Disability campaigners celebrate train ticket office victory
After a four-month campaign the government has cancelled its plans to promote the closure of ticket offices at train stations.
The news has been celebrated as a victory by disabled activists who have put pressure on authorities to keep the services open for passengers who struggle buying tickets from machines.
On Tuesday transport secretary Mark Harper said that ministers had “asked train operators to withdraw their proposals” after two passenger watchdogs, Transport Focus and London TravelWatch raised concerns about the proposed closures.
The organisations shared similar views of 750,000 people urging for ticket offices to remain open.
One charity in particular, The National Federation of the Blind of the UK [NFBUK], was at the forefront of changing the government’s involvement supporting the closures.
Sarah Leadbetter, NFBUK’s national campaigns officer, told Disability News Service, the decision was “really good news” and a “very big surprise”', but she is apprehensive about the future with the prospect of more reforms being planned which could see another proposal to close ticket offices.
Leadbetter and accessible transport campaigner Doug Paulley have taken legal action against Harper and four train operators, but they are thinking of withdrawing their action after the companies extended the 21-day consultation period to close hundreds of ticket offices across England.
Paulley said on Wednesday: “It is a great relief that the government has given up these ill-conceived and ableist plans, for which they disingenuously blamed the train operating companies.
“This caused so much distress, and treated disabled people’s access needs with such contempt.
“So many fought so hard, in so many ways, to prevent this from occurring, and we should be proud.
“But we shouldn’t have had to, and imagine what positive things our energy, emotions and commitment could have achieved if they were not forced to be occupied fighting this iniquitous disgraceful proposal borne out of this hateful government and complacent industry.”
He added: “So I think we should celebrate our achievement.
“But we shouldn’t kid ourselves that the prospect of destaffing the railway is gone, nor the ableist mindsets that allowed such a hateful initiative to be proposed in the first place.”
Paulley is expecting further proposals to expand “driver only operation” of trains would be introduced now ticket offices will remain open.
Sue Jennings was one of the activists who campaigned against the closures, saying disabled people have been regarded as an “inconvenience” and treated with “contempt”.
She said: “I am relieved and also somewhat emboldened.
“Now let’s see real commitment to improving accessibility and making ‘turn up and go’ work for everyone so that no-one is left behind or ever #DisabledByTheRailway again.”
Tony Jennings, co-chair of a rail accessible panel and co-founder of the Campaign for Level Boarding, also called for ticket offices to stay open.
He said the decision to keep the services in operation was “an important moment in history for disability rights and demonstrates the collective power of campaigners, activists, the RMT union and DPOs”.
He added: “History will remember those who remained silent, who will be on the wrong side of disability rights.”
But he echoed Paulley’s concerns over new proposals to save money in the rail sector after reversing decisions around ticket office closures.
He warned the victory was “just the beginning and not the end” with further cutbacks on the horizon.
Paulley said: “Campaigners and the RMT need to remain vigilant that it does not result in a recruitment ban and destaffing by stealth and the DfT pushing for more driver-only operated trains, which would have equally disastrous consequences for disabled people.”
The news was also celebrated by Transport for All [TfA] calling the U-turn a “major victory”, which was “down to the tenacity of disabled people and our community”.
Katie Pennick, TfA’s campaigns manager, said: “Today represents the best possible outcome – but it’s not a step forward, instead we have resisted things getting worse.”
“The disastrous and discriminatory proposals should never have been put forward.”
She added: “It took multiple legal challenges, public uproar, cross-party opposition, and ultimately a watchdog decision for the Department for Transport to finally withdraw its support for the closures.”
The Rail Delivery Group said its proposals “were about adapting the railway to the changing needs of customers in the smartphone era, balanced against the significant financial challenge faced by the industry as it recovers from the pandemic”.
It added: “While these plans won’t now be taken forward, we will continue to look at other ways to improve passenger experience while delivering value for the taxpayer.”
[ The Department for Transport has refused to rule out future proposals for ticket office closures. ]