Disability news

Closure of train ticket offices causes havoc for disabled travellers

a few people outside a  train ticket office

Disabled campaigners and charities have expressed concern after train companies announced they are about to close ticket offices at stations across the country.

Last week the Association of British Commuters [ABC] revealed that there will be ‘mass ticket office closures’ which had been secretly planned since early June.

Thousands of disabled travellers which rely on the service could see their travel plans thrown into havoc following the news.

Sarah Leadbetter, [pictured above].  national campaigns officer for The National Federation of the Blind of the UK (NFBUK), told Disability News Service: “We will be fighting. We won’t be giving up.

“I fought hard for my independence. I will have to go back to the good old days of waiting for family and friends to take me places, or use taxis.

“I won’t be able to go out, I’ll be isolated, excluded. We’ve got the right to travel as much as everybody else… and this is going to totally and utterly stop that.

“Doing what they are doing is totally disgusting. It’s taking the people out that rely on the trains the most. It will exclude a lot of people.”

She added: “They want to have somebody roaming around the station [instead of in a ticket office].

“That’s inaccessible for a lot of us. I won’t know where they are. I won’t be able to find them.”

Helen Rowlands, an executive council member of Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP), said her organisation delivered a letter to 10 Downing Street with the backing of MP Debbie Abrahams in February with a “clear message for the prime minister” that “safe and reliable rail for Greater Manchester’s disabled residents includes properly staffed stations and ticket offices”.

Rowlands said: “We explained to Rishi Sunak that ticket offices are a vital aspect of ensuring disabled travellers’ safety, information and access needs.

“Access to rail is a key means of creating access to education, training, work, social and wellbeing opportunities for disabled members of society.

“It is with deep concern that we learn this week that he has chosen to disregard our warning.”

She said GMCDP wanted to remind transport secretary Mark Harper, a former minister for disabled people, that accessible transport is a right set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Rowlands added: “We are urging opposition parliamentarians to commit to the incorporation of UNCRPD into domestic law as a matter of the utmost urgency, and to stand with disabled people in the fight for accessible rail for all.”

Disabled and accessible transport charity Transport for All (TfA) stated closing train ticket offices would “risk locking disabled people out of the rail network entirely” and have “a disastrous impact, at a time in which we are already grappling with a cost-of-living crisis”.

The charity went on to explain that a number of disabled people are unable to book tickets online, do not have bank accounts and find station ticket machines difficult to use.

Katie Pennick, TfA’s campaigns and communications manager, said: “Whatever a person’s specific access requirements, it is vital that disabled passengers can trust that staff will be on hand and assistance will be provided.

“Without this assurance, disabled people risk being stranded at stations.

“Changing the roles of ticket staff to multifunctional, ‘roving’ staff who move around the station (or worse – ‘mobile’ staff teams that are split across a cluster of stations and having to drive between each) would not be an adequate solution.

“People with energy-limiting impairments or mobility impairments simply cannot trek around stations to find assistance, and blind and visually impaired people will struggle to find and recognise a staff member.”

Co-founder of ABC, Emma Yates echoed the concerns on how shutting down ticket offices will isolate thousands of disabled people who need someone to talk to at stations so they can travel.

“Due to industry whistleblowers, Mark Harper’s attempts to avoid public scrutiny have been thwarted,” Yates expressed.

“This has given campaigners a vital head start – now every day counts to demand equality and accountability.

“These are rushed and secretive plans signed off by the government, and it appears that accessibility and retail systems are nowhere near ready.

“It is now vital that the Department for Transport publishes equality and risk assessments before putting this out to consultation.

“The onus is on the government to prove it has a lawful, consistent, and long-term approach to accessibility.

“Also, serious questions must be asked about which regulators and stakeholders have had oversight of the plans.

“All such parties should take a public position on this shocking news and do whatever they can to gain transparency in this short window of opportunity.”

She added: “If the closure process does begin, there is no doubt it will be met with huge, nationwide resistance.”

Mick Lynch, general secretary of The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), said his union would “vigorously oppose any moves to close ticket offices” and would “not meekly sit by and allow thousands of jobs to be sacrificed or see disabled and vulnerable passengers left unable to use the railways as a result”.

A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group [RDG] said it had been in talks with RMT for more than a year in regards to the issue after there had been a drop in the number of people who use ticket offices from 85% in 1995 to 12% today.

They said:  the plans would “include moving staff from ticket offices to concourses where, with extra training, they will be better able to help more customers, not just with buying tickets, but also offering travel advice and helping those with accessibility needs.

“While the industry is now looking at how to move forward, any changes would be subject to employee and public consultations.

“Staff always remain front of mind so as you would expect from a responsible employer, if and when the time comes for proposals on ticket offices to be published, they will be the first to know.”

[ Roughly three out of every five English stations have a ticket office ]

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