We’re celebrating a major victory today, as proposals to close hundreds of rail ticket offices are officially scrapped. After a year of campaigning, the Government has dramatically U-turned, and it’s down to the tenacity of disabled people and our community.
After an overwhelming public backlash against the plans, resulting in the biggest response to a public consultation in British history, the passenger watchdogs this morning announced they are objecting to all proposals outright.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper says the Government has asked train operators to withdraw their proposals, despite having given the initial directive for the closures.
Katie Pennick, Campaigns Manager at Transport for All, said:
“Today represents the best possible outcome – but it’s not a step forward, instead we have resisted things getting worse. While we are proud of the incredible tenacity of disabled people and our community for securing this major campaign victory, the outcome is bittersweet. The disastrous and discriminatory proposals should never have been put forward.
“It took multiple legal challenges, public uproar, cross party opposition, and ultimately a watchdog decision for the Department for Transport to finally withdraw its support for the closures. Until the eleventh hour, the government were insisting that the plans would improve accessibility, despite unilateral calls from disabled people and our organisations saying otherwise.
“Though the government was eventually swayed, it is appalling that disabled people’s concerns were dismissed for so long. We can’t help but wonder what we could achieve if disabled people were listened to and accessibility was prioritised.”
Since the plans to close hundreds of ticket offices were leaked plans were leaked to the press over a year ago, Transport for All has been fighting tooth and nail to ensure that these disastrous plans are stopped.
None of this could have happened without you.
The watchdogs based their decision off the 700,000 consultation responses sent in over the summer. Thank you to everyone who submitted a letter of objection, and helped to make this the single biggest response to a public consultation in British history. This not only gave the watchdogs the information they needed to reject the proposals, but also showed the government the strength of public opposition to the closures.
It is ultimately this sustained public uproar that was the nail in the coffin for the plans. Because of the laws around how ticket office closures work, the government could have overridden the watchdog decision. It was therefore doubly important to keep applying this pressure: strength of opposition made it extremely politically risky to override the watchdog, especially in the run up to an election year.
Our call to email your local representatives also meant that over a quarter of sitting MPs were contacted by you, imploring them to oppose the plans. Over the past few months, Transport for All’s policy team have been following this up by doing a lot of lobbying behind the scenes: meeting with and briefing MPs across the political spectrum, gradually getting as many as possible on side.
We also appeared in Parliament to give evidence to the transport select committee’s inquiry into the ticket office closures. This evidence, alongside the written evidence that hundreds of you submitted, was cited in a cross party letter to the minister criticising the “radical” plans as “going too far, too fast”.
Elsewhere there have been legal challenges, and we’ve been proudly supporting our friend and long-time member Doug Paulley together with Sarah Leadbetter bring their judicial review against the four publicly owned operators.
All of this has brought the political pressure up to boiling point that the government could no longer ignore. Thanks to the work of our members, and other disabled campaigners across the country, we have won an incredible victory.
However, the work does not stop here. This chapter has laid bare that major legislative reform is needed. Such disastrous proposals should not have been considered at all, and the time, energy, and resources that have been spent fighting this could have been spent securing actual progress. It is clear we need better systems in place to ensure accessibility – and disabled people’s rights to travel – are better protected by regulators and are never threatened like this again.