Getting stranded at an underground station after missing the last tube home is a nightmare for anybody, but for some, the fear of getting stranded on just the platform is enough to stop them from making the journey at all.
“Disabled people are scared of using the tube because they can’t get accessibility information in an easy way, Transport for London’s system is too complicated – so they’re scared they’ll get stranded or that they won’t be able to get off the train,” Christiane Link, a German journalist and co-founder of Up Down London, says.
Christiane is one disabled user who struggles with this issue daily – as one lift out of operation could be the difference between her getting to a meeting on time or being stuck for hours, feeling humiliated, while a TFL employee works out how she will, and if she can, get home.
Are lifts really that important? Uh, yeah.
The problem is that while TFL makes it easy for commuters to find out whether a line is experiencing disruptions, there’s currently no site that provides the same information all in one place about which lifts are out of service.
Broken lifts may seem inconsequential to most people, but they are a far more important lifeline of the transport network than one may think as a large section of society relies on them.
Mothers with buggies, holidaymakers with oversized suitcases, and those on crutches all take advantage of the London Underground’s 167 lifts.
A transport website devoted just to lifts
“I’m a transport geek and I started the website Up Down London to make it easier for disabled people to get round London and see which lifts are out of service.”
Her website does exactly as it says on the tin – it’s a live feed of updates of every lift down on the underground, and every lift that is now up and working again.
“First of all I wanted to do it for myself as I was getting very annoyed that I kept getting stranded in front of lifts – I wanted a one stop source to see which lifts are broken.”
Christiane had waited a year for TFL to get their act together and provide their own service, but when she saw their BETA site, she was left disappointed.
“I knew they had the data, it’s just an issue of making their website a little more accessible for everyone but I’m not sure that [the new site] will be any better regarding lift information so I provided the service myself.”
Taking advantage of tfl’s data stash
Up Down London runs off information from TFL’s Open Data project, but also monitors their Twitter feeds, as Christiane and her developer partner, Kirk Northrop, found that it was more likely a broken lift would be tweeted about, before it appeared on TFL’s data feed.
It launched in September and so far the response has been extremely positive.
“[It] has been amazing, we got emails from wheelchair users I don’t even know, thanking us for this website saying that they’d waited for ages for a one stop source – which to be honest doesn’t surprise me because I was desperate myself to have such a website. So I hope it makes other people’s lives easier as it has my life.”
A wider issue at stake – why isn’t the London Underground fully accessible to disabled users?
But while Christiane’s site provides a solution to one problem, is also draws attention to the wider issue of just what isn’t being done to make London’s underground system fully accessible to all, even after the Paralympic Games.
“First, Transport for London need to improve their information. I want to encourage people to use the tube more which is another reason why I launched the site. To be quite honest I think it would be Transport for London’s job to provide a website like mine and to have it very prominent on their website so that you see with one view which lift’s working and which isn’t.”
75% of underground stations are not accessible
More shockingly, only a quarter of London underground stations are fully wheelchair accessible at the moment – that means step-free from the street to the train, adds Christiane, who laughs at the idea of stations listed as step-free from train to platform, as where are disabled users meant to go then?
While there are plans to make more stations accessible for all in the next 10 years, Christiane is not optimistic.
“I think they are far too slow and my hope is that I will still be alive when this tube network is fully accessible but I’m not sure whether this will be the case.”
The legacy of the Paralympics
I asked Christiane, ‘What about the Paralympic games?’ Was she left disappointed that they didn’t do more?
“I think TFL did a lot for the Olympics and Paralympic games, otherwise we would have ended up in complete chaos. I think most importantly Green Park station was an amazing project. It is a very difficult station to make accessible but it is now, and I’m not sure this would have happened if we didn’t have the games – that is real legacy.
Reaching central london made possible by games
“I can reach central London now – that was not the case before. The closest station was Westminster station but if you wanted to reach Oxford Street that was still a way to go.
“For the first time during the games, London Underground also had manual boarding ramps to bridge the gap between the train and the platform. But there are another 40 stations where manual boarding ramps would help wheelchair users. £1000 isn’t a lot of money for TFL, so I can’t understand why they haven’t introduced more in the network – it would open up a whole different world for wheelchair users.”
Since launching Up Down London (@TubeLifts), Christiane has begun working with Up Down Vienna (the first website of this kind) to build a global network of Up Down cities, to make underground travel a less intimidating prospect for users with mobility issues. An iPhone and Android app for the London website is also on the way.