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Mayor’s step-free access spending set to plunge to zero

The decision of London’s mayor to invest nothing in improving step-free access to the capital’s tube network for the next three years has been described as an “insult” to disabled and older people.

Accessible transport campaigners have discovered a Transport for London (TfL) business plan which shows that investment in step-free access in 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 will be zero.

In the document, which outlines how much TfL will be investing across London Underground until 2017-18, the “step-free access” section shows that investment in 2009-10 was about £47 million, before falling to about £33 million in 2010-11, about £28 million in 2011-12 and about £23 million this year, but will plunge to zero for the next three years. Even in 2016-17, there will only be about £4 million investment in step-free access, and less than £10 million in 2017-18. Transport for All (TfA), which campaigns for accessible transport in London, said the decision was “an insult to disabled and older Londoners”, undermines TfL’s claim that access was a “priority” and shows “complete disregard for disabled people’s right to travel”.

Lianna Etkind, TfA’s campaigns and outreach co-ordinator, said TfL’s long-standing promise to ensure a third of the tube would be step-free by 2012 had been “eroded time and time again”. She said London was being “left behind” at a time when the government had more than doubled investment in a major part of its Access for All programme to improve access to Britain’s railway stations, recognising that “in a time of squeezed budgets, there’s a strong economic case for accessible transport”.

Etkind said: “Those of us who can’t use steps remain excluded from almost all of the tube network, and as a result, excluded from work, family life, and socialising in London. “If the mayor is serious about a London where disabled and older people enjoy equality and are included in all that the capital has to offer, he must take the lead and restart investment in an accessible London Underground, so that older and disabled Londoners can travel with the same freedom and independence as everyone else.”

Transport for London’s position is still unclear. It initially claimed that the document was “out of date” and that step-free work “continues through a range of other projects”, such as the major Crossrail and station upgrade programmes. But TfL has so far been unable to explain why the document showed investment in step-free access plunging from £47 million to zero in just four years.

A TfL spokesman said it had invested “hundreds of millions of pounds in making the transport network more accessible in the last few years” and was “constantly improving” accessibility. He said 65 (of a total of 270) tube stations were now step-free from street to platform, with another station to be added this summer, with “plans to deliver step-free access at a further seven stations by 2018”.

But TfL has so far been unable to clarify why the figures show such a dramatic fall.

It is believed that most – if not all – of the access upgrades to the seven stations could be due to work carried out at railway stations through Access for All and Crossrail.