The claim

“One third of Tube stations will have step-free access by 2013 and will, if possible, accelerate accessibility works ahead of the 2012 Olympics”

London Underground, press release, 24 March 2006

The background

As Channel 4 News’ No Go Britain investigation into transport for the disabled has shown, much of the London Underground is still out of bounds for disabled travellers.

Just 45 out of 270 underground stations were “step-free” when London Underground made its pledge in 2006 to “more than double the number of step-free stations on the underground”.

So today, there should be 90+ step-free stations – helping to fulfil Deputy Mayor Richard Barnes’ Olympic vision of the “most accessible games ever”.

How did they get on? FactCheck dons its hard hat.

The analysis

Today there are 64 step-free stations offering lifts or ramps for disabled travellers – and another two are expected to be completed by the London 2012 Games.

That’s a total of 66 – well short of the 90+ pledged by London Underground (LU) in 2006.  It’s an increase of just 21 step-free stations in six years – less than half the number promised.

Worse still, currently only 17 are truly step-free, because in most cases you still have to step up to get on to the train, and the majority of accessible stations are on the outskirts of the City.

So what went wrong? Transport for London (TfL) told FactCheck: “The target to deliver 33 per cent stations by 2013 was an unfunded aspiration of the Mayoral administration of that time, and these schemes have been deferred until after 2018, as part of the TfL 10 year business plan.”

Yet the plans weren’t just a pipe dream – in a press release at the time, London Underground’s MD Tim O’Toole pledged: “By 2010, 25 per cent of Tube stations will have step-free access and this will increase to one third of all stations by 2013.”

He added that the improvements were to be funded by TfL’s £10bn 5-Year Investment Programme.

That was before the collapse of tube maintenance group Metronet in 2007 which put huge pressures on TfL funding.

Fair enough. But not all of the projects were deferred.

Correspondence from July 2009 between Richard Parry, then-MD of LU, and Caroline Pidgeon, chair of the Transport Committee, shows that plans for 24 step-free stations were put on the back-burner; but by this stage LU had already managed to bump up the number of stations from 45 to 56.

It was also still committed to completing 12 stations by 2010, and another 10 beyond 2010.

But as late as October 2009, plans were abandoned for six of the stations due to be completed in 2010 – Ladbroke Grove, Amersham, Greenford, Newbury Park, Osterley and West Kensington.

The BBC reported at the time that the move saw TfL write off some £20m it had already invested – Greenford Station alone had £2.9m spent on cable and drainage work ahead of a planned lift shaft installation before the scheme was cancelled.

TfL today insisted to FactCheck that the money wasn’t wasted and future improvements can pick up where they left off.

Of the 10 schemes originally committed to post-2010, just two have been completed so far, at Green Park and Blackfriars. What of the improvements on the remaining 8 that should be underway? TfL told us that six of them will be completed, the earliest by 2013 and the latest by 2021.

The verdict

Somewhere along the line – after the collapse of Metronet in 2007 and the arrival of Boris in 2008 – the target for a third of all underground stations to be step-free stations by 2013 was quietly dropped.

Boris didn’t mention it when he launched TfL’s 10-year business plan in November 2008 – in which he abandons a number of Ken Livingstone’s plans because they “never got beyond their initial design stages and had no money set aside to deliver them”.

What was a promise for 90 or more step-free stations has been whittled down to a target of 65 by the Olympics.

So far, TfL is on track to deliver 66 step-free stations by the Games.

But since 2006 there has been an increase of 21 step-free stations – that’s less than half the number originally promised.

And as for the 10 that London Underground had committed to finishing post-2010, just two have been completed and only one more – Paddington’s Hamersmith & City line – is expected to be completed before 2015.

By Emma Thelwell

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