The people who can't use Crossrail

London's major new transport project is inaccessible to thousands for a saving of just 0.2 per cent of its budget.

Crossrail – the new, £14.5bn rail line due to open in 2019 – has come under fire today for not being fully open to women. Seven of the stations, including four in London, have been designed with a sensor that means it will be physically impossible for anyone without a Y chromosome to cross the platform. Mechanisms to address the censors are available but bosses have no plans to implement them, leaving women without full access. 

Women’s groups are understandably outraged. 

“It’s simple discrimination,” said a spokesperson for Transport for All, the group set up to address the continual exclusion of women from the use of public transport. “It’s offensive that in this day and age a woman can’t gain full access to public transport. And all because of a characteristic a person can’t help that their body has. It just doesn’t make sense. How did the many people behind Crossrail think it was okay to plan a new, major public transport link that excluded a section of the public?”

There are rumours that several other stations will only be accessible to people with light skin due to further sensor problems on the platforms, but, other than platitudes during interviews, the Mayor’s office has failed to provide any concrete commitment to make the necessary changes.

Only joking! None of that’s happening at all, of course. Or rather, it’s only happening to disabled people. Seven of the stations for Crossrail will not have step-free access to platforms, meaning wheelchair users and other disabled people won’t be able to use them. So that’s fine, then. 

It’s not like anyone involved in Crossrail could predict that disabled people might need to get around or that, you know, they even existed. They’re often shut in their house and it’s easy to forget them. 

It’s not like there was a global sporting event that specifically highlighted the inclusion of disabled people, held exactly a year ago in the same city. Or that the accessibility of public transport was actually featured in the bid for that event.

Plus, it’s not as if Crossrail is a long-term or expensive project where these sort of issues had a chance to come up. Massive infrastructure improvements that cost almost £15bn worth of public money are typically designed and approved in one afternoon on the back of a Tube map. And no matter what the PC brigade say, you can definitely put a price on equality and a human being’s right to be part of society. Sure, when it comes to making Crossrail fully accessible that price is only 0.2 per cent of the total cost, but when it comes to public money, you have to be careful not to waste it. Other than building a vast, expensive new piece of public transport that isn’t suitable for some of the public, obviously. 

As Tanni Grey-Thompson told me for the New Statesman last week, no disabled person expects existing public transport to be perfect. But what’s Crossrail’s excuse? At this point, it’s just those in power actively excluding certain people from the transport everyone else uses, and as a consequence, mainstream society. But it’s only disabled people, right? They really should be used to it by now. 

Coinciding with a week of action by Disabled People Against Cuts, on Thursday 29th August Transport for All are leading a protest against the inaccessibility of Crossrail. You can lend your support here.

The Crossrail tunnel. Photograph: Getty Images

Frances Ryan is a journalist and political researcher. She writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman, and others on disability, feminism, and most areas of equality you throw at her. She has a doctorate in inequality in education. Her website is here.

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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.