Our new research reveals the six operators discriminating against disabled passengers through their rail staffing policies. Together, c2c, Chiltern, Greater Anglia, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), Great Western Railway (GWR), and Southeastern are responsible for denying “turn up and go” travel at over 11% of Britain’s stations.
The research forms our latest submission to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), demanding they intervene in all six operators for breaches of equality law. It builds on evidence we shared with the EHRC in September: a leaked GTR document where the operator admits it has been “in breach of its legal requirements since 2010” due to the combination of driver only operation (DOO) and unstaffed stations.
We can now present the first ever overview of this combination across all six franchises, revealing the ‘no go areas’ for disabled people on Britain’s railway. Our data shows that if GTR is breaking equality law, so are the other five operators.
Our research – DOO and unstaffed stations
We’ve looked at all 786 stations run by the six operators, classifying each according to its staffing levels, and therefore, its capacity to provide turn up and go travel for disabled people requiring boarding assistance. Our data reveals that DOO has created ‘no go areas’ for accessible rail travel at a total of 292 stations across Greater London and the south-east of England, representing over 11% of Britain’s stations.
The ‘no go areas’ for disabled travellers cover a total of 23 London boroughs, with a particularly high rate in Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich and Lewisham. They also affect 20 local authority areas surrounding London, with notably bad examples in Buckinghamshire, Essex, Oxfordshire and Surrey. The full data on all locations is available to download here.
All of our information on staffing hours can be substantiated by National Rail Enquiries: the most authoritative source available because train companies have a regulatory requirement to keep it updated. Every train operator was given opportunities to feed back on the data, and – with the exception of GTR – none of them disputed our figures.
Summaries of train operators’ mitigations
We’ve also looked at the policies used by train operators to mitigate the lack of staff at DOO stations. Four alternatives to turn up and go assistance are in use: 1) staff sent from another station; 2) dedicated “mobile staff”; 3) taxi to destination or nearest staffed station; 4) “alternative journey plan” involving changes of arrival/departure/route. The train operators use all of these to varying degrees across their networks (with the exception of Chiltern, which does not have a mobile staffing team).
Apart from a limited mobile staffing trial on GTR, none of the TOCs provide a maximum wait time, or target response time, for these alternative measures. Most of the TOCs openly discourage turn up and go travel in their advice to passengers, and recommend pre-booking to avoid long wait times.
The following summaries include comments directly from the operators, as well as extracts from their “Accessible Travel Policies” (ATPs).
Turn up and go travel is unavailable at 24 out of 25 stations either some or all of the time – a total 96%. c2c has permanent “mobile units” providing assistance at 14 of these stations, but there is no maximum wait time. c2c’s ATP says “we ask that you book assistance two hours prior to travelling to guarantee assistance”; for unbooked passengers, it will “do [its] best to arrange for a member of staff to assist… although this may take some time.”
Turn up and go travel is unavailable at 25 out of 35 stations either some or all of the time – a total 71%. Chiltern is the only TOC of the six without a mobile staffing scheme, and its ATP often refers to taxis as the first choice of alternative, although staff may be sent from hub stations. On unbooked travel, Chiltern’s ATP warns: “this can take time to arrange because staff will have to travel to you…we do not recommend this system is used if your journey is time sensitive”.
Chiltern said: “Our ATP and approach to DOO and Passenger Assistance have been accepted by the ORR and we are compliant in delivering our obligation.”
Turn up and go travel is unavailable at 43 out of 133 stations some or all of the time – a total 32%. Information on Greater Anglia’s mobile staffing is inconsistent across its ATP and NRE, and the operator told us it has a further mobile staffing trial on its West Anglia route, though this has not been advertised. Many of Greater Anglia’s National Rail Enquiries entries on DOO stations advise passengers to travel from the nearest staffed station instead, suggesting that taxis are used as an alternative to staff at many locations.
Greater Anglia said: “We will do everything we can to help passengers with their onward journey, but it will take longer for assistance to be organised and arrive at an unstaffed station if this is not pre-booked.”
Great Western Railway (GWR):
Turn up and go travel is unavailable at 32 out of 194 stations some or all of the time – a total 16%. GWR told us that it has a permanent mobile assistance team covering all its DOO: stations; however, this focuses on the more accessible stations and does not operate full time, only 07:00 to 22:00 Monday to Saturday and 09:00 to 20:00 on Sundays. There is no maximum wait time for this assistance, which GWR says “would vary dependent on the station requiring assistance; location of the mobile assistance staff member/s; and the time of day/demand for other mobile assistance requests.”
Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR):
Turn up and go travel is unavailable at 105 out of 235 stations some or all of the time – a total 45%. GTR currently has mobile staff covering 27 of these stations, with a suggested response time of 20 minutes. At stations without this service, staff would be sent from another station, or a taxi provided – with no maximum wait time.
GTR disputes our data, claiming that the information on National Rail Enquiries is not up-to-date for some of their stations. However, it has not given us its alternative figures. 
Turn up and go travel is unavailable at 63 out of 164 stations some or all of the time – a total 38%. Southeastern has a permanent mobile assistance team based at key locations and has informed us that these staff can travel to any station on the network. However, there is no maximum wait time for this service and its ATP advises passengers to book in advance: “there will likely be a delay for unbooked assists as we need time to arrange staff to attend.”
Southeastern said: “We do not have a maximum wait time, but we will take this feedback on board and update our Accessible Travel Policy accordingly.”
Why the EHRC must intervene
Under section 20 of the Equality Act 2010, train operators are required to make “reasonable adjustments” for the equal provision of rail travel. This means they would be judged in court by whether a “provision, criterion or practice” puts disabled people at a “substantial disadvantage”. Other parts of the Equality Act relating to disability discrimination would also apply, but the “reasonable adjustments” duty is anticipatory, meaning it is judged on a systematic basis.
For this reason, our evidence provides a systematic approach to assessing these practices, showing exactly where the combination of DOO and unstaffed stations is in place across all six train operators. Our summary of the mitigations used shows that, years after warnings from accessibility experts, train operators and the rail regulator have failed to establish any consistent or lawful mitigations for these discriminatory staffing policies.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission now has no choice but to investigate, and apply its full legal weight to breaches of equality law by train operators.
 Our data shows that 292 out of Britain’s 2570 stations have the combination of DOO and unstaffed stations some or all of the time – a total 11.4%. The project design is based on 2020 research conducted by DPTAC, the government’s advisors on transport accessibility.
Scotrail is also using this combination in the Greater Glasgow area, where some trains run under an “exceptional circumstances” agreement, meaning that staff are rostered, but not guaranteed, to be on board. Our study is based on rostered staff only, so Scotrail was excluded for reasons of data consistency. Scotrail refused to give us the percentage of their trains running without staff, commenting: “All ScotRail trains are scheduled with a second member of staff on board in order to provide assistance and customer service, though this has been impacted by recent industrial action.” For more information on Scotrail’s DOO routes, click here. *Scotrail is also the only operator in Britain to require advance booking for users of mobility scooters.
- September: we sent further evidence to the EHRC, proving that GTR “has been in breach of its legal requirements since 2010”. An RMT union letter also demanded EHRC intervention.
- October: a government advisor on transport accessibility resigned in protest at rail staffing discrimination, forwarding his complaint to the Chair of the EHRC.
- November: A group of 39 cross-party MPs signed a letter calling for the EHRC to act.
 For Greater Anglia’s Accessible Travel Policy, click here. See their DOO station entries on National Rail Enquiries for examples of the advice given to passengers, for example at Hatfield Peverel station: “Assistance at this station is provided by a staff member during ticket office opening hours. Outside of this time customers are advised to use Chelmsford station which is approximately 8 miles away. An appropriate accessible taxi will be supplied for journeys to intermediate unstaffed stations. Booking is recommended.”
 For GTR’s Accessible Travel Policy, click here. Other sources used to compile this information include: National Rail Enquiries station pages, ORR’s estimates of station usage, ORR’s ATP Guidance, Real Time Trains, and the operator’s own website and marketing materials. [All sources were accessed on 14th November, 2022.]
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