A rail company’s decision to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour by closing a main access gate had provoked a storm of criticism from rail users, the local authority and MPs.
The closure has also revealed evidence of a lack of awareness among rail company staff and British Transport Police officers, who have been accused of failing to understand that not all impairments are visible.
TransPennine Express closed the gate at Hull Paragon Interchange in June between 9.30am and 4.30pm, saying it was for a trial period during which they would consider solutions for the problems they faced with crime and antisocial behaviour at the entrance.
Disabled and non-disabled station users complained that the other access routes were inadequate for various reasons, including distance, problems with kerbs and distance from taxi drop-off points.
An online petition launched to oppose the closure quickly secured more than 10,000 signatures, Hull City Council has voted unanimously to back the campaign to open the gate and further support has come from the city’s MPs.
TransPennine Express has maintained its position, with the result that there are now calls for the firm to be stripped of its franchise to run the station.
The rail company says access arrangements that meet Office of Rail and Road requirements and Equalities legislation are in place for those who need assistance. The company adds that customers who are vulnerable, have a disability or those who require extra assistance and wish to still use the entrance during the trial period can call the dedicated number which is clearly signposted and provided audibly at the entrance.
However, within days of closing the gate for the first time the company was hit with a complaint from a visually-impaired traveller, Tracey Dearing, who said she had to wait 20 minutes for someone to let her through. Tracey subsequently launched the campaign to open the gate.
More recently, another traveller who has mobility problems because of an historic leg injury, claimed he was confronted by station staff after he asked them to open the gate. He said he was told he “didn’t look disabled” because he didn’t have a stick or a wheelchair. He further claims that an officer from British Transport Police also doubted him.
TransPennine Express is investigating the allegations but is persisting with the closure plan.
Tracey told local media she knew of many people who have struggled to gain access to the station. She said: “It’s a public service and it is an absolute right for us to get to where we want to go in the city no matter who we are.”
Daren Hale, Deputy Leader of Hull City Council, said: “Having tried to reason with TPE and advocate on behalf of rail users and disabled people I feel there is no alternative now but to seek the removal of this organisation from the station.
“They are treating the rail users of Hull with utter contempt and refuse to see any sense. They prefer to inconvenience their customers than to act to improve at our only railway station.
“We will seek support from Transport for the North and from the Secretary of State to intervene immediately and resolve this issue. This type of behaviour would not even be attempted in any other city and we will not stand for it here either.”