The London Underground is looking for ideas to improve step-by-step access to Tube stations

With just over half of the TfL track network now classified as stepless, TfL has opened a consultation on how it can deliver the same to the rest if funding can be found.

The consultation, which runs until 10 February 2022, aims to help TfL identify which aspects of making London Underground stations more accessible it should prioritize in the coming years.

If you include London Underground, Overground, Trams, DLR and TfL Rail, then just over half (51%) are classified as stepless, but with most of the London Underground being much older, only a third of the tube stations (89 out of the 272 ) is stepless, and even fewer have elevators from street to platform.

TfL staff helps a customer (c) TfL

As part of the consultation, respondents will be asked whether they prefer future funding to focus on upgrading a single, complex central London station or split between smaller or medium-sized stations located outside central London. They will also be asked if they prefer future funds to be used to improve clusters of available stations to create a close group of available stations or upgrade areas with limited availability or a combination of both.

This highlights the riddle that any decision will face.

Given a certain amount, it may seem to spend it all on a single large station in central London directly for the benefit of fewer people than a few dozen minor upgrades elsewhere. However, there are also secondary benefits to consider in that people at busy stations do not squeeze past people working with luggage or prams in narrow underground corridors. So again, would wider access across London be better for society as a whole, even if it leaves congested inaccessible access points in the city center?

There is also the problem that some stations have stepless access, but only via escalators, which helps but is not very useful for people in wheelchairs or those who may struggle to get off / on an escalator as quickly as necessary.

The stations have been upgraded in recent years, and apart from unexpected opportunities from property developers, the upgrades that took place under the mayor’s stepless access program 2016 were generally decided to use a scoring system that can help guide respondents to think about, how TfL should prioritize future upgrades.

TfL typically looks at four core issues:

Strategic significance

  • Distance to nearest stepless station
  • Local employment, population
  • Multiple Deprivation Index (IMD) / Exchange Options
  • Transport exchange and frequency nearby

Schedule Design / Delivery

  • Delivered within (previous) five-year plan
  • Quality of stepless access that can be delivered
  • Construction and engineering ability to build the upgrade
  • Planning permit, listed status

Cost

  • Affordable (average scheme cost of around £ 6 million when allowed for program costs)
  • The estimated cost of schemes to optimize delivery
  • Availability of contributions from developers / third parties

Measured benefits

  • Time saved in money
  • Revenue generated from new and existing demand and broader economic benefits
  • Improved safety and security

As you can understand, deciding which stations to prioritize for upgrades is a complex balancing act.

TfL says the consultation responses will be used to shape and inform its approach to stepless underground stations should the government provide funding for future programs. TfL’s decisions are also governed by its existing independent disability advisory group.

When the consultation is completed, TfL says that it will analyze all responses received and publish results in the spring of 2022, and these will be analyzed together with TfL’s own passenger data, transport modeling and technical feasibility to decide which options are most likely to be delivered, but all are subject to financing.

The consultation is here. Available consultation options, such as the audio answer option and Easy Read formats, are also available.

Heidi Alexander, deputy mayor for transport, said: “It is absolutely crucial that the government provides TfL with adequate support in the forthcoming funding settlement so that we can move forward with these hugely important plans for more accessible stations.”

Continuous stepless upgrades

Work continues at the Harrow-on-the-Hill and Sudbury Hill stations in west London, which are scheduled to run steplessly later this year, and discussions have resumed with TfL’s supply chain on the paused stepless improvements at Burnt Oak, Hanger Lane and Northolt. Subject to these discussions, construction work on these stations may begin next spring so that they can be completed in the coming years.

In 2022, TfL will also implement stepless access at Knightsbridge as part of a third-party development plan as well as at Moorgate, which is already stepless to the Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines via the newly opened station entrance.

TfL is also advancing work on stepless access, which will make Bank (Northern Line only) and Paddington (Bakerloo line only) partially stepless in 2022.

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