RMT and disabled activists hit back at leaked Tory rail plans to close ticket offices

A ticket office on the UK train network
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Leaked government plans have revealed that it’s allegedly planning to allow train operating companies to perform mass ticket office closures. Bosses have reportedly been keeping this secret, but the government has been speaking about it for months. The impact of any closures though, not least for disabled people, could be huge. So, the National Union of Rail, Transport and Maritime Workers (RMT) and activists have hit back.

Ticket office closures: on the cards for months

The government has had plans to close ticket offices for a while. As Disability News Service (DNS) reported in September 2022:

The Sunday Telegraph has reported that 25 of 30 East Midlands Railway ticket offices will be closed under a new contract, with this understood to be “broadly in line” with the government’s plans for the rest of the rail network.

Proponents of closures argue that most people don’t use them – buying tickets online instead. They also claim that closing these offices will free up staff elsewhere. However, during a Transport Select Committee hearing on ticket office closures in January, Labour MP Ruth Cadbury pointed out that:

The 12% of passengers who are currently using ticket offices are more likely to be occasional travellers and tourists, more likely to have disabilities, more likely to be cash buyers, more likely to have children in tow. That’s why they need that human contact.

She also questioned whether train operators would actually redeploy ticket staff like-for-like across stations, instead of just reducing the workforce.

Now, it seems the government’s and train operators’ plans to close most ticket offices are happening.

Read on...

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Leaked plans

The Association of British Commuters (ABC) tweeted that:

It continued, saying that:

this is a new stage – a direct DfT [Department for Transport] mandate given to operators a month ago.

Closures would begin with 21 day consultations under “Schedule 17” of ticket retail regulations…

But these are no ordinary consultations – when completed they will sweep away the regs, leaving **no visibility of staffing numbers whatsoever**

“Schedule 17” applies only to ticket retail – not accessibility.

In other words, train operators can close ticket offices and not have to consider disabled people’s accessibility in the process. The Guardian reported that around 1,000 ticket offices could be closed.

People on Twitter pointed out lots of problems with the government’s alleged plan. One user poo-pooed the idea that people didn’t use ticket offices:

Another person reminded us that UK rail travel is basically money for old rope – even more so if the government shuts ticket offices:

One user made an important point:

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said in a statement:

There are rumours circulating online that the DfT plans to announce mass ticket office closures next week.

The train operating companies and the government must understand that we will vigorously oppose any moves to close ticket offices.

We will 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.

RMT will bring into effect the full industrial force of the union to stop any plans to close ticket offices, including on our upcoming strike days of July 20, 22 and 29 in the national rail dispute.

So far, the DfT has remained tight-lipped.

Disabled people: yet more government-mandated marginalisation

However, perhaps the biggest issue with ticket office closures is the effect it would have on disabled people. This is something many Twitter users highlighted:

The Canary has documented for years just how badly train operators treat chronically ill and disabled people. Now, it appears this next move is another twist of the knife.

Paula Peters is a disability rights activist with Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC). She told the Canary:

The mass planned closure of ticket offices across the rail network is an outrage and an absolute travesty.

Taking away ticket offices is another barrier to exclude and marginalise disabled people from travelling, ticket machines are often broken and inaccessible to use, visually impaired people can’t use ticket machines and many with a learning impairment can’t either.

Going over to an app to book a rail ticket is complete foolhardiness from the government; older people, disabled people, many struggle with online technology and it often crashes or totally difficult to use. It’s all about profits for the greedy CEOs and shareholders.

Peters said that disabled people want:

  • Ticket offices kept open.
  • Guards on trains.
  • Fully staffed stations.
  • Critical safety-trained staff to assist and support them.

Ticket offices: “The fight goes on”

Peters summed up by saying:

Overall, we simply demand the right to ride.

We will continue to take the fight to the government and the train operating companies to stop the closure of ticket offices and de-staffing rail stations. This is about our safety and access.

We will take them on in the courts, with the continuation of street protests. The fight goes on.

So, it seems that despite the alleged plans, the government won’t have an easy ride pushing them through. The ABC has already floated potential court action, the RMT will incorporate this into its strikes, and disabled people will push back via protests. Train operators won’t be closing ticket offices without a fight from those at the sharp end of these brutal cuts.

Featured image via El Pollock – Wikimedia, resized to 770×403 pixels under licence CC BY-SA 2.0

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  • Show Comments
    1. The rail network in the UK has, since its inception, been designed for profits not as a public service. In the 19th century, the lack of affordable train tickets led to the Railway Regulation Act 1844 which forced private rail companies to provide some services at 1d. per mile. The companies reluctantly did so – once a day at the most inconvenient times. It seems that nothing has changed.

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