Government screws the disabled
As a disabled person, I experience transport issues first hand, issues the abled bodied community are often oblivious too.
In late 2010 London Midland Railways, (LMR) gave notice that using an obscure 1930s regulation,that uses the average number of tickets sold per hour over a day at a station to seek either the complete closure of that ticket office or a substantial reduction in its opening hours.
This largely slipped under the radar as they say until the disabled community pointed out the inherent dangers of unmanned stations, and the added complications this made to how disabled people used the transport network.
Centro the local West Midlands Independent Transport Authority (ITA) took up the case but were quickly shown to be powerless on this issue. They lodged a strongly worded appeal to the DfT asking for this request by LMR to be denied. LMR claimed to have carried out a “consultation process” which at best was described by the disabled as paying lip service or derisory.
This is where I and a number of other disabled people came together to seek redress and to highlight the injustice and possible illegality of the station closures, closures that the Unions were protesting about and were seemingly being ignored, despite highlighting serious safety issues.
A small group that consisted of the disabled, MIND, Help the aged etc, came together and with the support and guidance of Jack Dromey MP started to make our voices heard.
In December 2011 we traveled up to London and met with the secretary of State,
Rt. Hon. Theresa Villiers MP and laid out a very strong objection to the proposed closures, pointing out that with reduced staff came long periods when Lifts, toilets, waiting rooms and other support was withdrawn, and that whilst booking 48 hours in advance was available, it often failed tom work due to poor systems and communications, and that many disabled people work and cant book 48 hours in advance due to unpredictable work patterns.
Usually these matters are resolved by the DfT quickly as they have commercial implications, but on this occasion the vexed question of the Equalities Act raised its head and which of the organisations DfT or LMR was required to make “reasonable adjustments” and just what was and wasn’t “reasonable”
In May 2012 with the matter still undecided and LMR having been ordered to carry out further consultations, Impact and Risk Basement studies, the matter was unresolved, but leaked Emails emerged suggesting that a decision had been made and that the DfT was seeking was to limits its own exposure/damage by that decision, Emails that were dismissed by the Minister as being “think tank / blue sky thinking by junior staff”.
There was a vast improvement during the Olympics and any hopes that would remain were soon dashed as services and support resorted to the previous levels of patchiness and poor communications.
On the 17th September 2012 the dfT Minister in a written statement to the House of Commons (HOC) announced a partial allowance of the LMR request; our efforts and presentations were ignored. The statement can be found at http://www.dft.gov.uk/news/statements/baker-20120917a .
The superb Jack Dromey MP raised in the HOC a point of order making the Minister who was recently appointed aware of the issues as a result after the Conference season we will be meeting the Minister.
Why does this matter? Well other Train Operating Companies (TOC’s) who are meeting today have already filed similar requests, so that a station near you may boon become a no go area for the disabled.
It is proposed for example that onboard staff will operate ramps to enable wheelers to board or leave a train, but what happens then? Who helps at the station, gets you to a closed locked of lift, does a wheeler pick up their chair and walk? Are we expecting miracles on the 8.34 fro Euston?
The fight goes on but please be aware of what’s happening near you.we also have a meeting later this week with the CEO of LMR to further make the company aware of the issues after we ambushed him on radio WM recently, so watch this space.