by Kam Sandhu – @KamBass
Today marks the start of the DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) week of action aptly named “Reclaiming Our Futures” (find out details of events here). Transport For All, an organisation devoted to ensuring that transport is accessible for all needs, begin the week of action with a protest against Crossrail, to demand that the new London infrastructure can be used by everyone.
We caught up with Lianna Etkind from the organisation to find out about the campaign and why it is so important.
Could you tell us a bit about what is happening on Thursday? “So we have a day of action against inaccessible Crossrail. It’s London’s biggest infrastructure project at the moment, but seven of the stations are not going to have step-free access, so there are some extremely annoyed people, and we are going to have a paralympic legacy torch relay.
“We have people coming from Hanwell, in the west in Ealing, which is a station that will be on Crossrail and is proposed to have no access, and from Seven Kings in the east in Redbridge, again, will be part of Crossrail but will be out of bounds to many disabled people. And these people will be bearing paralymic legacy torches, travelling along the Crossrail route by public transport, by bus and tube, and gathering at 11:30am at Crossrail’s offices at Canary Wharf. And we’ll have a rally and lots of people speaking and music and a hand-in of our demands to say that Crossrail has to be accessible to everybody otherwise it’s not public transport.”
What are the challenges that disabled people face with transport already in place?
“Getting out and about in London can be a big hassle. One of the things is staff availability. You can turn up to a station that can be completely accessible in terms of infrastructure, but unless you can find a member of staff that is well trained and helpful and can help you down to the right platform, or guide you if you can’t see or help you buy a ticket, which is by no means easy on one of those ticket machines, it’s very difficult.
“Buses – every bus in London has a wheelchair ramp and a wheelchair bay which is fantastic, but still there is this regular conflict over who gets to use that wheelchair bay because a lot of buggies will use it, and not all of them will move if requested, for a wheelchair user, and often the bus driver won’t even ask them to move. So there’s a real problem with people being confident enough to go through that conflict when getting on a bus. And does the bus pull into the kerb or give people time to sit down. Some people might get on and just as you’re getting to your seat, the bus jerks off. People have been thrown over and there have been some really horrible accidents.
“The biggest thing in terms of getting out and about on equal terms with non-disabled people is the tube network. Only 66 stations are step-free to the platform and fewer are step-free to the train. It’s an old Victorian infrastructure, it is expensive to upgrade, but making sure more than just one quarter of stations are step-free is so important, especially in the context of an ageing population. Disabled people want to get out, get to work, be part of public life and that’s not going to happen unless they can use lines like Crossrail with the same freedom and independence that so many people take for granted.”
Do you think this will help the integration of disabled people into society? Are we still pretty bad at integrating?
“Totally. It will help. One of the things that was said when the decision was made to make Crossrail only partially accessible was that disabled people can use their taxi card or get a lift or take other forms of transport to the nearest accessible station. But actually, as useful as community and door-to-door transport is, we want to be able to use public transport on equal terms with non-disabled people – not to be segregated. And besides, this will be something that will benefit everybody. Crossrail is on a route that serves Heathrow airport, so there’ll be lots of people struggling with suitcases and luggage. There are so many people who struggle with prams and with buggies and are fed up with having to wait at the bottom of the stairs looking a bit helpless, until someone comes along to help.
“So we’re hoping that if Crossrail agree to make the whole line step-free, that that will set a precedent for possibly, Crossrail 2 is being looked at, and every new rail line.”
How much will it cost to make all of the stations accessible?
“Our calculations suggest that it would cost about £30m to make all stations accessible which is only 0.2% of the whole Crossrail budget. The whole thing is costing £14.8bn worth of public money, and it’s estimated that it will generate another £42bn for the economy. So it is a tiny fraction of the whole budget, and actually the economic benefits that are provided when disabled people can get out and about – we can spend in the high street, we can go to work and pay taxes, and not just be dependent on job seekers allowance and benefits. Those economic benefits are huge.”