Disabled campaigners have welcomed the decision to reverse some of the cuts to station staff made last year by the body that runs London’s tube network.
Transport for All (TfA), which represents London’s disabled and older transport users, has been campaigning for London Underground (LU) to replace 800 posts that were lost in cost-cutting a year ago.
It has also been raising concerns about LU’s decision last year to reduce ticket office opening hours at most stations.
TfA said its advocacy helpline had been receiving an “unprecedented” number of calls from older and disabled people who had arrived at a tube station to find it deserted or with no staff available to provide assistance.
Although LU is only recruiting 300 new customer service assistants over the next six months, TfA said the move would reassure disabled people, although it “remains to be seen” whether this “will go far enough in safeguarding disabled and older Londoners’ ability to use the tube with confidence”.
Many blind people rely on staff to guide them to platforms, while wheelchair-users often need assistance to board trains safely, and disabled people can also need advice on planning an accessible journey.
But a London TravelWatch mystery shopping survey, published last month, found that ticket barriers were not being staffed consistently and were frequently deserted, and that London Underground was not honouring its commitment to ensure members of staff were clearly visible during all opening hours.
Lianna Etkind, TfA’s campaigns and outreach co-ordinator, said: “When you’re standing on an empty platform late at night, knowing that a CCTV camera might record an attack is not much comfort. Automated help points and CCTV cameras can never replace trained, helpful members of staff.”
Etkind added: “With less than a quarter of stations step-free to the platform and a measly ten stations step-free including onto the train, London Underground is inaccessible enough as it is.
“Disabled and older Londoners should never have to rely on the goodwill of random strangers to get to the right platform or disembark safely from a train.”
She said TfA would monitor the impact of the new staff, and urged older and disabled passengers to get in touch if they came across unstaffed stations or a lack of LU staff available to assist them.
An LU spokeswoman said the 300 new customer service assistants would only return station staff numbers to the level they were at in February 2011 after the cost-cutting, and followed a recruitment freeze that had lasted more than three years.
She said LU’s own independent surveys showed staff were present in ticket halls in 98 per cent of visits, and were “visible and available to assist our customers, and score highly for politeness and helpfulness”.
She added: “Instead of having staff stationed in under-used ticket offices, LU wants them out on the stations where customers need them – on platforms, in ticket halls and at gate lines where they can assist passengers.”