Tories and train operators lash out over ticket office closures but end up red faced

A ticket office queue and transport secretary Mark Harper
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The Tories, transport secretary Mark Harper, and train operators’ plans to close most ticket offices in the country have been thrown into chaos – thanks, in part, to disabled activists and trade unions. After they lashed out over the public’s objections, train bosses have now been left red faced. However, it’s also emerged that they aren’t taking the “Save Our Ticket Offices” campaign very well – threatening staff who get involved.

Ticket office closures: the thin end of the wedge

The Canary has been documenting the ongoing debacle over ticket office closures. It’s seen the Tories and train operators in cahoots to close most of the outlets across the country. However, people have hit back furiously – not least the National Union of Rail, Transport, and Maritime Workers (RMT), and chronically ill and disabled people. For the latter, as we previously wrote:

23% of disabled people are internet non-users. Ticket vending machines are often inaccessible. Plus, wheelchair users can only get their 50% discount on tickets from an office. Overall, the rail network is generally still not fully accessible as well. All this makes for a perfect storm for chronically ill and disabled people.

Train operators are counter-claiming that they’ll redeploy ticket office staff on stations. However, research by the Association of British Commuters (ABC) has shown this not to be true.

At the centre of the storm has been the government and train operators’ consultation on the process. It was due to close at 11:59pm on Wednesday 26 July. Two legal challenges – one from two disabled people, and one from five mayors – both claimed the consultation breached various laws and regulations.

Now, it appears that the Tories and train operators have shit themselves and lashed out.

Consultative chaos

As the Mirror first revealed, the outcry and response to the contentious consultation has thrown it, the Tories, and train operators, into chaos. It reported on 25 July that:

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the process could yet be extended following crisis talks between the Department for Transport and train operators earlier today.

It is understood the consultations could even be extended over the summer and could run into September.

Why, you may ask? Well, the Mirror said:

Ministers and train companies have been spooked over legal challenges to how the process has been conducted. At its heart are claims that the 21 day consultation was not only too short but also unlawful and discriminated against disabled people.

So it came to pass on Thursday 26 July that train operators extended the consultation – probably coupled with red faces in bosses’ offices up and down the country. People now have until 1 September to submit their objections – on top of the 170,000 responses already sent in.

Bosses behaving badly

Meanwhile, the RMT has revealed that a train operator has threatened its members with disciplinary action. It’s over them wearing “Save Our Ticket Offices” stickers at work. General secretary Mick Lynch wrote to the offending train operator, LNER. He said:

I have received very disturbing reports this morning from members at your company who are being threatened by managers with disciplinary action and being sent home without pay as a result of them wearing “save our ticket offices” stickers.

Threatening staff who are fighting for their very futures and for the services they provide in this way is a quite disgraceful tactic to use and I can advise you that any moves to discipline any RMT member for having a simple statement on a sticker will be met with a full industrial response.

Lynch continued:

If a genuine and meaningful consultation process really is to be followed in this process, then surely this would include allowing the very staff whose future employment is threatened to voice their opinions.

I would therefore ask that any disciplinary threats are withdrawn and that you will assure your staff their democratic right to have their opinion heard on this extremely important matter will be respected.

I look forward to hearing from you on this as a matter of extreme urgency.

Members have told the RMT that bosses at other train operators, including Northern, and Greater Anglia, have “interfered with campaigns and removed materials from stations”.

Great British Chaos Plc

It seems that far from being a done deal, the Tories’ and train operators’ plans are in chaos – thanks to the hard work of campaigners, trade unions, and chronically ill and disabled people. But then, why break the habit of a lifetime? Chaos in ticket office closures is par for the course from a rail network that exists in a perpetual state of chaos anyway – thanks to Tory privatisation.

Is it time to bring back British Rail, yet?

Featured image via Channel 4 News – screengrab, and ITV News – YouTube

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