Jan 20 2011 By Dan Hodges
Ongoing concern about the lack of disabled access at key west London Tube stations saw Mayor Boris Johnson face a barrage of questions at a public meeting last night.
Mr Johnson visited Greenford Assembly Rooms to discuss local transport issues in front of hundreds of residents, including a number in wheelchairs, who grilled him over stalled plans for better access at stations including Ealing Broadway and Shepherd's Bush.
Heralding the arrival of five Crossrail stations in the borough before the end of the decade, the Mayor said London is going through a 'neo-Victorian age of investment of vital importance to the city, and of which Ealing is at the heart'.
But several questioners slammed Transport for London's decision not to push ahead with disabled lift plans, including some projects on which millions have already been spent.
One older Ealing resident, who has lived in the borough for 50 years, said Ealing Broadway and North Ealing are now out of bounds to her, and that more should be done before Crossrail finally opens in 2018.
She said: "I can't wait until 2018 and I want to know why there isn't an interim plan so disabled people or elderly people can use those stations. We've had promises and promises for the last 10 to 15 years, and absolutely nothing has happened."
Ealing Council leader Julian Bell added that work had even been started on a new lift at Greenford station before funding was pulled away.
He said: "We've been promised step free access for as long as I can remember. Enough is enough, it's got to be done."
Quizzing Mr Johnson on when Shepherd's Bush Tube would be opened up to disabled residents, local blogger Chris Underwood said £39m had been wasted by Transport for London on abandoned plans for a lift shaft.
He asked whether Crossrail would be for 'all Londoners' and whether 'everyone in this room' would be able to enjoy the investment which Mr Johnson had lauded.
Mr Johnson said the Shepherd's Bush lift project had proved 'incredibly difficult' and costly at a time when he had to focus on expanding the capacity of the Tube network.
He said: "That doesn't mean that step-free access schemes are off the agenda, far from it, but we can't do everything at once," adding: "With Crossrail we will make sure that it's fully accessible to everyone in London."
Mr Johnson promised to ask TfL and London Underground to see if anything more could be done to address the wider lack of disabled access, which had provoked a 'virtual insurrection' at the meeting.
He said: "I will go back and I will look at the questions you raise about access at Greenford and Ealing Broadway, and I will see what I can do. But what I will not do in my negotiations with the Treasury is jeopardise the huge investment that we have secured."
The Mayor was also questioned over cuts to the Taxicard scheme, which provides subsidised taxi transport for disabled residents.
Mr Johnson said the service had been on the Treasury's 'hit list', but that TfL had agreed to find £30m to allow a service to continue running, with some changes to the arrangements.
Mr Bell added that Ealing Council would make up a funding shortfall for local residents until the end of current the financial year, enabling Taxicard users to continue 'double swiping' their cards for longer journeys – a practice which is no longer possible under the new rules.