Transport for London (TfL), the organisation responsible for running the London Underground, has said that some step-free projects which would allow wheelchair users full access to platforms may be postponed or cancelled. The BBC reports that a lack of funds may mean that plans for improved access could be shelved. 

The TfL has been experiencing financial troubles since it suffered major shortfalls in revenue during the pandemic, and has required a series of government bailouts. A recent survey found that two-thirds of potential customers would use the Tube more if there were a greater number of step-free stations.

Step-free access means that there are either lifts, ramps, or level surfaces in place, so that wheelchair users or those with pushchairs, prams, other heavy wheeled luggage, or mobility issues can avoid stairs, or/and the gap between the platform edge and the train. 

Currently, around a third of all Tube stations have step-free access, including all 41 stations on the new Elizabeth Line. At least three projects which were due to include step-free access at Tube stations before the pandemic have now been cancelled.

Mark Evers, Transport for London’s Chief Customer Officer, said: “Making our transport network more accessible and inclusive is a top priority for us, as we know that a more accessible public transport network benefits everyone.”

He added: “The response to the consultation shows how important accessibility is for encouraging more people to use public transport. The bridging device has been designed to improve customers’ confidence and experience of using the network and I hope as many people as possible try it out during the trial period.”

“The results of the step-free access consultation have already been embedded in our short-term work to improve accessibility and will continue to shape our future goals.”

Disability rights organisations have criticised the TfL, claiming that the situation is detrimental to the rights of disabled people in the UK, who may be discouraged from attending health appointments and keeping up with social contacts. 

Seb Dance, Deputy Mayor for Transport said: “We are working hard to improve step-free accessibility across the TfL network in order to build a better, fairer London for everyone. This new trial is one example of how we are seeking out innovative solutions to enhance step-free access.”

He added: “It is also vital that our accessibility plans are informed by disabled and older customers and I am delighted that we have had such a great response to the consultation.”

“I’m pleased that there are now more than 200 step-free stations across the TfL network are step-free and with the recent opening of Bond Street station, all 41 Elizabeth line stations have step-free access, with the majority of central stations on the line being step-free from street to train.”

“There is still work to do, and we will ensure that this feedback shapes how we prioritise and deliver step-free stations into the future.”

A new special bridging device is being trialled at stations on the Elizabeth Line, which is designed to give wheelchair uses more support and confidence when crossing between the plan and the platform edge.