To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that facilities such as lifts and public toilets at railway stations are (1) in working order, and (2) accessible to both disabled and non-disabled passengers.
My Lords, the department is introducing service quality regimes into national rail contracts. These will monitor the availability and condition of station facilities, including lifts and public toilets. Operators will be required to meet challenging targets to earn their fees. We are working with the Rail Delivery Group to improve the availability of toilet facilities for disabled and non-disabled passengers and the provision of real-time information.
My Lords, for a disabled person relying on a lift to continue their journey, it must be very depressing to come to a station and find that the lift is not working. Why? Is it because parts needed for repairs are not available? Is it because there is no staff to tackle the problem? What is being done to deal with this? With the development of HS2, there will be hundreds more lifts. Will Her Majesty’s Government join rail and lift companies in helping to avoid future problems?
My Lords, the latest information I have on lift performance is that 99.16% are currently in operation. However, that less than 1% must be returned to operation as soon as possible. We are committed to the provision of real-time information on facilities so that those who need to use a lift can know in advance whether or not one is functioning.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, on raising this issue. My own experience is that lavatories on train stations rarely operate. They are blocked and no one takes any interest in them. What is needed is some form of periodic inspection.
My noble friend is absolutely right, and that is exactly what we are putting in place: inspection of lavatories and, indeed, many other facilities. We need monitoring as part of the service quality regime. We will use independent auditors, who will check stations and trains in each rail reporting period. They will look at the availability and presentation of key facilities, cleanliness, information provision, ticketing staff—all sorts of things. That will lead to an uplift in the services.
My Lords, sight loss is another form of disability. The RAIB report on the tragic accident at Eden Park underlined the urgent need for all platforms to have tactile paving. The Government’s stock Answer to Written Questions on this tells us that 60% of stations have tactile surfaces, but we know that in many cases that coverage is only partial within each station. Can the Minister tell us what percentage of stations have full coverage on all platforms? What is the Government’s target date for completing this work? How much will it cost?
Unfortunately, I do not have the figures to hand. As the noble Baroness points out, 60% of stations currently have tactile paving and we are very keen to move that to 100%. One of the key elements of The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail is a national accessibility audit that will look at every single station across the network. It will have a detailed look at the facilities and the standards to ensure that everywhere is accessible.
There is huge regional disparity in disability access at railway stations across the country. As part of the new stations fund, a small number of railway stations have opened in recent years. Can the Government give a commitment that at least all new stations, opened or reopened, will always have full disability access and full access to all facilities for disabled passengers?
I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising that. Although I would love to make that commitment at the Dispatch Box, as it is completely reasonable, I will have to write to him so that I can 100% confirm that that is the case. It is also important that we look at retrofitting the stations that we have. The Government have extended to 2024 the Access For All programme and provided £350 million-worth of funding.
My Lords, I think that a lot of us have an interest to declare on the question of lifts and public toilets—think about it. The Minister was very quick with the exact statistic on the number of lifts working. Could she give us a similar statistic on the number of public toilets that are working at stations? Could she also indicate how many public toilets outside stations have closed in the last 10 years?
Unfortunately, I am unable to give that statistic to the noble Lord, although I assure him that once the independent auditors are out there and checking on the loos, I am sure that statistic will be available. We look forward to it.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that, as well as the difficulty of toilets and lifts that do not work, the other problem is big gaps between platforms and trains, especially if you are a short person, as our legs are not as long as other people’s? Can she discuss with the train companies how they can improve that position? People can slip between the lines—I believe that that is a regular occurrence—and be badly injured or die as a result. Could the Minister take that up and see what improvements can be made?
I will certainly do as the noble Baroness suggests. When stations and platforms are refurbished we consider very carefully the gap between the train and the platform edge, and any serious safety issues it might raise. It is also the case that we have developed the Passenger Assist programme for disabled passengers much more in recent years. An app was launched in May 2021 so that disabled passengers can book their assistance online. It is used across the industry and has been very well received.
My Lords, the Punjabi word for travel is “safara”. Does the Minister think that this is an apt description of the difficulties experienced by disabled and non-disabled people travelling by rail?
My Lords, I sincerely hope not. This Government will do whatever they can to reduce suffering.
Does the Minister agree that, instead of coming forward with some scheme of auditors to examine and then report more accurately the statistics of failure of lifts and toilets, the Government ought to employ some plumbers and electricians to go round, do the audit work and remedy it immediately?
I am not sure that such multi-skilled individuals exist—
Well, I do not know of independent auditors who are also plumbers and electricians; it is potentially an idea that we could look at. The reality is that independent auditors have a very serious job to do because taxpayers’ money is at stake here. If the train operating companies do not meet the targets for availability of services, they will not get their management fee; if there was subsequently a dispute that ended up in court, the independent auditors have to be of very high quality to ensure that such a challenge is met appropriately.
It is interesting to hear about these independent auditors. Can the Minister tell us: how many of these wonderful people will there be, how many stations a day will they be expected to audit, will their visits be announced in advance and where will they report to?
I had not expected such interest in these independent auditors and will therefore have to write to the noble Lord.
I know—but, in all seriousness, it is a very serious job that they do. It will be looking not only at loos and how clean they are et cetera, but at ticketing and the availability of staff, with mystery shoppers looking at the helpfulness of staff. All this will feed in to make sure that we can hold the train operating companies to account on behalf of the taxpayer.
My Lords, can the Minister say what per diem rate these people are to be paid?
Is there no end to these fascinating questions about the independent auditors? I cannot, but I will write.
Is there an effective complaints system for those like the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, who, when travelling to Scotland perhaps, may find that the loos are not working properly?
Now that is an excellent point; if it does not exist, it absolutely should. Actually, I suggest that anyone would get in touch with the customer services of the relevant train operating company to report a fault.