With just over half of the TfL rail network now classed as step-free, TfL has opened a consultation on how it can deliver the same to the rest, if funding can be found.
The consultation, which runs until 10th February 2022, aims to help TfL identify which aspects of making London Underground stations more accessible it should prioritise in the coming years.
If you include the London Underground, Overground, Trams, DLR and TfL Rail, then just over half (51%) are classed as step-free, but with most of the London Underground being much older, just a third of tube stations (89 out of the 272) are step-free, and even fewer have lifts from street to platform.
As part of the consultation, respondents will be asked whether they would prefer future funding to focus on upgrading a single, complex central London station, or be divided between smaller or medium-sized stations located outside central London. They will also be asked whether they would prefer for future funding to be used to improve clusters of accessible stations to create a close group of accessible stations or upgrade areas with limited accessibility or a combination of both.
This highlights the conundrum that any decision will face.
Given a set amount of money, spending all of it on a single large station in central London may seem to directly benefit fewer people than a couple of dozen smaller upgrades elsewhere. However, there are also secondary benefits to consider of people in busy stations not squeezing past people labouring with luggage or prams in narrow underground corridors. Then again, would wider access across London be better for society as a whole, even if it leaves congested inaccessible pinch points in the centre?
There is also the issue that some stations have step-free access, but only via escalators, which helps but is not much use to people in wheelchairs or those who may struggle to get on/off an escalator as fast as is needed.
Stations have been upgraded in recent years, and apart from unexpected opportunities from property developers, the upgrades that took place under the Mayor’s 2016 step-free access programme were generally decided on using a scoring system, which may help to guide respondents in thinking about how TfL should prioritise future upgrades.
TfL typically looks at four core issues:
- Distance to nearest step-free station
- Local employment, population
- Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) / Interchange opportunities
- Transport interchange and frequency nearby
Scheme Design / Deliverability
- Deliverable within the (previous) five-year plan
- Quality of step-free access that can be delivered
- Construction and engineering ability to build the upgrade
- Planning consent, listed status
- Affordable (average scheme cost of c.£6m once allowed for Programme overheads)
- The estimated cost of schemes to optimise delivery
- Availability of contributions from developers / third parties
- Time saved in monetary terms
- Revenue generated from new and existing demand, and wider economic benefits
- Improved safety and security
As you can gather, it’s a complex balancing act to decide which stations should be prioritised for upgrades.
TfL says that the consultation responses will be used to shape and inform its approach for step-free tube stations, should the Government provide funding for future programmes. TfL’s decisions are also guided by its existing Independent Disability Advisory Group.
Once the consultation closes, TfL says that it will analyse all responses received and publish findings in the spring of 2022, and these will be analysed alongside TfL’s own passenger data, transport modelling and engineering feasibility to decide which options are the most likely to be delivered, but all subject to funding.
The consultation is here. Accessible options for the consultation, such as the audio reply option and Easy Read formats are also available.
Heidi Alexander, Deputy Mayor for Transport said: “It is absolutely vital that the Government provide TfL with adequate support in the forthcoming funding settlement to allow us to move forward with these hugely important plans for more accessible stations.”
Ongoing step-free upgrades
Work is continuing on Harrow-on-the-Hill and Sudbury Hill stations in West London, which are scheduled to go step-free later this year, and discussions have re-started with TfL’s supply chain on the paused step-free improvements at Burnt Oak, Hanger Lane and Northolt. Subject to these discussions, construction work at these stations could begin by next spring, allowing them to be completed in the coming years.
In 2022, TfL will also complete step-free access at Knightsbridge as part of a third-party development scheme as well as at Moorgate, which is already step-free to the Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines via the recently opened station entrance.
TfL is also progressing step-free access work that will make Bank (Northern line only) and Paddington (Bakerloo line only) partially step-free in 2022.