There has been a sharp rise in lift closures and the suspension of step-free access across the Tube network, according to figures from Transport for London (TfL).
The figures, released following a freedom of information request by Disability News Service (DNS), point to a jump in cases where step-free access was suspended because of staff shortages.
The problem was at its worst during the Covid-19 pandemic, but the figures suggest that suspension of step-free access caused by staffing issues is set to rise sharply again in 2022-23.
TfL figures show there were 20 suspensions of step-free access caused by staffing issues on London Underground in 2018-19, 88 the following year, 394 in 2020-21 – the first full year of Covid-19 – and 490 last year.
In the first four-and-a-half months of 2022-23, there have been 316 suspensions due to staffing problems.
The problem has been made worse due to faulty lifts, reports DNS, adding that suspensions are likely to reach 1,200 in 2022-23 if the current trend continues. This compares with fewer than 1,000 suspensions in both 2018-19 and 2019-20, 578 in 2020-21 and 1,059 in 2021-22.
Katie Pennick, campaigns and communications manager for Transport for All, the disabled-led organisation that campaigns on accessible transport, said it is “wholly unacceptable” that step-free access is being suspended at stations due to a lack of staffing.
“Step-free access across the London Underground is already insufficient, with only 91 out of the 272 tube stations having some degree of step-free access (and no current plans for further stations to become step free),” said Pennick.
She expressed concern over TfL’s modernisation plans, including the closure of ticket offices and cutting staff at mainline rail stations across the UK, as well as a clause in TfL’s funding settlement committing it to pursue driverless trains (LTT 3 Sep).
TfL said it is committed to providing step-free access and claimed it regularly achieves 98% availability. “Where a customer arrives at a station and step-free access is not available, staff (where available) will assist them with journey planning or provide a taxi at TfL’s cost to help get the customer to their destination,” said TfL.
TfL said that it raises awareness of step-free access suspensions via its twitter account, website, journey planner and the TfLGo app.
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