A map showing the spatial distribution of stations with and without step-free access across Great Britain
This map takes step free access data for each of Great Britain’s 2,572 main-line railway stations as listed in Knowledgebase (the rail industry’s station information database) on 3rd February 2018. (There are actually 2,563 stations – the extra 9 in the database are bizarre anomalies such as including Elephant and Castle underground station.)
There are significant accuracy problems with the information in this database, particularly on step-free access. One significant problem is that the database’s owners (Rail Delivery Group) unilaterally eradicated the “partial step-free access” category in a cost-cutting exercise a couple of years ago (without changing the database specification…). In the process they designated “partially step free” stations (with step-free access to some platforms but not others) as being either entirely step-free or having no step-free access at all, without any clear method for said re-designation. Other accuracy issues include that station operating companies (mainly train operating companies and Network Rail) are… patchy in their compliance with their licensing obligation to make sure that this information is correct, and Rail Delivery Group are patchy in their technical processes for updating the database when station operators provide this information.
So the above isn’t 100% correct in detail. However, the overall impression it gives is correct.
A better version for people with colour-blindness (sorry, I should have thought of that!)
A map showing the spatial distribution of stations with and without step-free access across Great Britain, with better colour contrast for colour-blind people.
There are good examples of disabled people enforcing the duty to make reasonable adjustments. Noble Lords will no doubt have heard of the case of Mr Paulley, who has successfully enforced the Act on many occasions.
I wish to specifically refute that the Equality Act works for disabled people or that it is enforceable in any realistic manner by anybody.
Nearly all disabled people have little to no prospect of enforcing their rights under the Equality Act.
I go on to talk about some of the barriers disabled people experience that scupper any chance of enforcing their rights, including internalised oppression, no serious attempt at providing education, lack of personal assistance, the lack of legal representation, the impenetrable nature of the court system, lack of legal funding, the financial and other risks, the energy and other costs – to name but a few. I quoted Cloisters Chambers’ input into the Equality Bill,
Cloisters [Chambers] point out that in any event, relying upon individuals to bring about systemic change through individual litigation places a heavy burden upon disabled people who, in many instances, experience discrimination on a daily basis which it would be time consuming and exhausting to challenge on each and every occasion.
That is every bit as much the case now as it was when Cloisters said it in 2009.
Not only does the Equality Act not work for disabled people in general, it doesn’t work for me. It takes an inordinate amount of time and energy for me to take cases. It affects me profoundly. I risk financial ruination every time I take a case. I don’t always win, and even when I do, it doesn’t achieve anything like systematic change in service provision to disabled people.
Where was this? I hate being used as evidence the system works. It pigging doesn’t. Not even for the 0.001% of us who can take cases.
UncategorizedComments Off on 100% of Scotrail’s stations are accessible – official
Great news! It’s official! Scotrail’s assisted travel helpline told me so it must be true – All Scotrail’s stations are 100% accessible to all passengers, including wheelchair users!
Here’s the transcript – Scotrail’s in bold, I’m not:
All stations we deal with are all accessible for wheelchair users.
All Scotrail stations? That’s impressive.
Yes that is correct, all Scotrail stations are accessible for all our customers.
So there you go, Scotrail have evidently become the first operator (with more than 20 stations) to achieve 100% step free, accessible status.
Their station information pages must be incorrect. These pages state that 183 of their 354 stations (52%) have no step-free access to any part of the station. (Actually that’s not accurate either, but still, there patently are Scotrail platforms / whole stations without wheelchair access.)
The spreadsheet is current as of 3rd February 2018. (My spreadsheet can update the data, but I’ve removed this function from the spreadsheets here because the update mechanism uses my username and password for the National Rail Data Portal.)
One may wish to consider:
the proportion of stations that have step-free access, overall and by station operator
the proportion of stations that have toilets compared to the proportion of stations that have disabled toilets (“NKS toilets”, after the Radar National Key Scheme) or no information about disabled toilets
stations that have step free access and are staffed but don’t have train ramps available
stations with temporarily broken lifts, and when the data on the station was last updated
staffed stations which don’t offer staff assistance to disabled people
stations with car parks but no Blue Badge spaces and/or no suitable drop off point for disabled people
stations with contradictory information, such as stating both “Step-free access coverage: No part of station” and “Both platforms are fully accessible from the street“
The accessibility of the station is recorded in this database. This includes data such as the station operator’s help line number, whether and when the station is staffed, whether there’s a hearing loop, etc.
This information is crucial for disabled people to plan their journeys. As such, station operators are legally obliged to keep this information up to date. This is specified in their license, and is regulated by the Office for Rail and Road:
Train operators must provide up to date information about the accessibility of facilities and services at stations and on their trains on the National Rail Enquiries (NRE) website. This includes the NRE’s Station Journey Planner (‘Stations Made Easy‘), as well as the train operators’ own website. Train operators must provide up to date information about the accessibility of facilities and services at stations and on their trains on the National Rail Enquiries (NRE) website. This includes the NRE’s Station Journey Planner (‘Stations Made Easy‘), as well as the train operators’ own website.
(Yes, I know that says the same thing twice; so does the ORR’s website. Perhaps they were emphasising the point.)
All hunky-dory in theory – but not in practice. The problem is threefold.
Station operators don’t make sure that accessibility information is correct, or that it is kept up to date.
Staff find it difficult to update said information due to technical problems.
There’s no clear definition about what the information in the database means anyway.
Step free access
Take, for example, the Knowledgebase field “Step Free Access Coverage”. This can have the values “wholeStation“, “partialStation“, “allPlatforms“, “noPartOfStation” or “unknown“.
To me, this is straightforward. It should say which bits of the station can be accessed without having to go up or down a step. However that’s not how many TOCs use this field. They use it as some approximate of “wheelchair friendliness“.
Some examples: In Northern’s Disabled People’s Protection Policy, the stations at Appleby, Burley Park, Cattal, Dent, Garsdale, Hexham, Knaresborough, Newcastle, Oxenholme, Ravenglass, Ribblehead, Skipton and Wakefield Kirkgate are all down as “Partial step-free access“; but I know it is possible to get to all parts of all these stations without going up or down a step. When I raised this with Northern, they said;
it may be the methodology used to categorise step free access that is the issue here. For example, if there is a ramp and it is over a certain level of steepness or if the step free route between platforms is over a certain length then it can result in a ‘Partial’ classification.
For Aviemore station, Scotrail say “<Coverage>noPartOfStation</Coverage>”. This is interpreted particularly starkly on their mobile website:
Screenshot of Aviemore station facilities page on the Scotrail website
I defy anybody to work out whether Aviemore station has step-free access based on that. Scotrail’s Assisted Travel team can’t. On September 25th after a long period on hold they said “I will have to find this out for you as it is not clear from the website” and offered to email me – but never did. When I rang again on 5th October, after another long period on hold they said “I was speaking with my supervisor and it doesn’t look like it is accessible on both sides.”
It has since transpired that there is full wheelchair access to all parts of Aviemore station; all parts of the station are accessible without having to go up or down a single step. (Getting from platform to platform without steps involves a long walk by road so it’s generally best to make sure you get dropped off at the right entrance for the train you’re wanting to catch.) So why does it say “Step free access coverage: No part of station“? Scotrail’s Head of Access and Inclusion eventually told me:
Mr Paulley It says ‘No’ to Step-free coverage simply because one cannot access all platforms from one single entry point.
So that makes complete sense, then. Honest.
They have since said:
ScotRail is experiencing difficulties with updating the ‘Step-free access coverage’ section due to a technical issue with the NRE website, which is only allowing for ScotRail to tick ‘Yes/No’ for this field without the option to edit text. This is an issue that can only be addressed by Rail Delivery Group, which ScotRail has requested be addressed as quickly as possible.
The Definition of Step Free
I thought: enough’s enough; let’s find out what “Step Free Access Coverage” actually means. As Rail Delivery Group hosts Knowledgebase and its schema, I thought they would be able to tell me what that field means. So I asked them in a “Freedom of Information” request (though they aren’t subject to the Freedom of Information Act):
Knowledgebase has a field for “step free access coverage”. Stations are variously listed as having “full”, “partial” or “no” step-free access.
Please provide me with the definitions and criteria for these descriptors.
For example, what does “step free” mean? Does it mean that there are literally no steps, such that a station can still be wheelchair inaccessible e.g. through narrow passageways or over-steep slopes? Or are these other factors (though not about steps) included when considering how to categorise stations in this respect?
Also: what does “full”, “partial” or “none” mean? Does “full” mean fully compliant with Part M(1) and the PRM-TSI(2), or does it mean there are no steps? I know of a station where level access is available to all parts of the station but the TOC has marked it as “partially” step free because it’s a very long way round from platform to platform (or a barrow crossing), yet another TOC has marked another station with similar access as “none”.
Please provide the “official” definitions of what this field and the options in it actually mean.
In answer to your question regarding the definitions of ‘step-free’ access to stations, this is defined by each TOC separately. So, as you point out, one TOC might state ‘full step-free access’ whereas another will state only ‘partially’ because of things like barrow crossings or physically long step-free routes. These station pages are also updated by individuals who may use variations in their terms used. In order for you to get a more accurate answer for each, my advice is to contact each TOC separately.
TL;DR: “station operators are free to interpret it in any way they like and make it up as they go along” and “if you want to know what Step Free means you’ll have to ask each station operator“.
There are 31 train operating companies in the UK, most of whom operate stations; and Network Rail operate some stations themselves. I wouldn’t mind betting that the accessibility information has been provided by over 50 different people, with over 50 different interpretations as to what precisely “step free access coverage” means.
The effect is discriminatory
The problem is this information is crucial. For me to be able to travel to or from a station, or to change at it, I have to know that I will be able to enter / exit / change there without having to go up and down steps.
The reason I was looking up Aviemore was because I am thinking of going on respite care to Badaguish. I don’t have a car and I don’t drive, so trains are best for me. Badaguish’s website says “Nearest train station: Aviemore, with taxis available to Badaguish”. But how was I supposed to know whether I can physically use Aviemore station? I couldn’t trust the accessibility information, which is self-contradictory in any case; and Scotrail’s help line uses the same information, leaving them similarly confused.
Any non-disabled person can have relative certainty that they can use any station in Britain. But only 20% of stations are fully accessible. The very least the industry could do is make sure that said access information is standardised, accurate and comprehensive. But they don’t.
Finding accurate and comprehensive information for a station is like trying to plait fog.
Disabled travelers suffer difficult and frustrating bookings as a result – or can’t even face trying to book in the first place.
Wheelchair users travelling by train are asked to book assistance for ramps etc. But disabled people frequently experience substantial difficulties when booking, caused by train operating companies’ failures in information and procedure.
This is a recurring problem across all train operating companies, but Carillion – the company Arriva Rail North subcontracts to make such bookings – are the worst I’ve experienced. (And that’s saying something.)
Northern and Carillion
Northern Rail’s assisted travel booking and customer relations staff were all based in Leeds. When Arriva took over the franchise, they told them all to move to a Sheffield call centre, or leave. Understandably a lot left, and tooktheir experience and expertise with them.
Arriva Rail North advertised their new assistance booking line as being open 24 hours, 363 days a year. They outsourced this function to Carillion, a rail infrastructure maintenance company. Carillion had never dealt with assistance booking before. The results were predictable.
Yesterday evening is a case in point. I wanted to book assistance for two simple journeys: Skipton to Hexham changing Carlisle, and Hexham to York changing Newcastle.
The telephone call took 1 hour 6 minutes. Even then the assistance wasn’t successfully booked.
Untrained, inexperienced staff with no backup
The reason for this is that the booking staff member had never taken a booking before. He had only worked in the organisation for two weeks. He had watched colleagues booking assistance and been given the script to use, then he had been put straight onto the assistance booking line. It seemed like he had never been trained how to take bookings, and certainly not formally trained.
I was his first ever assistance booking (God help him!) There was nobody else he could ask because he was on his own; there were no bosses or other assistance booking staff on shift. He was very nervous and made many mistakes (understandably). Talk about being thrown in at the deep end…
After the hour-plus attempting to book the assistance, he had to admit defeat, because he was unable to book the wheelchair space on Virgin Trains East Coast. He said he would get somebody else to sort the booking and email me this morning at 8am. (Unsurprisingly, I haven’t had that email.)
To book assistance please call our dedicated freephone number (also free to mobiles), 0800 138 5560. Lines are open 24 hours a day, every day that we are running.
We can book assistance for your whole rail journey, even where part of the journey is with other train operators.
That’s plainly not true, because they do not deliver on their promises.
Since Arriva took over the franchise, I’ve had the following problems.
A weekend of all calls to the line being cut off after the recorded introduction
Staff not being able to use Passenger Assist
Staff not knowing how to use text relay
Staff booking alternative taxis for inaccessible stations, from firms tens of miles away who don’t know the area
Staff telling me to do a 100 mile round trip to get round a closed line, because the rail replacement bus they’d booked was inaccessible.
Staff refusing to book assistance unless I had first bought a ticket, making me pay more than I would be charged if I bought the ticket on the day (rail rovers etc.)
Staff telling me I would have to pay for the rail replacement taxi because their rail replacement bus was not wheelchair accessible
Staff unable to find out whether scheduled services hauled by Tornado had a wheelchair space
Staff being unable to book wheelchair spaces on connecting companies’ services
Staff telling me I had been banned from booking assistance because I have attempted to book wheelchair spaces on Northern’s services, whereas I have never done that. The staff member had misinterpreted an instruction to flag my assistance bookings for checking by a manager due to the number of erroneous bookings I had experienced.
Multiple other incidents.
I have brought this shabby and unacceptable treatment to the attention of senior managers in Northern a number of times, but it hasn’t improved – in fact yesterday’s abortive assistance booking demonstrates it is getting worse.
We can have no confidence that the booking has been made correctly, so we are left sweating throughout the journey – will the wheelchair space be booked by somebody else and unavailable? Will the person with ramps turn up or will we be unwillingly carried along until the terminus? Non-disabled people can plan and book their journey in seconds or minutes, with relative confidence they can carry out their journey. Through the common contempt organisations like Northern demonstrate for services for disabled people, we are obliged to expend considerable time, energy and dogged determination to plan, book and carry out the same journey.
In the March 2017 edition of the Taxi newsletter we published an article entitled ’Important Changes to Equality Law’. The article concerned the recent changes to equality law and the duties imposed on drivers of wheelchair accessible vehicles.
Following publication of the newsletter it came to light we made an error in this article, which we would now like to rectify.
For clarification, the requirements for drivers of wheelchair accessible taxi and private hire vehicles are a policy requirement and not a legal requirement: (their emphasis)
Transport wheelchair users in their wheelchair
Provide passengers in wheelchairs with appropriate assistance
Charge wheelchair users the same as non-wheelchair users
This is very different from their March newsletter:
Excerpt from March 2017 newsletter
From the 6th April 2017 …In a change to the law, drivers found to be discriminating against wheelchair users face fines of up to £1,000 as part of provisions being enacted from the Equality Act.
15.7 The Equality Act 2010 places certain duties on licensed drivers to provide assistance to people in wheelchairs and to carry them safely. There are similar requirements on drivers in relation to the treatment of passengers with an assistance dog. Neither drivers nor operators of licensed vehicles can make any extra charge or refuse to carry such passengers.
Legislative provisions and legal requirements
Drivers of wheelchair accessible vehicles must:
Carry a passenger seated in a wheelchair
Charge wheelchair users the same fare as non-wheelchair users; the meter, where used, must only be started when the journey begins
Despire correcting their newsletter, the Council has notcorrected their Policy or Handbook.
Why have the Council not implemented the new taxi wheelchair law?
The strong implication is that the Council told all taxi drivers they would be subject to this law, but changed its mind when it realised it would have to do some minor office work.
Taxi drivers in their area are not subject to a criminal law obligation against discriminating against wheelchair users (as intended by Parliament) all because the Council refuses to do some office work.
If anybody feels that an organisation may have failed to follow the Data Protection Act whilst dealing with their data, they can ask the ICO for an assessment about whether that processing is likely to have been OK or not, under S42 of the Data Protection Act. The ICO are obliged to respond unless they need the subject to supply more ID or more explanation as to what processing the subject’s concerned about. Those are the ONLY exemptions the ICO can use to avoid having to undertake a S42 assessment.
S42.2 On receiving a request under this section, the Commissioner shall make an assessment in such manner as appears to him to be appropriate, unless he has not been supplied with such information as he may reasonably require in order to—
(a) satisfy himself as to the identity of the person making the request, and
(b) enable him to identify the processing in question.
It is usually a good idea for the data subject to complain to the data controller before bothering the ICO. It’s often probably the best way to get the issue resolved speedily and with the least of fuss, to the benefit of both the data controller and the data subject. It also means that the ICO are less likely to be swamped with S42 requests about stuff that could have been sorted a lot easier by a simple email.
However, that isn’t appropriate in all cases.
My reading of the Act is that the ICO are under an obligation to respond to a data subject’s S42 request for assessment irrespective of whether the data subject has complained to the data controller. The ONLY factors they can take into consideration as to whether they must undertake an assessment or not, is whether they have enough ID to be confident the data subject is who (s)he says (s)he is, and whether they’ve been given enough information to identify the processing in question.
S42 lists other factors that the authority can take into account – but these factors are only to be taken into account when considering how the authority will go about the assessment, not IF they will undertake an assessment. They still have to do the assessment, irrespective of these factors. But in any case, these factors do not include whether or not the data subject has made a complaint to the data controller.
S42.3 The matters to which the Commissioner may have regard in determining in what manner it is appropriate to make an assessment include—
(a) the extent to which the request appears to him to raise a matter of substance,
(b) any undue delay in making the request, and
(c) whether or not the person making the request is entitled to make an application under section 7 in respect of the personal data in question.
So as far as I’m concerned, the law does not give the ICO latitude to insist data subjects complain to the data controller before submitting a S42 request. It doesn’t allow the ICO to refuse to undertake an assessment where the data subject hasn’t submitted a complaint direct to the data controller.
I submitted a S42 request recently, having not complained to the data controller first. The ICO responded:
I note that you also sent us a copy of an email received from ‘Charity Checkout’, which appears to be a trading name of ‘Online Giving Ltd’. There is no other copy correspondence to show that you have raised a concern with ‘Online Giving Ltd’ in writing and allowed time for its response. You would need to do this before the ICO could progress any concern about this third organisation.
This approach is not in compliance with obligations under S42 of the Data Protection Act, which states:
I parroted the above in detail, showing that the ICO cannot legitimately insist on subjects complaining to the controller before the ICO is obliged to conduct an assessment.
It always bugs me when the ICO state that they will not make a S42 assessment unless the data subject has raised their concern with the data controller. This is evidently ingrained and standard practice in the ICO, but it has no basis in law. No doubt the ICO would like it to be in the law, acts as if it is the law and doubtless often it achieves a speedier resolution if the data subject complains to the data controller, but the fact is that the Information Commissioner is obliged to undertake an assessment whether or not the data subject has raised their concern with the data controller.
As the ICO expects and requires data controllers to comply with the detail of the Data Protection Act, it should do so itself. S42 does not give the Commissioner the right to reject S42 requests on the basis that the data subject has not raised a concern with the data controller. That’s the letter of the law, and the ICO should comply with it.
Please register a complaint that the ICO’s standard practice in this specific is not in compliance with the Commissioner’s obligation under S42 of the Data Protection Act.
They gave their final response:
You are dissatisfied with this approach and do not consider that section 42 of the Act allows the ICO to require that you contact the organisation prior to requesting an assessment.
The requirement for individuals to have raised their concerns with the organisation involved is part of the ICO’s operational policy, rather than being written into the legislation.
You will appreciate that the ICO has limited resources, and we cannot take action in response to every concern reported to us. Ultimately our role is to improve information rights practices, and we put our efforts into taking action in those areas where we can make the biggest improvement to the practice of those we regulate. We are an independent body and do not work on behalf of individuals
As explained on our website, we believe that the organisation responsible for a data protection matter should deal with it in the first instance. We expect organisations to take concerns seriously and work with the data subject to try to resolve them. Most organisations will want to put things right when they have gone wrong, and learn from complaints that are raised with them – further, it is best practice for them to have an effective complaints procedure.
If the organisation has been unable, or unwilling, to resolve an information rights concern, the data subject can then raise the matter for us to evaluate whether there is an opportunity to improve information rights practice.
For all of these reasons we are committed to giving organisations the opportunity to respond to public concerns before they are raised with us as the regulator.
I trust that this explains our approach.
Well yes, it explains their approach, but it doesn’t explain how their approach complies with the legislation, which was the sole point in my complaint. “We think our approach is better” isn’t a valid response to a complaint that said approach is not in accordance with their legal obligations.
However, they have successfully stonewalled me through their single-stage complaints procedure, so they won’t consider the issue any further. I wouldn’t want to bother the ombudsmen, partly as I haven’t experienced sufficient harm and in any case, as the ICO pointed out – “If your complaint relates to the way in which we have interpreted the law then the Ombudsman cannot help you.” The only further avenue suggested was, “If you want to challenge our interpretation of the law, you should consider seeking legal advice.” They presumably know that it doesn’t merit that.
I’m therefore reduced to publishing a whiny blog explaining how I’ve been wronged, on an obscure part of the Internet where nobody will read it — similar to the likes of Alan Dransfield.
But I still think I’m right, that the ICO are failing to comply with their legal obligations, and that they have succeeded in their intent of stonewalling me throughout the statutory procedures ostensibly designed to make sure they take on board complainants’ legitimate concerns and change accordingly. (Again, just like Dransfield. Perhaps we’re long-lost relatives or something.)
I’m going on a trip up the Far North line to Orkney. As this is somewhat of a special trip, I decided to go First Class where possible (I booked 3 months in advance with split ticketing to make it affordable.)
As ever with the rail industry, my need for wheelchair access meant booking was not straightforward. I was given contradictory information from four different train operating companies, which resulted in multiple attempted and failed assistance bookings. I ended up buying multiple spurious tickets because different rail staff told me that there are / are not wheelchair spaces in First Class on the various legs.
In the end, the (very helpful) Transport Integration Manager at TransPennine Express sent an email round to his equivalents at Scotrail, VTEC, Northern and (later) RDG to attempt to sort out the horrible mess of broken assistance bookings and duplicate tickets.
Mr Paulley advised in all circumstances that he knew both ScotRail and VTEC had no first class for journeys he wanted to make including knowledge that ScotRail portion did not do seat reservation.
He pointed out that he had booked first class tickets on our website but I know he would have noticed that there is warning about first class wheelchair spaces.
We did another digging and found that he also send a Textphone request now saying he booked his tickets on Northern website.
I plan to go over the next telephone conversation as his request is that we pay him £7k for not meeting ORR requirements and he took information from approval letter of 2016 something baseless.
I’m not going to bore everybody by refuting each allegation, nor extemporise on the clearly unacceptable manner in which a senior member of Scotrail staff libelled me to senior managers in other train operating companies, but the “something baseless” extract from the Office of the Rail and Road, and the claim of a warning on Scotrail’s website, are worryingly and demonstrably inaccurate.
Following information received by ORR during the review of your DPPP, we also asked you to clarify how you ensure that passengers using a wheelchair are not able to buy a first class ticket which in practical terms they may not be able to make use of. This is due to restrictions in the accommodation meaning wheelchair users would need to be able to transfer to a seat. You have advised that you have now updated your DPPP passenger document and the accessible travel and first class ticket pages of your website to make this clear. You have also told us you will make the restriction clear when customers are going through the ticket booking process on your website, and that your staff are aware of the restriction when selling tickets in person.
You have also told us that you will correct the information on National Rail Enquiries that stated first class accommodation was available for wheelchair users, as this information is incorrect. Please inform us when the National Rail Enquiries site has been updated and when your online booking process has been changed. We would expect this to be completed within three months of the date of this letter, and will get in touch with you to ensure this work has been completed.
Clearly their website and their staff should have warned me that there aren’t any wheelchair spaces in First Class on Scotrail’s services.
I think this shows that Scotrail have as much contempt for wheelchair users, as they already demonstrated they hold for the ORR and for me personally.
This map shows which authorities have a S167 list (green), plan to produce one (yellow) or have no current plan to do so (red).
If your council doesn’t have a list, please contact them to ask them to produce a list, or to hurry up. Contacting councils has already resulted in multiple councils producing lists when they had previously refused.