The Department for Transport set out its Inclusive Transport Strategy last week, which promises to improve accessibility across all types of travel for those with both visible and less visible disabilities in the UK.
The strategy includes investment in rail accessibility infrastructure, the creation of league tables which will highlight operators that are delivering the best service for disabled people, and funding for Changing Places accessible toilets at motorway service stations. To do this the Government has pledged up to £300 million of funding into the “Access for All” strategy to make railway stations more accessible, including through step-free access.
Great news to many disabled people, yet its nothing they haven’t heard before.
In 1992 the Disability Discrimination Act came into force, it set out the rights of people with disabilities in relation to employment, education, access to goods and services, buying or renting property. This was replaced in 2010 by The Equality Act 2010 which legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. It replaced previous anti-discrimination laws with a single Act, making the law easier to understand and with the hope this would strengthen protection.
We are now 26 years down the line from when it was agreed in Law that the disabled community get a rough deal when it comes to equality.
The truth is that the Government and network operators such as Transport for London (TFL) and Network Rail have been saying for years that improvements are being made, and have spent hundreds of millions of pounds doing so, yet still I believe we have one of the least accessible rail networks in the world. Just 73 out of 270 London Tube stations are accessible, with only six of those being underground stations.
In 2006 as part of the Railways for All Strategy, the “Access for All scheme” was announced which was said at the time to “provide an accessible route at more than 150 of the our busiest inaccessible stations by 2015”. On 6 June 2013 the Government announced “2020 targeted accessibility compliance”, this went as far as stating that 1 January 2020 was the legal deadline that all passenger rail vehicles must be accessible by.
A couple of months down the line Sadiq Khan promised to spend £200 million on step-free access to the Tube over the next five years. It was quoted in a TFL Press release that “One third of Tube stations will have step-free access by 2013 and will, if possible, accelerate accessibility works ahead of the 2012 Olympics”
The funding, part of Transport for London’s business plan stated that more than 40% of the Underground network would be step-free by 2021. Then in 2013 after the Olympics a further £100 million was announced to extend the programme to 2019. Since 2006, around 200 stations have had accessible step free routes installed under “Access for All” scheme. To put that into context there are around 2,563 station in the UK.
Currently 73 Tube stations, 58 London Overground stations and just six TfL Rail stations have step-free access. There are 270 functioning stations across the Network. That’s just over 27% today in 2018, not forgetting the £200m funds and promise of 90 step free access stations by 2013.
In December 2014 the Coalition Government said that by the end of 2019, more than £520 million will have been spent on delivering step-free routes at just 215 stations across the country, while a further 1,100 stations will have benefited from smaller-scale improvements. By the end of 2015 “Access for All” had completed 150 step-free stations.
However, the updated Network Rail enhancements programme, published in March 2016, stated that the amount of money to be spent by 2019 had been reduced from £135 million to just £87.1 million. It said that a number of schemes would be reviewed.
The latest House of Commons document “Access to transport for disabled people” even points the finger at the EU for its failures. In Section 1.2, it refers to Brexit.
In EU legislation there has been a “patchwork” approach across transport modes towards disabled people and “persons of reduced mobility” (PRMs). Of course the term Brexit didn’t exist until 2016, so to partly blame the state of our transport network on Brexit is a clear sign of how bad things really are and how embarrassing this 26-year on going saga really is for the Government.
I truly hope that the this new strategy works, but with over £520 million already spent on Transport Access Improvements and £200 million on our Tube a mere £300 million for our trains, airports, roads, seems a few quid little short to me.