I am currently on holiday in Colombia this week, so I was not expecting to do a longer post until I got back to the UK. Unfortunately, these past few days have brought a barrage of extremely negative news regarding future step-free access schemes in London. At the centre of this disaster is the Crossrail project’s never-ending delays and rising costs. As TfL struggles to get the megaproject under control, everything else, including accessibility, is experiencing severe setbacks.
“On time and on budget”?
Crossrail, or the Elizabeth Line, is currently the largest rail infrastructure project under construction in London. Due to open last week on 9th December, the inauguration of the first phase was initially postponed to Autumn 2019 due to unfinished works and insufficient testing. However, TfL now admits that even the Autumn 2019 date may be unachievable, and that the project may need up to an additional £2bn to be completed. There are many questions surrounding when the delays were first known as well as why they were allowed to escalate to such an extent that there is now no set completion date. London Reconnections does an amazing job at detailing this complicated saga in its latest article.
Accessibility-wise, the Elizabeth Line’s latest delay obviously impacts the number of fully step-free stations in London since the 10 new level boarding stations will not be ready for potentially more than a year. However, it is also important to consider that this latest funding crisis as well as the expected £20m missed revenue will only add to TfL’s dire financial situation. Only a few days after the Crossrail announcement, TfL published its latest business plan. In short, TfL is making cuts and accessibility takes a big hit.
Accessibility bears the brunt
As early as January 2018, TfL promised that 40% of the Underground network would be step-free by Spring 2022, greatly bolstered by the Mayor’s ambitious step-free access programme. The programme was to consist of 30 stations, 23 of which had already been announced. Unfortunately, the latest business plan shows significant de-scoping. There is no longer any mention of the 7 missing stations, at least six stations (Boston Manor, Ruislip, North Ealing, Snaresbrook, Park Royal and Rickmansworth) will have 2-year delays to 2023/2024, and the newest soundbite is now 34% of step-free Underground stations by 2020. The updated SfL future step-free station list can be found here.
Incredibly, TfL plans to deliver 15 stations within the next 18 months but only 6 stations in the 4 years after that! This is absolutely devastating and threatens to derail all of the hard work done to make step-free access a main priority for the future of the Underground. Furthermore, other step-free schemes, such as Camden Town, are now in limbo. I understand that TfL has deep financial problems from many different sources (decreasing government funding, fare-freezing, Crossrail, etc.), but I am very disappointed to see how the Mayor is quietly de-scoping his step-free station programme while trying to rebrand what is left as a major win.
I believe TfL should instead be very public about the extent to which step-free access schemes will be negatively impacted and seek other sources of funding, offer some sort of solution, or at least just show some level of transparency for once. Step-free access schemes are not vanity projects or nice-to-have perks. They are attempts to reverse the damaging status quo that has long prevented disabled passengers from enjoying the transport flexibility and mobility that so many of us take for granted. The accessibility disaster needs to be heard just as loudly as Crossrail’s!
On a lighter note, I did try to find something positive out of that depressing report. One thing TfL may do to reduce its Elizabeth Line revenue loss is to have TfL Rail take over the existing services between Paddington and Reading before the line starts running through Central London. As I said in my previous post, such a move would bring Reading into the Oyster Zone, which would greatly simplify travel between Berkshire and London.