Gemma Hope, Director of Policy at Leonard Cheshire describes the benefits of making rail travel more accessible
There are 14.1 million disabled people in the UK. As people live longer, we should expect the prevalence of disability and longterm health conditions in our society to increase. But how well is our rail network working for disabled people, and how will it cope in the future? Last year, Leonard Cheshire found almost half our stations are not step-free (41 per cent). This excludes some disabled people from travelling by train from their local station for work, education or to see friends and loved ones. At the current rate of improvement, work across the whole rail network wouldn’t be completed until 2070 as part of the government’s Access for All funded projects.
Everyone should have the right to travel where they want So, Leonard Cheshire wants end-to-end journeys to be fully accessible from the purchase of a ticket through to station and on-board train information. What kind of difference would this make to society? If accessibility is achieved, our research showed it could help around 51,000 people with work-limiting disabilities into employment. In fact, our economic modelling showed the knock-on impact would include benefits to the Exchequer of as much as £900 million, with a potential £2.5 billion boost to economy too. You really can’t overstate how game-changing inclusive transport is.
Emily, from London put it this way: ‘I want to lead an independent life, but one of the struggles I face as a legally blind person is travel. As someone in my mid-20s, I’m broadening my horizons to look for work and to build a career. Yet one of the questions I often ask myself when applying for jobs is ‘how am I going to get there?’.’ Similarly, Simon from Cambridgeshire told us: ‘I worry about how inaccessible transport stops people from entering the job market. I usually need a taxi before and after any train journey. Only those in paid employment have the luxury of receiving help with such costs from Access to Work.
‘You don’t get that help for unpaid work experience, voluntary work or even going for an interview. If you must take a longer route to avoid unmanned stations, that will make your taxi journey even pricier. There’s no help for the extra travel costs disabled people face. This has screwed up employment prospects more than anything else.’
Of course, accessibility requires funding up front. An estimated £4.3 billion is needed for creating step free access to platform level for disabled people across the rail network. Sounds big, but it’s just a fraction of overall transport capital spending. It’s the equivalent of just a single year of spending on High Speed 2. It’s just two per cent of current transport capital investment.
Emma, from Birmingham said: ‘When I hear how much money it would cost to make stations accessible, it’s frustrating. To the government that’s a tiny amount, but it could make such an impact on disabled people’s lives. The government should make the investment and reap the benefits of the purple pound. It would boost our spending and earning power.’
Our charity will continue to call on the government for funding for greater rail accessibility. While we wait for change, it’s really important to think about the passengers who are trying to travel but facing difficulties. Accessibility is far more than just step-free stations. Sarah, from East Midlands told us what An accessible railway is better equipped for the future rail travel is like for her: ‘I’ll be sat waiting for rail travel assistance, thinking ‘I’ve got a connection; I’ve got to go somewhere else’. Many times I end up missing my connection and having to cancel the plans I had with my friends.’
Rail networks and rail professionals have made notable improvements in this last decade. We also welcomed the findings of the Williams-Shapps Review and believe it is an important step-forward. The plan for dedicated funding for accessibility improvements is a sign of more serious investment in this aspect of rail travel. Going forward, we would encourage more consultation with disabled people to understand what they need from the rail network.
Earlier this year, we threw our support behind the Department for Transport’s ‘It’s Everyone’s Journey’ campaign. Because as more people begin to use public transport again, it’s the ideal opportunity to reassess attitudes towards disabled passengers and raise awareness about the various ways accessible travel can be improved.
Hopefully this article has given you insight into why public awareness campaigns are only one part of making rail work for everyone. Whenever we think about how our rail networks work and what our rail networks need to do in the future, accessibility, in all its forms, needs to be on every stakeholder’s radar. Put simply, the future of rail must not continue to exclude such a large part of our population.
For now, at Leonard Cheshire, we call on Boris Johnson to prioritise the acceleration of Access for All, so disabled people can enjoy the life opportunities provided through modern, accessible rail travel. We want to raise awareness about all the different ways rail could be more inclusive and show that this doesn’t cost the earth. To find out more about Leonard Cheshire’s accessible train campaign please visit: leonardcheshire.org/get-involved/campaign-us/accessible-trains.