Disabled people seemed to have won a battle in the war for their most basic of rights, after the government said a notorious train company had been forced to “withdraw” controversial guidance. But the train operator spoke to The Canary, and it appears it’s only made the smallest of concessions; muddling the government’s official line. One campaigner called the government’s approach a “whitewash”.
As The Canary previously reported, Govia Thameslink (which operates the controversial Southern Rail contract) introduced a new timetable on 20 May. It issued updated guidance to all its staff over the timetable’s implementation. Unfortunately for Govia, the somewhat staggering information within the booklet was leaked; specifically the sections about disabled people.
One part said:
DO NOT attempt to place PRM [persons of reduced mobility] on train if there is a possibility of delaying the service.
Another section implied that some disabled people would not be able to board a train unless staff at a disabled person’s departure station could contact the staff at their destination station. If this didn’t happen, the disabled person would have to get a taxi:
Finally, as the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) noted:
If this is not bad enough, in respect of anyone having a seizure whilst on a train, the guidance says: ‘Explain that your first priority is care for the individual, but not taking action will cause thousands of other passengers to be stuck… move the ill passenger from the train as quickly as possible’. This is truly shocking advice and an insult to all passengers.
A furious backlash
Govia’s guidance provoked a furious backlash from the campaign groups Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), the Association of British Commuters (ABC), Transport for All, and the RMT. On Monday 21 May, they held a protest outside London Bridge train station highlighting the booklet’s discrimination, but also to raise awareness of the dire accessibility of the UK’s rail network:
At first, Govia appeared to back down. Although the government and the House of Lords, which both commented on the situation on Thursday 24 May, appear to have differing opinions.
The government says…
In the House of Commons, parliamentary under-secretary at the Department for Transport (DfT) Nusrat Ghani MP said:
There was one line within the document… it was not the best use of language, at all… that leaflet overall is a good leaflet… one particular line was not appropriate and… the leaflet will be revised.
She also tweeted:
To reiterate, it is unacceptable to treat disabled passengers differently. Which is why we called up GTR on it and why we need accessibility training and awareness across management.
— Nusrat Ghani MP (@Nus_Ghani) May 24, 2018
Later, the response from the House of Lords spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, Lord Young of Cookham, was somewhat different to Ghani’s. After the Lib Dem’s Baroness Brinton accused Govia of breaching the Equality Act 2010, Young said the guidance was:
insensitive and unacceptable. The government has made its views clear to GTR [Govia]. They are withdrawing the guidance…
But Govia is officially saying it has merely revised the wording. It does not mention “withdrawing the guidance”, as Young noted. A spokesperson told The Canary:
Govia continues to offer assistance to all passengers who need help with their journeys and this policy remains unchanged. We accept that the wording of an internal leaflet to station staff about helping passengers in the few minutes before a train is due to depart could have been better expressed and it has already been revised.
Govia asks all passengers to give themselves plenty of time to arrive ahead of a train’s departure as we aim to ensure each service leaves on time for the benefit of all our customers.
We have introduced several improvements for passengers with reduced mobility, such as platform humps between London Bridge and St Pancras, giving level access to the train, and these stations are staffed throughout the day.
Paula Peters from DPAC was sceptical. She told The Canary:
DPAC see that GTR are removing their training guidance about not allowing disabled people to board the train even if booked assistance if train was late or delayed. Meanwhile, the DfT plan to rewrite the guidance on accessible transport for disabled people. This will be another whitewash on behalf of Chris Grayling, Minister for Transport, who will respond with a ‘don’t worry about it’ and sweep it under the carpet. Meanwhile the fight for fully accessible step free transport continues.
It appears the wording has changed but the policy itself has not. Meanwhile, in 2018, disabled people are still having to fight for their most basic of rights on public transport – and the government doesn’t appear to know what’s going on, anywhere.