Trials of a miniature boarding ramp to improve accessibility on the London Underground have proven sufficiently successful that they will be deployed at more tube stations. The lightweight ramps are being supplied to tube stations where there is a gap between the platform and the train, which looks quite small but is just about large enough to be a problem for some users.

James Lee, a member of TfL’s Independent Disability Advisory Group, demonstrates the miniature ramp

Accessibility issues on the oldest parts of the London Underground are well known, but even the newer parts of the tube can have gaps between trains and platforms. When the Victoria line was built, there was still a one-size-fits-all attitude when making stations accessible, so while they are accessible to many, they’re not for all.

Of course, that’s because not everyone is the same, and mobility aids such as wheelchairs now come in a wide range of sizes and capabilities, sometimes with additional smaller wheels at the front and rear. There’s a risk that those small wheels can get stuck in small gaps between train and platform, so stations that superficially look like they should be step-free might not be in practice.

Therefore, the new miniature ramps not only improve accessibility for people with mobility requirements but by reducing accidental wheel jams in the gaps, they also reduce delays on the trains for everyone else. This is an example of a situation where spending on improving accessibility for some can improve the journey for everyone.

With an intensive service such as on the Victoria line, the lightweight ramps are much quicker to use than the heavy ramps needed elsewhere. They are so lightweight that, as Tottenham Hale station’s Customer Services Manager explained at a demonstration this morning, some users were initially apprehensive that they wouldn’t carry the wheelchair’s weight. However, as they’re designed to support 300kg, they can handle the heaviest of wheelchairs.

Miniature ramp in storage on the platform

During the earlier trials, TfL research found that nearly two-thirds of users would be more likely to travel with this device.

They’re also very quick to put into position.

Earnest, Seb and James as a train approaches the station

A demonstration attended by Seb Dance, the Deputy Mayor for Transport at Tottenham Hale station, showed that they’re very quick for a single member of station staff to slot into position, and James Lee, a local resident and member of TfL’s Independent Disability Advisory Group showed how they are used in practice.

Apart from improving accessibility on the Victoria line, Tottenham Hale station has recently been rebuilt, adding step-free access to the mainline stations, a new shared entrance with the Victoria line and step-free access between the two rail services along with a new lift to replace the old unreliable one. A mix of local developer contributions, TfL and Network Rail funded the upgrade.

At the same time, Transport for London (TfL) has today published a new customer plan, Equity in Motion, that commits to improving accessibility and inclusion in the transport network.

TfL will also review its approach to translating communications into different languages, including British Sign Language. Adding BSL to signs often confuses observers who wonder why deaf people can’t read the display boards — but for many BSL users, written English is often a second language, and reading skills can be lower than when using sign language. So, adding BSL improves accessibility.

There’s also a plan to increase the number of step-free access stations, expand the Project Guardian school sessions on sexual harassment, and make it easier for people to report crime, antisocial behaviour, discrimination, and safety concerns.

Subject to funding, the aim is to add step-free access to more tube stations so that at least half the network is accessible. Previous research found that an even spread of station upgrades across London would be better than concentrated pockets so that people who live close to a station that lacks step-free access might at least be able to take other transport to get to the next station along that does have lifts to the platform.

The ongoing refurbishment of the Bakerloo, Central and Waterloo & City line trains will also include more space for wheelchairs inside the carriages.

Emma Vogelmann, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at Transport for All, said: “These new commitments are really encouraging for the 1.2 million Londoners who are disabled, and are a positive approach to addressing some of the most significant barriers we face when getting around the capital.

“Access barriers for travelling in London include a lack of step-free stations, few priority seats on buses, and missing or inaccessible travel information – all of which can conspire to making our journeys longer or more painful, or even stop us getting beyond the front door. We’re pleased to see TfL commit to making changes to tackle these barriers. Coproducing schemes with the disabled community will be vital to ensure the measures in this plan can bring about real change.”

TfL’s new Equity in Motion plan is available to view here.


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  1. Paul says:

    My father, who’s been deaf since he was a child, has said to me that he finds the provision of BSL as both patronising to deaf people and a waste of money. “Deaf people aren’t stupid, we can read” was his summary.

  2. Thomas says:

    Always good to see improved accessibility but does anyone know how this works in practice. How do station staff know you’re in a wheelchair?

    • ianVisits says:

      The same way they do with the existing big ramps – when a person needs assistance, they notify staff at the station they start at and the staff radio ahead to ensure assistance is available at the destination.

  3. Hannah says:

    Kind of surprised this is needed. My Dad’s wheelchair has tiny wheels and always goes smoothly between platform and tube. Without being too cynical, this might be a way of trying to insist that additional staff are needed on the platforms, as part of the union’s negotiation position.

    • Mike Smith says:

      Maybe your dad has strong arms and/or is really good at flipping his front wheels up. Or has assistance to get in and out. Or just happens to be able to use stations that are the most appropriate (Green A stations on the step-free access map). I know loads of people who struggle with the gap. I do in my electric wheelchair in some stations. Why would you assume that all wheelchair users are the same as your dad? Ian has already gone to some lengths in this article to explain some of the variation.

      My almost overwhelming experience of underground staff is that they are beyond helpful when you are asking to use the existing manual boarding ramps at stations that require them. But there are times when I’ve been held up from taking a journey because there wasn’t someone available at the other end. So yes, I’m afraid you are being too cynical

  4. Mike Smith says:

    Hi there Ian, great article as always. I saw this story on Friday in The Standard, and came to look at your website to see if you had any more detail and of course you do. But I can’t find anything (substantive) on the Transport for London website, or Twitter feed. Personally I think it’s a great idea. I was trying to find out more information on which stations they might be used out in the future (presumably some of the stations which were amber, or B, on the tube accessibility map (but now seem to be just left as not accessible)

    As an electric wheelchair user I’ve been working out which carriages to get on at Victoria and Tower Hill to avoid having to use the manual ramps and equally, avoid having to do the leap of faith across the gap. If this ramp usage becomes more mainstream it could make a real difference to wheelchair users in terms of the amount of London which becomes accessible. I often seem to go through stations where the gap is just a bit too big)

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