumer report, ORR says that most rail operators “provided timely responses that gave us confidence that the issues we identified had been, or would be, addressed”.
In a separate report published by ORR alongside its rail consumer report, disabled auditors found “inconsistencies” between the access information about a station they found on the National Rail Enquiries website, and the accessibility they found when they visited that station.
About one in three auditors (30 per cent) recorded inconsistencies after visiting unstaffed or partially staffed stations, while almost one in four (23 per cent) found inconsistencies at staffed stations.
Among the issues they recorded were a failure to provide an assistance meeting point at the station, the failure to provide a clear information point at larger stations, and problems with obtaining assistance at unstaffed or partially staffed stations through the station’s Help Point.
The report says the audits suggested that “the provision of accurate and accessible information about accessible rail travel was inconsistent” across staffed, unstaffed and partially staffed stations.
The audits – carried out by the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers (RIDC) – found problems with “communications, signage, information and support” around accessibility.
The RIDC report says the audits suggested that many stations were giving prominence to adverts and offers rather than displaying information and advice for disabled passengers, although it warned that some of the failings it found could have been linked to Covid-related precautions.
Another report published by ORR (PDF), and carried out by the market research agency 2CV, found that 87 per cent of disabled passengers they surveyed said they were satisfied with the overall Passenger Assist service, an increase from 86 per cent in 2020-21, although the proportion who said they were dissatisfied also rose, from six to eight per cent.
And almost a quarter (24 per cent) of those who use Passenger Assist – which provides assistance to disabled rail passengers – did not receive all the assistance they had booked at the station they were asked about, an increase from 20 per cent in 2020-21.
Booking by telephone also took longer than in previous years, with an average of 11 minutes and 36 seconds on average compared with nine minutes and 41 seconds in 2020-21.
The report also says there is “still a concern” that 28 per cent of passengers do not feel confident that all parts of the assistance they book will be delivered on the day they travel.
Some passengers still want to be able to use the Passenger Assist mobile phone app to book their ticket at the same time they book their assistance, the report says, while some passengers “report having issues” when using the app, which it says “need to be rectified before raising awareness and promoting use of the app further”.
The much-delayed app was finally launched last year, nearly three years after originally planned, but the industry was warned at the time that it was not fit for purpose.
ORR also said that train operators can now take bookings for assisted travel with just two hours’ notice, a requirement introduced by the regulator to “progressively reduce” the notice period from 24 hours down to two hours over the last two years.
A third report published by ORR (PDF), carried out by RIDC, found the accessibility of 24 train companies’ websites had “significantly improved” in the two years since 2020, although there was “still some room for improvement to ensure that assistive technology works correctly”.
*The part of the station where disabled passengers who have booked assistance are collected by a staff member
Picture: Office of Rail and Road
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