Thursday, 20 January 2011

Disabled people's access too expensive: Boris

The only question about Shepherd's Bush was asked by your very own blogger at last night's "Let's Talk Transport" event at a 1930s retro Town Hall in Greenford. Arriving on the packed bus I realised I was at the venue by the blue glow radiating from the town hall which had been illuminated in the Mayor's honour for the evening.

So into the blue beacon I went expecting to hear questions from across West London, given that this event was billed as being West London. Silly me. Actually what we heard was detailed debate of the width of Greenford's pavements and the history of cycling in Ealing, which Council Leader Julian Bell proclaimed as a "biking borough".

So it was a meeting full of slogans and not a little thinly disguised electioneering, especially from the Mayor who of course is up for, er, election next year. He wanted serious credit for investing in transport, especially the shiny new trains. Deciding to try and puncture some of this bluster I asked one of the first questions of the night about a favourite topic of mine that never ceases to make me angry - the fact that the new Shepherd's Bush tube was built with no - yes no - disabled access even though it was a brand new station.

Noting that my journey had started at a station that disabled people could not use - Shepherd's Bush - and ended at another one that disabled people cannot use - Greenford - I asked the Mayor why £39 million had been wasted on a feasibility study that concluded that a simple lift would cost in excess of £100 million. I put it to Boris that this was both economically inept and morally just wrong.

Boris' reply started out positively, saying that step-free access was "not off the agenda", but it went swiftly downhill from there, with his answer basically saying that it was far too expensive and that if he kept trying to spend all this money on allowing disabled people to use tube stations he might lose Crossrail because, goodness me, that was expensive too donchaknow.

I had asked him whether he might do something about it this side of the election or afterwards, and couldn't resist the comment "assuming you're still the Mayor", prompting groans and sighs from the Boris fan club siting around me. Answer to that there came none. I also asked whether he could guarantee the brand new Crossrail trains would be fully accessible which, in fairness, he pledged they would be.

And then came the deluge - we had stories of disabled people being unable to use tube stations, bus drivers not using the ramps they were equipped with because they took too much time and even a wheelchair bound woman who'd been sworn at by a bus driver and ignored by black cabs. To this Boris attempted some of his Have I got News For You style humour by describing it as a "virtual insurrection" over disabled access, which he would take back and earnestly discuss with TfL. But, he said, he couldn't promise anything.

And he certainly didn't.

I recently took part in a BBC Inside Out documentary on this very subject, which will be broadcast on Feb 14th. Yes that's Valentine's Day - what better use of such a day could there be than watching me on the telly talking about disabled access to the tube?


  1. I was very glad you got your question in - the questions had been very carefully engineered so that the audience *had* to ask questions about Crossrail, HS2 or Cycling, taking up most of the time. Boris said several times: "Do you know how much that costs/cost?!" when referring to disabled access. Shame nobody said that to him when he went on about his cycle hire scheme and Cycle "Superhighways" - unlimited amounts of money chucked at them so he can be Seen To Be Doing Something.

    Why was David Brown, Surface Transport, sitting in the gallery? He should have been on the panel instead of the token woman who was utterly useless.

  2. Will be interesting to see how much extra pressure is generated around accessible transport come the Paralympics. Can't see it being quite so easy to ignore when the full glare of the media rests on accessibility and achievement rather than expense and cost?!?