ABCD is a group of disabled passengers within the ABC community who wish to raise their voices on the access problems they are facing on Southern Rail. The removal of guaranteed assistance has been feared for months now, and many people now feel they are victims of indirect discrimination through the loss of spontaneous travel.
The following letter has been dispatched to the CEO of Southern Rail, Charles Horton, and asks him to properly address the impact of the changes his company is implementing. It has also been copied to the Rail Delivery Group, and the Ministers for Transport, Rail and Disabled People. If you have been affected by the incidents described in the letter, please scroll to the end to find out how to send your own version.
Dear Mr. Horton,
We at ABCD (Association of British Commuters Disabled Passengers) are very concerned about the discriminatory nature of the latest Exceptional Circumstances list within the Aslef train driver agreement.
Southern Rail recently rolled back the provision of ‘turn up and go’ travel from 33 stations to zero, and we are incredibly concerned that they are taking this regrettable backwards step in accessibility. We believe this contravenes the Public Sector Equality Duty under the Equality Act 2010, and the protections from discrimination assured by the Human Rights Act 1998.
ABCD is also deeply concerned about a recent RAIL magazine article where a Southern Rail spokesperson suggested that “only” those in wheelchairs would be inconvenienced by not having an OBS onboard – a comment we find deeply offensive. Passengers with a range of physical and mental disabilities are disadvantaged by not having an OBS on board. The spokesperson’s comment, separating disabled people into “types”, is highly discriminatory in nature.
Disabled people should be treated equally no matter their impairment; removing the guaranteed second person from the train removes the rights of disabled people to work and enjoy leisure time just like any other member of society. We have made great strides in UK transport since the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 was introduced, and now Southern Rail wants to turn the clock back.
Thanks to Southern always having a guard on their longer distance services, we were able to travel spontaneously before the removal of guards. Since the OBS system has come in, there have been countless stories of disabled passengers being left on the train at unstaffed stations, left stranded on platforms and insufficient support for transition to follow on journeys.
We have been told that we can book 24 hours in advance for support; however, this advance booking has been well known for its unreliability, particularly in recent journeys made by our members on Southern. As most services in the UK have a guaranteed second person, there shouldn’t be a need to book 24 hours in advance; which rules out all chance for a disabled person to live a spontaneous life.
We ask you to remember that disabled people don’t just live at the beginning of a route, so if a train goes without an OBS, it will affect those down the whole line, wherever they decide to get on and off anywhere on that route. This also applies to the OBS who change during the route, for example, we may have an OBS from say London Victoria to Three Bridges, but then another one from Three Bridges to Bognor Regis. Drivers often do not seem to know whether they have an OBS onboard or not until the last minute, and have been caught in many situations where they have been put in the dilemma of stopping the train and providing assistance, or leaving a wheelchair user behind on the platform.
The removal of guaranteed assistance and scrapping of ‘turn up and go’ is having a huge impact on disabled people’s lives. We are constantly worrying about every stage of our journey, not knowing if we can get on or off a train, or if there will be assistance at our destination station. This is leading to worsening mental health issues and a great deal of worry, because having a guaranteed second person is essential for our peace of mind and personal security. The additional anxiety, and extra physical and mental exhaustion in navigating travel, is likely to exacerbate disabled people’s impairments further.
We have heard of wheelchair users and other helpful passengers throwing themselves between doors to prevent the train departing, or even breaking into the guard’s cupboard to assist disabled passengers. On Thursday evening at Victoria station, a Southern Rail driver chastised a wheelchair user in front of a carriage full of passengers, saying “he has been told he should not be travelling at night”. With all that Southern Rail is doing in removing the right to ‘turn up and go’ travel, it is hard to avoid seeing this as a reflection of company culture.
Since it is now well known that issues around staffing and DOO are not solely the decision of the train operating company, we must address the Department for Transport too. Surely it is in the government’s interests to keep the second person on every train as this would aid people of various disabilities to get a job/keep their job, strengthening UK plc as well as reducing the reliance on benefits. There are numerous reports on the economic benefits of a disability-inclusive approach, without even mentioning the moral dimension.
We urge Charles Horton to think about the repercussions of these changes on others, who may be totally reliant on public transport. On behalf of ABCD members we would ask you to reconsider the damaging implications for disabled and less able passengers, and make the reasonable adjustments necessary to comply with your duties; considering this within the exceptional circumstances list specifically.
We look forward to your reply and ask that you address the matter of the precedents being set for disabled access, rather than repeating platitudes. The repeated assurance that there will be ‘more customer service than ever before’ does not hold weight when we are seeing the right to ‘turn up and go’ travel removed, and hearing regularly of discriminatory comments and actions from Southern Rail.
James Welling, Sarah McStravick, Tilly Simmonds, Kaye McIntosh, Jo Bayly, Steve Salford, Edward Vermeer
on behalf of: Association of British Commuters Disabled Passengers
Fellow Southern Rail passengers who have been affected by access failures on Southern Rail are welcome to send their own copy of this letter, or use it as a template. If you would also like to sign this letter publicly, please let us know through our contact form.
Address the letter to Charles Horton, CEO of Southern Rail:
Copy the letter to:
CEO of Rail Delivery Group: firstname.lastname@example.org; Minister for Transport: email@example.com; Minister for Rail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Minister for Disabled People: email@example.com.