Imagine you live in Lawrence Hill and need to take a train to Severn Beach. For most of us, it would mean a single straightforward journey. But if you use a wheelchair, a lack of step-free access at Lawrence Hill makes this much more complicated.
Wheelchair users have two options.
Option 1 – go through the Lidl car park, catch the train to Temple Meads, then change for another train towards Severn beach. This can take anything from 35 minutes to an hour, just to access the other side of the tracks.
Option 2 – get on the train at another train station. This also adds a delay to your journey. Travel time would vary greatly depending on traffic, not to mention the additional costs of buses or parking.
I think it is unacceptable to tell disabled people that our public transportation systems aren’t for them. When we do that, we tell disabled people that our cities aren’t for them. We tell disabled people that they aren’t welcome because it’s too hard or too expensive to make our country accessible for everyone.
These issues don’t just affect people in wheelchairs. People who have to use other mobility aids, people with prams, and those who cannot use stairs for other reasons are also affected.
I am glad that the government has announced that Lawrence Hill will be one of 124 railway stations to receive funding form the Access for All programme. I am however concerned about the scope of the scheme and its ambition. Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Transport, has sent me a letter saying that the money will be used to upgrade seating, shelters, and “improve wayfinding to help disabled people navigate stations more easily”.
On the surface these seem like positive developments, and they are. But the current layout of the station is fundamentally inaccessible. We know what the problems are. You cannot get from one side of the station to the other without the use of stairs, and the side you can access is through a busy car park.
The government must commit to step free access for the entirety of the Lawrence Hill train station. Anything less is not good enough.