Why does TFL discriminate against Disabled Commuters?

Cllr. Richard Harris wonders why TfL has not done more to make its services disability friendly.

I have been in an active role in politics now for the best part of nine years. This means commuting from Derbyshire to the capital for meetings at CCHQ and the occasional Parliamentary briefing. I am therefore fairly accustomed to travelling by train and tube and do so with relative ease with an adequate amount of planning on my part. Mostly when I’m travelling for business I will only have a briefcase or laptop bag with me and so I can negotiate, albeit fairly gingerly, the tube and the rabbit warren of escalators and stairs. However, in December 2017 that changed. In the late autumn months of 2017 I started dating a girl who lives down in Croydon, in south London. This means longer stays down in the capital and travelling with more luggage than my briefcase.

Controversial as it may seem for an elected politician; I tend now to travel first class by train. Now I can hear the critics already saying “typical Tory, travelling first class”; but in all honesty, as a disabled traveller, first class is more accessible. I have access to a toilet on the journey without the fear of losing my seat. I have extra legroom and no scramble to find the correct door or carriage on the platform. The other benefit is that often there is a nice man standing there to carry my bags on to the train for me. Having said that, the complimentary tea and coffee also goes down very well.

The trouble comes, however, when I begin my descent from St Pancras International to the Underground or on my now regular trips to East Croydon; the Thameslink platform. There is a lift to the ticket hall on the Underground and was only made fully accessible in 2010. This is possibly the largest gateway into the city and one of the busiest Underground stations on the network and until seven years ago we failed at the first hurdle. We have the Olympic Games to thank for much of the accessibility upgrades across the tube network. I am extremely impressed by the accessibility on Thameslink, however. As well as the spacious lift from the main concourse down to the platform at St Pancras; the rolling stock is easily accessible and the majority of stations are easily accessible with lifts and/or level access.

Now from an informational point of view; the tube network is fairly accessible. The information is available to explain exactly which stations are accessible to wheelchairs; I can download an audio map and audio guide. It’s all very accessible but the access itself is limited.

I appreciate that the tube was installed in the 19th century and as such; upgrades to the majority of it will be limited. However, the Equalities Act 2010 legislates for reasonable adjustments. I am still not sure of the logistics of making adjustments; but Transport for London is a large organisation. I am sure that the organisation would be turning enough profit to be able to make the alterations necessary to make the entire network accessible.

I recall a fiasco at London Bridge. There being works on the line, Thameslink had cancelled a couple of services direct to St Pancras and as such I had to divert via London Bridge and take the tube to St Pancras.

Firstly, the lift was out of use at London Bridge; I had to walk outside in the snow and round the corner to the Shard; then down in the lift to the Underground concourse. Then I realised, having got through the ticket barriers that there was no lift to the platform from the concourse. Luckily having explained the issue to the ticket attendant, I was able to access a lift on the other side of the station. I did have to walk outside and round the corner for five minutes.

There should be more Information, if there is a diversion, is the connection accessible?

Transport for London have a scheme of accessibility by offering a badge to passengers which invites other passengers to “offer me your seat”, which follows a similar premise to my “Hidden Disability” Campaign, which I have often credited in my previous articles. I am incredibly enamoured by this scheme and have tried to make use of it. But as a Disabled Commuter, I am unable to access the scheme unless I have an address inside Greater London. Luckily, I am able to use my girlfriend’s address in Croydon to obtain an accessibility pack from TFL, but my point is that the Mayor of London and TfL as an organisation are discriminating against me as a Disabled Commuter living outside of London. In essence, in terms of the social model of Disability, I am disabled because of TfL.

I am not playing politics with accessibility, but I am calling on Sadiq Khan to make a small concession and make the capital city more accessible. In the coming months; I will be completing an accessibility audit of a few of the main stations on the Underground.

Cllr. Richard Harris is Parliament Street’s Disabilities Spokesman

Comments are closed.