It’s 2018 and 8 years since the implementation of the Equality Act 2010. You may be forgiven for thinking that companies and organisations had got their act together and were ensuring that all services were accessible. However, recent investigations into London Underground (LU) show there is much work to be done to improve services.
Let’s look at just one case. Last year Alison travelled from Walthamstow Central to Oxford Circus on the Underground with her sister-in-law Claire. Alison’s guide dog is not escalator trained. At most Underground stations, there is a choice of escalators or stairs. At Oxford Circus there are three escalators but no stairs or lift. A fellow passenger saw that they needed help and offered her assistance in carrying the guide dog up the escalator.
Claire then went onto St Paul’s where a member of LU staff told her to ‘phone customer services and inform them of time of travel back as it may be possible to stop the escalator so they could walk down. After ten minutes on hold, Claire gave up. At Oxford Circus another member of staff also said it may be possible to stop the escalator but at the discretion of the station manager. Alison needed to get back to Kings Cross but the Station Manager refused to stop the escalator as 5.00pm was a busy period. The nearest station was Green Park and not convenient. Alison and Claire got a cab to Kings Cross where the driver waived part of the fare.
“Switching off one out of three possible escalators to allow a blind passenger with their guide dog to walk down would not have caused any inconvenience to other passengers as they still would have had the option to walk down or wait for an escalator. The time that it would have taken us to walk down the escalator would have been approximately five minutes, however this was deemed too inconvenient” says Claire.
A recent poll on Facebook showed overwhelmingly that the general public agreed with her. People were asked if they would object to one of the 3 escalators being stopped for five minutes to allow an untrained guide dog and its owner to walk up or down the stairs.
However, others were just as pragmatic, saying little different to finding an escalator broken.
A tube driver who wanted to remain anonymous said “To be honest, they seem more interested in targets and budgets rather than caring for the safety of customers, most outside tube stations are left unstaffed with just a phone number to call for help, how is that caring?”
There is certainly some confusion regarding policies and what if any of this is part of any training staff have to ensure everyone has the same message and treats people equally. The Accessible Network 2015 document states “We provide our customers with alternative travel arrangements, if needed, when lifts or escalators are out of service. This may mean a taxi provided at our cost.” So not if they are working but can’t be used?
Transport for London also states in Help from Staff that “On the Tube, TfL Rail and Overground, station staff will also accompany you to the train and help you on board and, if needed, can arrange for you to be met at your destination. Anyone can use this service, but it is particularly used by blind and visually impaired passengers and people using boarding ramps onto trains.”
The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination. A company must make adaptions for people with disabilities where possible. Here it was possible? Even if the escalator could not have been stopped where was a member of staff to carry the dog to enable a disabled person to use the services?
The TFL underground policy with regards assistance dogs which are not trained to use escalators and believe restricting disabled passengers to non busy travelling times is discriminatory and therefore illegal. The Transport for London’s People with sight or hearing loss policy states that station staff will help find an alternative route however the alternative route suggested would have been a further distance away from the required destination and they gave no further help.
As a result of the service Alison and Claire incurred a black cab fare of £12.60 and despite paying money onto an Oyster card, did not make the journey from Oxford Circus to Kings Cross.
Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 Alison is entitled to receive services carried out with reasonable skill and care. 1) The customer services line clearly does not have enough people to deal with calls, 2) staff from two different stations said that they should be able to stop the escalator showing a lack of training across customer facing staff 3) no alternative was provided and service was refused. This was refused on grounds of disability which is a breach of the Equality Act 2010.
Claire wrote to TFL about the issues and after chasing twice finally got a response from London Transport over three weeks later. She received an apology and the cab fare.
When I asked the Transport for London Press Office for some clarity regarding their policies regarding stopping escalators for untrained guide dogs, stations able and unable to do this and providing taxi fares, it took 8 days to find out saying that it had had to “…co-ordinate with a lot of different areas in the business which has taken some time”, indicating that there is not a clear understanding across the network. In a statement it said:
“We want blind and visually impaired people to be able to travel around London with confidence and we are putting more staff than ever before in the public areas of stations to provide assistance. Assistance dogs are very much welcome and for a number of years we’ve been working with Guide Dogs to provide a training package so that guide dogs can use escalators.
When a customer travels on the network with their assistance dog, they will usually be helped to access the platform via a staircase or lift. If the station only has an escalator, assistance dogs that have been trained can use that.
For their safety, dogs that haven’t been trained should, if at all possible, be carried. Where this option is not possible, a member of staff can stop the escalator to help a blind or visually impaired person and their dog walk up or down safely.
At some times of day the Tube can be very busy, so there may be occasions when, to avoid overcrowding, we are unable to stop an escalator. In that case our staff will offer blind or visually impaired customers a taxi.”
I emailed the London Transport Commissioner asking for comment on the following:
1) Why it took over 3 weeks to receive a reply.
2) There was not a thorough investigation as clearly shown by the very brief email from Vernon. Every single paragraph is a standard one and does not refer to the individual case in any shape or form other than a sentence acknowledging that a taxi should have been paid for.
3) The policies referred to in the letter were not mentioned at all. Where is any comment regarding the breaches?
4) No reference is made to the unacceptable length of time Ms Williams was left on the phone before giving up, please provide an explanation for this time and what you will be doing to improve wait times
5) No reference is made at all to identifying members of staff despite being provided with dates and times or how you will ensure staff provide correct information in future. “I will make sure our staff are reminded of our policy and apply it”. How, what parts and how will they apply it and over what period of time?
6) Vernon states that LT is not in breach of the Equality Act but makes no reference to staff providing differing information and not providing an alternative and how this does not breach the Act. How is this not a breach?
7) Vernon makes no reference to the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and the breach by not providing services with reasonable skill and care. Please do so.
8) Why weren’t these points answered in the email Ms Williams finally received?
The response? Back came the Managing Director, Customers, Communication and Technology.
“I am very sorry that you that you do not consider my response to have been timely and that I have failed to cover all of your points.
All I can add is that we are committed to making public transport accessible to all Londoners, backed up by record investment in new step-free station schemes and better information and other support to give people with disabilities greater confidence to use our services. We are also human and sometimes make mistakes, as we did in this case.”
As you can see from the extent of the above, London Transport does not appear to investigate complaints properly, does little to help disabled passengers and nothing to ensure that what help there is, is widely communicated to both staff and passengers.
Share your stories of transport and discrimination in the comments below. I have a feeling that there will be a few….