London mayoral election: Disabled people talk of transport pain

Mohammed Mohfanali and Ramona Williams
Image caption Mohammed Mohfanali and Ramona Williams said it was difficult to use public transport

For many Londoners, travel is one of the main issues of this London mayoral election campaign.

Cost, overcrowding and punctuality are the prevalent concerns for able-bodied passengers however for disabled people, just being able to have access to public transport is top of their concerns.

At a hustings event held on the South Bank and organised by a coalition of disability charities, about 100 disabled people and those with learning difficulties challenged the four main candidates for election, with transport being the top topic for debate.

Guy Parckar, head of policy and campaigns for the Leonard Cheshire Disability charity, summed up this issue by saying: "It's always one of those issues and the mayor has a lot of clout.

"Seventeen years after the Disability Act, people still can't access buses and the Tube is a no go. There's a long way to go."

According to Green candidate Jenny Jones, there are 1.4m disabled people in London, while 20% of the total population has difficulty using public transport.

All of the candidates recognised that this was a problem and put forward their pledges to help improve public transport for those with disabilities.

Boris Johnson, the Conservative candidate and current mayor, said that during his term, 59% of bus stops were now accessible, up from 29% when he was elected. He added that there was also a 39% rise in step-free stations.

"We want to increase these projects to make London more accessible because they are important," he said, adding that cost was an issue.

He said the stations people use often, such as Tottenham Court Road, Bond Street, Paddington and Victoria, would be upgraded soon.

'Spontaneously travel'

Labour candidate and former mayor Ken Livingstone said his policy of cutting fares by 7% would save councils £22m as they would not have to pay out as much on freedom passes.

He would also make these passes uniform across all London boroughs, so "access shouldn't depend on which borough you live in".

Image caption The hustings were signed as well as being transcribed on to large screens

Mr Livingstone also said all stations would be visibly manned, especially late at night.

Brian Paddick, the Liberal Democrat candidate, said he would ensure all councils support the freedom pass.

He would also choose carefully which Tube stations to make step free, so stations near museums for example would be upgraded first.

"Disabled people should be able to spontaneously travel," he said, adding that accessibility should not be an issue.

Green candidate Jenny Jones pledged to make more stations accessible and said her party would extend the freedom pass to carers.

She said: "There's a huge, wide gap. If you look at a map of stations that are accessible to disabled people, it's almost blank... you can't use the Central line. This is shameful."

'Fight for space'

On the issue of buses, Mr Johnson said the new buses were cheaper than hybrids and were wheelchair-friendly, however many people in the audience disagreed with this, saying the bendy buses were much better and that the current buses were not big enough for wheelchairs and for people with blind dogs.

Ramona Williams, 28, from Hammersmith, is visually impaired. She questioned the candidates on access to transport, as well as on the age limit to apprenticeships.

"Their answers were very brief," she said, adding that the candidates needed to spend a day with them to see how difficult it was.

Image caption Eric Martin and Josie Lombardo were both concerned about their bus passes

"The number 28 bus is nonsense. The new buses have less space and more seats.

"My guide dog was crumpled and I had to fight with other people so that he can have space. The bendy buses need to be brought back."

Her friend Mohammed Mohfanali, 26, from Upton Park, who is also visually impaired, said: "Overall Boris hasn't said anything, he hasn't convinced anyone.

"With Boris, everything has been taken away.

"I'm still confused, I don't know who to vote for."

He added that he was beginning to have more confidence in Ms Jones, however he said she immediately lost his support when she said that shared parking spaces were a good idea - as many people in the audience expressed difficulties with them.

Josie Lombardo, from Sutton, has learning disabilities. She said she was worried about her bus pass being taken away because if that happened, she would not be able to afford travel costs, meaning she would not be able to go out.

Eric Martin, from Wembley, who has Asperger's syndrome, echoed Ms Lombardo's concerns about the bus pass as he would not be able to afford to get around if he lost the pass.

"I liked Ken. He had a good speech when he talked about investment in transport and more staff at stations. Overall I was impressed, but Ken will be back," he said.

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