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Train Companies say closing ticket offices will affect vulnerable people

woman at a train ticket office

Train companies have admitted disabled passengers will be vulnerable if their ticket offices close down.

A government-supported plan was recently announced 974 ticket booths will cease business across England, which caused concern from leading charities.

This week, train business have addressed the backlash by agreeing elderly, disabled and vulnerable people will be at risk when the closures go ahead.

Management teams have agreed closing ticket offices could put some people off travelling, acknowledging elderly passengers will be unable to pay by cash and those with hearing loss struggling to find support.

All stations planning to shut the service have been required to produce an Equality and Diversity Impact Assessment highlighting how vulnerable people will be affected. 

A statement from TransPennie Express said disabled and elderly travellers who currently “use the Ticket Offices and waiting rooms as a point of safety and refuge” may feel high levels of anxiety without them.

It added: “Disabled customers may potentially be victims of financial extortion if they need to give their bank card to others to assist them with purchasing tickets. Customers with hearing impairments may find it difficult to obtain information if staffing hours are reduced, particularly if they rely on lip reading. Older people may be socially isolated, and the Ticket Office offers them the opportunity to have a conversation with other members of their community.”

The risks have been highlighted by East Midlands Railway who are aware that taking away the service could potentially lead to “an increased risk of anti-social behaviour” when no staff are present.

A third rail company, Northern, said: “The reduction in the presence of staff may create a perception amongst customers that stations are less safe than they are today. Vacant buildings may be subject to vandalism, squatters, fires, antisocial behaviour, and general damage if not secured appropriately. This may deter passengers from travelling due to the appearance of an unsafe environment… There may be blind spots in the station, i.e., no CCTV coverage, which are prone to instances of anti-social behaviour and crime.

“Customers at 131 stations will not be able to use cash to purchase ticket products in or at the station, impacting those who rely on cash as a payment method. This will particularly impact the elderly, and/or communities that are more deprived, as they are more likely to prefer cash as their valued form of money.”

Moving down the country South Western Railway admitted “Potential of negative impact of Ticket Vending Machines: Not accessible for wheelchair users due to the height of the screen and card reader. No audio available so not accessible for visually impaired customers and customers with reduced literacy levels. For customers with visual impairments the contrast on the TVM screen is a challenge… There is a risk that some customers may feel like children if a member of staff has to push the buttons on [their] behalf.

“With fewer staffing hours available at some station, concerns have been raised about customers who are in a vulnerable state and wish to end their life.”

A statement released from Chiltern Railways said: “With the removal of the ticket office, some customers may be unable to understand, be familiar with, or find it difficult to use technology. These customers would typically use the ticket office facility and may prefer to use cash to purchase tickets. They may not trust the contactless payment system or remember their Chip & Pin code and also prefer the interaction with staff to book and fulfil their travel needs. The ticket office often provides them with confidence that their travel needs will be looked after.”

Whilst Avanti West Coast said: “Ticket offices are a known space for passengers to find staff and receive assistance, not just for purchasing tickets. This could result in passengers not receiving the support they need leading to them no longer choosing to travel by rail.”

“Ticket offices have hearing loops installed at counters. If there is a lot of background noise, staff can support customers and take them to a quieter area to communicate.”

Finally, a response from Greater Anglia read: “Ticket office reforms will cause anxiety for those customers who are more reliant on human interaction to travel - in general but also at specific times, e.g. during periods of disruption.

“Crime, anti-social behaviour and fear of crime (including hate crime) may increase as ticket offices are closed and static colleague presence reduced.”

On Monday RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch called for the plan to be revoked. He said: “The fact that train companies' own equality impact assessments show the detrimental effect of ticket office closures means the whole endeavour must be scrapped. The purpose of closing ticket offices is to open the way for the widespread de-staffing of stations up and down the country.

“We will continue our campaign alongside disabled and passenger groups to save our ticket offices. And we will consider taking legal action on disability discrimination grounds if the rail companies and government do not reverse course.”

[ Rail users have until 23.59 on September 1 to have their say on the planned ticket office closures. ]

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