Major works are underway at Ludlow station. The scheme is to put a temporary footbridge in place while the old footbridge is repaired along with the steps leading up to it. There are no plans to install lifts for those who are disabled or have limited mobility. A couple of weeks before, Shropshire Council refused a licence for the only fully disabled access taxi in Ludlow because it did not meet the Euro 5 standard. You can’t get into a Ludlow Town Council meeting if you have severe mobility problems.
In Shropshire, the disabled remain second-class citizens. We must change this.
At the beginning of the month, the government published its Inclusive Transport Strategy. Neither Network Rail’s upgrade of Ludlow Station or Shropshire Council’s meet the ambitions of that strategy.
Announcing the strategy, Nusrat Ghani, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, said achieving equal access for disabled people on all forms of transport is a government priority. This is not a new policy. It draws together government policies and initiatives on disabled access into a single statement and give them added impetus.
Ludlow rail station is being refurbished. The footbridge needs repairs and a temporary footbridge over the railway line is being put in place. This is welcome.
But there are no plans by Network Rail to install lifts. That means that people who are disabled or with limited mobility must struggle 600 metres from accessible the ticket office to the southbound platform. That route is partly uphill and very uneven. It is not suitable for people with disabilities and it is pitch black in the dark. It is not right that people with limited ability, such as our older residents, must struggle up and down the steps to the footbridge.
This is unacceptable in 2018. The only reason that Ludlow station is not fully accessible is a lack of will by the railway companies. As the Simply Emma blog shows, it is possible to travel by rail as a disabled person. Her’s is not the typical experience and it is very hard to travel from rural train stations like ours.
I cannot accept that a major rail refurbishment scheme is happening in 2018 without access for all being a priority.
Which brings us to Shropshire Council’s action. It has brought in a rule that all taxis must meet the Euro 5 standard. It is a good policy. In congested towns like Shrewsbury you can sometimes taste the pollution in the air around the rail station. But it also assumes sufficient volumes of business to allow taxi and private hire companies to finance an upgrade. That’s easy to achieve in Shrewsbury. It is much harder in a small rural town like ours.
Tracey’s Taxis in Ludlow has a fully accessible disabled taxi with a lift which allows people to get into the vehicle without leaving their wheelchair or mobility scooter. The taxi passed its MOT and LOLER test (which ensures the rear lift is fit for purpose). But it is Euro 4 not Euro 5.
That meant that Shropshire Council refused a licence for our only fully disabled accessible taxi. I wrote to Shropshire Council to support renewing the licence under exceptional circumstances. Councillor Viv Parry raised the issue at a licencing committee meeting but was ruled out of order.
I met Tracey a couple of weeks ago. She told me that she had exhausted all avenues to keep this vehicle on the road. She can’t afford to replace it. It is now off the road. If you need a taxi or private hire cab if you are wheelchair bound in Ludlow, you will have to call in a vehicle from elsewhere. These will not necessarily be Euro 5 if it comes from outside the county.
I live my life in the green lane supporting ever greener living. But I don’t support being green over inclusiveness in society. Problems with air quality in Shrewsbury should not override the needs of a rural town like ours where we want to ensure our society is inclusive.
Ludlow Town Council has refurbished the Guildhall where it meets. Can people in wheelchair bound get in? Not at all. The Methodist Church in Broad Street is a role model for how to be inclusive in a historic context. There is something fundamentally wrong with our policies if public money can be spent on buildings without ensuring full access.
It is time that we stopped treating disabled people as second-class citizens. Nationally, one in five people are disabled. Shropshire has an elderly population. I don’t have a statistic for disability Shropshire or Ludlow but suspect our percentage could be higher.
It is time to move access and disability into the fast lane in policy. Equality means equality. Not the current picking and choosing that favours fully mobile citizens over those who can’t enjoy an ordinary life because of a disability.
This post is about mobility. I will reject comments about trains and taxi and private hire services generally.