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.
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The Association of British Commuters (ABC) tweeted that:
🚨 Industry sources tell us that operators have been secretly preparing for mass ticket office closures since early June. The DfT wants these plans to be announced as soon as NEXT WEEK.
Pls RT and tell @Mark_J_Harper he'll have a massive fight on his hands if he goes ahead.
— Association of British Commuters (@ABCommuters) June 26, 2023
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:
In Chichester, yesterday morning, there was a queue at the ticket office! An incident had messed up the train to Victoria, and the electronic signs were wrong.
We need to keep the service available at all times. https://t.co/6rsn2EAkPC
— Mel Harvey (@GoodwillMel) June 26, 2023
Another person reminded us that UK rail travel is basically money for old rope – even more so if the government shuts ticket offices:
In Britain you pay the highest rail fares in Europe and among the highest in the world. But the Tories don’t think you even deserve a ticket office should you need one.
You’ll also be potentially fined £100 for boarding a train without a ticket.
All whilst they get free travel. https://t.co/TPl2LToDzh
— Will (@WillParkinson2) June 26, 2023
One user made an important point:
— Sophia Waterfield (@Pheecetious) June 26, 2023
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:
For people who depend on station staff to enable their travel the closure of ticket offices would be a disaster. This government keeps trying to spin the narrative that disabled people don’t want to work – well, make the infrastructure accessible and I’m sure more people would! https://t.co/wGn0cHkreJ
— Dr Yvonne Waft 👩🏼🦽 (@CatalystClinPsy) June 26, 2023
— Dr. David Wilkin FRSA (@DavidRWilkin) June 26, 2023
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.Support us and go ad-free
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