We should all be able to travel with freedom and confidence. However, this is not the case for many Disabled people due to inaccessibility. Earlier this year, there was a proposal to close almost 1000 rail ticket offices across England. Merton CIL and its dedicated group of Access Champions set out with the aim to speak up about how this change would affect the independence of Disabled people.
We reached out to Transport for All to explore ways that we could get involved in campaigning around this issue. We joined forces with 90 other organisations, including both those that represented Disabled people and allies, to sign a joint letter that stated that the coalition ‘objects to the proposals in the strongest possible terms’ and argues that the plans would ‘severely curtail Disabled passengers’ ability to ‘Turn Up and Go’.
We thought it was important for the train companies operating at stations in Merton to also involve local Disabled people in the consultation and decision making process around the proposed changes. We wrote to South Western Rail (SWR) and Southern Rail to request engagement with our Access Champions group. We were delighted to receive a response from South Western Rail, that included the offer to meet with their Senior Accessibility and Inclusion Manager, which our Access Champions accepted. We did not hear back from Southern Rail.
We planned to meet with SWR in early November. However, on 31st October 2023, the Government announced they would be scrapping plans to close ticket offices. This was due to an estimated 750,000 responses to their consultation, of which 99% of which were objections. This was a huge success for Transport for All, who led the campaigning work and all other DPOs and allies involved.
Even though the Government made a U-turn decision, SWR were still keen to meet with us. Our Access Champions and SWR’s Senior Accessibility & Inclusion Manager met on 2nd November and discussed the company’s commitments to improve accessibility and ideas and experiences of Access Champions. For example, SWR has a pan-disability panel comprising six Disabled members with whom they work on access issues, ensures that all staff have disability awareness training, put a guard on every train, and are aiming to introduce various improvements to stations, such as BSL on information screens and better signage to indicate step-free access. However, our Access Champions highlighted the significant problem of large gaps between trains and platforms at several stations, which has caused great anxiety and resulted in members of the public stepping in to help them on and off trains.
We agreed to stay in contact going forward and SWR are keen to hear from Merton CIL and its Access Champions whenever there is an issue we think they may be able to help improve for local Disabled people.
Are you interested in being involved in work making our community more accessible for all? Find out more about becoming an Access Champion here.