London’s transport boss appears cautiously optimistic that the capital’s public transport network will stand up to carrying tens of thousands of disabled people to and from the London 2012 Paralympics.
Peter Hendy, Transport for London’s (TfL) commissioner, told Disability News Service (DNS) that TfL was “not in a bad place” when it came to readiness for the Paralympics, but he stressed that there would be no complacency.
He said provision for disabled passengers during the Olympics “seems to have gone pretty well”, but that an extra challenge with the Paralympics would be that TfL was expecting more large groups of disabled people to be travelling together on public transport.
He said such groups were being asked to “plan their journeys quite carefully” as many of the tube network’s lifts could only take one or two wheelchairs at a time.
He also said TfL was “very keen” to continue with the experiment of using portable wheelchair ramps on some underground platforms, once the games had ended, and would “not take them out of use very willingly”.
Hendy also defended the mayor’s record on improving step-free access across the tube network, in which only 66 of 270 tube stations are step-free from street to platform.
The mayor, Boris Johnson, had earlier told a press conference that he agreed with a foreign journalist that there was “still a lot of work to do” to make London’s tube stations accessible.
But Johnson said that having the Paralympics in London had “empowered very substantial sums” to be spent on access improvements as part of larger works at major stations such as Green Park and King’s Cross.
Hendy said later that most of the stations that were “really easy” to make step-free “have all been done” and that “the stations that make a difference” in improving disabled people’s ability to travel around the capital were large interchanges such as King’s Cross, Stratford and Green Park, where such work had been carried out.
Hendy admitted that – as DNS revealed two months ago – investment in projects solely focused on providing step-free tube access would plunge to zero for three years from 2013-14.
But he argued that it was “a lot better value” to carry out step-free work as part of larger station upgrade projects.
He also said that stations where introducing step-free access might be easier – such as some stations in the suburbs – would not benefit as many disabled people as focusing on more expensive work in much larger stations.