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Some progress towards a more accessible underground

Given the parlous state of TfL’s finances, no immediate large scale improvements can be envisaged to the accessibility of the tube to users of wheelchairs, mobility scooters, buggies, wheeled luggage and shopping trolleys. Planning continues, however, and TfL has recently announced the results of a consultation aimed at establishing a policy for where such improvements should be made when and if funds become available. The survey targeted older and disabled people, parents and carers.

Of the more than 5,500 respondents, 66% said they would use the tube more if there were more step-free stations. Currently these comprise about a third of the network, but are concentrated on newer lines including all of the Elizabeth Line and DLR, and the Jubilee Line extension. The preference of a majority of respondents was to improve small or medium sized stations in areas where there is currently a dearth of step-free stations, stations which provide interchange with other transport services (such as mainline railways) and those serving healthcare facilities. Making larger and more complex stations (such as Baker Street) totally step-free, which would eat up a large element of what would be a limited budget, was less popular.

Meanwhile at existing step-free stations, funding is being made available to improve/repair accessible toilets, install better signage to step-free routes and enhance staff training, especially in the use of boarding ramps.

Some more good news has been announced, especially for wheelchair users whose front caster wheels can twist and get trapped in the gap even at otherwise level access points. The concept of the small bridging device, or gap filler, was thought up by a staff member and is now on trial at some stations on the Jubilee Line. It is the same width as a regular ramp but is much lighter and easier to handle. Passengers can request its use, or it will be offered by staff, who will also record customers’ comments.

The consultation was devised in coordination with TfL’s Independent Disability Advisory Group (IDAG), some of whose members also tested the new bridging device with their own wheelchairs and mobility scooters, and gave it a big thumbs up.

Maggie Heraty

Member of IDAG

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