Rail companies are failing disabled passengers
As train strikes continue to cause disruption to travellers a campaign group has turned the tables highlighting how services, which do run, ignore the needs of disabled travellers.
Information collected by the Association of British Commuters (ABC) shows the combination of “driver-only operation” (DOO) and lack of staff at stations is causing havoc for people with disabilities.
In some cases there are no staff to assist disabled passengers on or off trains and a percentage of stations do not offer step-free access.
Research compiled by ABC shows travellers with disabilities are unable to “turn up and go”, six rail operators are short staffed, as a result passengers requiring assistance on their journeys need to pre-book and wait for help at 300 stations in London and the south-east.
“When there is no staff presence, the option of spontaneous access on an equal basis with others is just literally not there, it cannot happen,” said ABC’s Emily Yates, lead researcher on the project.
“The mobile staffing that they offer as a replacement has no maximum wait time, and no projected wait time or reassurance. In fact, the accessible transport policies even say: ‘Don’t travel without pre-booking, we strongly discourage this, you’ll be subject to a long wait time’.”
The term “turn up and go” relates to when staff are at stations to assist disabled passengers to board trains.
Only one of 25 stations controlled by rail company c2c offers this service and just 10 out of 35 stations manned by Chiltern Railways.
ABC went on to say turn-up-and-go is sometimes never available, or few and far between. Only 45% of stations served by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), 38% of stations under Southwestern, 32% of stations controlled by Greater Anglia and 16% of stations manned by Great Western Railway offer the service.
Sue Jennings received compensation after she reported unsatisfactory accessible service from Govia-owned operator Southern after she encountered months of discrimination on its services.
“The discrimination that I’ve faced since becoming a wheelchair user is night and day, and it is constant every time I go anywhere or do anything,” Jennings told The Guardian.
“I realised [the wheelchair] had given me my freedom back – and then I became disabled by the railway.”
Jennings reported 30 “access fails” within an 18 month period such as being left stranded at stations with no step-free exits, unstaffed stations, being put on the wrong train and staff not using ramps to assist her boarding.
The Observer was told by the six rail providers their accessibility arrangements had been approved by the regulator, the Office of Rail and the Road.
They went on to state it was possible to deploy mobile staffing teams or reply staff from nearby stations to assist disabled passengers and ABC’s statistics were incorrect, but they refused to release their own figures.
A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: “Everyone should be able to travel with confidence, and the safety of passengers will always be our top priority.
“We want to modernise the railway by moving staff on to platforms to provide more face-to-face assistance, and our Passenger Assist app is ensuring those with disabilities receive assistance quicker than ever.”
[ The 2022/23 rail strikes are the largest instance of industrial action in the UK since 1989. ]