Transport for London (TfL) is facing calls to improve Dial-a-Ride, its free service that helps elderly and disabled people get around the capital.
Dial-a-Ride is a free transport service TfL put on for people over 85 and disabled people. Users have to register, and there are 42,000 on the books at the moment. Users made about 125,000 trips in the first half of the year.
TfL say they prefer trips to be reserved in advance, and users can make one advanced booking trip a week. There are no limits on next-day and same-day journeys.
But some people using a Southwark service for visually impaired people told the News in June that they have long struggled to book transport on Dial-A-Ride from their respective homes in Lewisham and Streatham to the centre off Blackfriars Road, paying out hundreds of pounds a month for taxis instead.
Now TfL is facing fresh calls to improve the service, including:
- Allowing longer bookings (some users say journey lengths are capped at five miles, although TfL said there are officially no restrictions)
- Increasing the number of advanced booking trips to three a week, from one
- Improving the phone booking system, with some people tired out by waiting fifteen or twenty minutes to speak to someone
- Extending operating hours to midnight on weekdays and 1am on weekends, to allow users to have nights out
- Confirming email booking requests quicker to give users more certainty
The calls come in a report, by elderly people’s advocate charity Age UK and disabled people’s charity Transport for All.
John McGeachy, senior campaigns officer at Age UK and one of the report’s authors, said that Dial-a-Ride was a good service overall, but that these changes could make a real difference to people that use it.
“It’s things like Dial-a-Ride that can become forgotten transport modes – it’s such a shame because these things can change people’s lives,” he told the News. “The reasons we started working on it was all of our local teams were talking about social isolation.
“It’s an incredibly complicated subject but one small piece of the puzzle is around improvements to community infrastructure that would make people more confident.
“For example, lots of people we talked to say they really struggle with the long waiting times when you book by phone… It’s frustrating and stressful and potentially quite tiring.”
TfL has been struggling financially since the pandemic and these changes would cost money, although at the time of writing it has been offered a new funding deal from central government.
Mr McGeachy added: “In the grand scheme of things, the network is facing so many cuts, unfortunately these smaller services are the ones that get dropped to the bottom of the queue.”
Other changes that the charities call for are communicating more clearly about the service, cutting down the number of journeys refused, consulting with users about changes to the booking system, reducing late arrivals and making sure journeys are as efficiently scheduled as possible.
London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon, a long-term campaigner for Dial-a-Ride, said that “the report highlights how highly valued the service is, but equally how frustrating it is when the service does not work.”
The Liberal Democrat and former deputy leader of Southwark Council said in a foreword to the report that “the recommendations… must now be acted upon to ensure every Londoner can move around our great city.”
Dial-a-Ride boss at TfL James Mead said TfL was grateful to Age UK and Transport for All for the report, and that staff would be looking closely at the recommendations.
TfL is working on a new booking system for Dial-a-Ride that will come in next year, and recruiting more staff to cut waiting times.
Mr Mead said: “We are proud to provide a Dial-a-Ride service, which we know is vital in helping people lead rich and independent lives. It’s a free service that we fund entirely, and we keep it under constant review in order to meet the diverse needs of our wide customer base.
“We know that the long waiting times for booking are unacceptable and are taking steps to put this right. A new, simpler booking system will be implemented next year and we are also recruiting more staff to take bookings, both of which will cut waiting times.
“We are pleased that customer satisfaction was at 93 per cent in the most recent survey but are not complacent.”
Mr Mcgeachy pointed out there are also other special ways for elderly and disabled people to get around London. One is the Taxicard scheme that gives people cheaper taxi rides, although “there are even more problems with that than with Dial-a-Ride,” he said.
But Mr McGeachy praised TfL’s travel mentoring service. Staff at the service give people who are anxious about using public transport advice about journey planning, and even sometimes go with them on the first couple of trips to boost their confidence. “Mentoring is a great service, but hardly anyone knows about it,” he said.
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