A disabled person nailed why train ticket office closures are a disaster

A visually impaired man leaning down to look at a ticket machine ticket office closures DfT
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The Tory government has greenlit train operators to close the majority of ticket offices at stations. As is usual, bosses will do this claiming it won’t impact on passengers. Of course, the reality is very different – not least for chronically ill, visually impaired, and disabled people. So, one campaigner pulled apart the disastrous ticket office closures live on Channel 4 News.

Ticket office closures: months in the making

As the Canary has been documenting, the Tories began planning to allow train operators to close ticket offices in 2022. However, in recent weeks transport secretary Mark Harper has pressed ‘go’ on the scheme. We only knew this originally thanks to rail passenger group the Association of British Commuters (ABC).

The government has to sign the plan off, as there are regulations governing ticket offices. Of course, the arguments from the Tories and the companies include that only 12% of people buy tickets at offices. Train operators also claim that staff will be redeployed on stations.

However, campaigners, politicians, the public, and trade unions have all kicked off about the plan. The National Union of Rail, Transport, and Maritime Workers (RMT) has warned the Tories and train operators it will not “meekly sit by” and allow them to get away with this. But at the centre of this brewing scandal are chronically ill, disabled, and marginalised people.

Disabled people are not having it

As the Canary previously wrote, ticket office closures will hit disabled people particularly hard. So, on 6 July, campaigns and comms manager at campaign group Transport For All, Katie Pennick, made an argument as to why closing them is such a bad idea – and she made it brilliantly.

First, Pennick noted that:

disabled people are so much more likely to rely upon the ticket office to make… purchases.

Read on...

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Why, you may ask? Well, apart from physical accessibility issues – as Pennick put it, “having to… trek up and down the platform” for a ticket machine – a lot of disabled people don’t have access to the internet:

23% of disabled people are internet non-users – they don’t access the internet, can’t book online. The alternative is to use ticket vending machines which are also inaccessible to so many disabled people – out of height, for example, for wheelchair users.

Moreover, another issue is – as Pennick pointed out – that the 50% ticket discount for wheelchair users is only available from ticket offices. However, there’s a deeper issue here, too.

Victorian infrastructure, Victorian discrimination

Pennick summed up ticket office closures by saying:

We have Victorian infrastructure that is hideously inaccessible, we’ve got steps all over the place, and we need people to get out the manual boarding ramps, to sight-guide people through the station, to provide support for people who need it.

Indeed, England’s rail network is still highly inaccessible for chronically ill, disabled, and visually impaired people. As the Guardian reported, research by the ABC found:

More than one in 10 railways stations in Britain do not allow disabled passengers to “turn up and go” on some or all train services, according to research by campaigners.

The accessibility problems are caused by a combination of “driver-only operation” (DOO) trains and unstaffed stations, which result in a lack of staff to help disabled passengers board their train. Some stations have no step-free access.

At worst, this lack of accessibility can be fatal.

Is a consultation on ticket office closures enough?

A train hit and killed visually impaired man Cleveland Gervais in February 2020. This was at Eden Park station in south London. As lawyers Leigh Day wrote:

He had been waiting for the train to arrive and moved closer to the edge of the platform after its impending arrival was announced because he was unaware of where the edge of the platform was.

Eden Park station did not have tactile paving at the edge of platforms. They’re often yellow paving slabs with raised bumps in them. An inquest into his death concluded that this lack of tactile paving “caused or contributed” to Cleveland’s death. Overall, England’s rail network is already dangerously inaccessible for disabled people. Ticket office closures will only compound the issue.

The government has launched a consultation on the plans. Also, as the Canary previously wrote, the independent rail regulator could intervene to stop the closures. Moreover, Harper and the Tories could stop the plan themselves. Of course, they won’t, as it will save train operators money – and acting in the interests of corporations is the Tories’ usual MO.

It is sadly unlikely the government’s consultation will make any difference to ticket office closures. Successive governments have decimated England’s rail network for decades. Privatisation has been a disaster. And now, we’re seeing the fallout from this: the rail system on its knees, and the Tories and train operators scrabbling around to save face while desperately hoarding their profits.

Disabled people are always expendable to governments – and closing ticket offices will just be the next move in the continued degradation of their most fundamental human rights.

Featured image via Sky News – YouTube

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