The Department for Transport (DfT) has rejected our Freedom of Information request, deciding to withhold its analysis of the impact that closing ticket offices could have on disabled people.
As the public consultation on closing thousands of rail ticket offices across England draws to a close, campaigners and disability groups have been denied their request to see the Equality and Impact Assessment made by the Government of the proposals.
The deadline for the public to respond to the consultation is midnight tonight (Friday 1st September), and yet disabled people have not seen analysis of how the proposals may impact them.
In a letter responding to our Freedom of Information request, the DfT stated they were withholding the information under the “Formulation of government policy” exemption.
They go on to elaborate that “Ministers and officials need a safe space away from public scrutiny to formulate and develop the policy.”
While individual Train Operating Companies have published Equality and Impact Assessments, these only concern the impacts of closing ticket offices at stations operated by individual companies, and does not look at the cumulative impact of closing ticket offices across the network as a whole. It is this programme-wide assessment of impact that we have been trying to obtain from the DfT, and it is unclear why this document is exempt from FOI and not train operators individual ones.
The Equality and Impact assessments undertaken by individual train operators are damning in themselves. In one, published by Northern, the following negative impacts are identified:
- Staff capacity to provide assistance: Staff “will be at a station for an average of 29 hours per week compared to 73 hours currently staffed by Ticket Office colleagues” resulting in a reduction in “Passenger Assistence capacity”
- Safety: “Disabled people are at greater risk of incidents of abuse and unwanted sexual behaviours” and “The lack of colleagues presence may increase personal security and safety concerns when travelling.”
- Hazards for blind and visually impaired passengers: “49% of train stations in Great Britain have either no or only partial tactile surfaces on operational platforms. This means visually impaired customers who cannot navigate stations independently may currently rely on station colleagues to assist. A reduction in colleagues members may adversely impact them.”
- Turn Up And Go: “Over a third of disabled rail passengers in Great Britain do not book book assistance in advance. Instead, passengers tend to depend on colleagues at stations for assistance. A reduction in the number of colleagues to meet this on-the-spot support request has the potential to negatively impact.”
We believe it is unacceptable that the general public has been denied access to the Government’s own programme-wide assessment and analysis of the proposals, information that could have aided in shaping responses to the consultation. It is a further example of how this consultation does not meet the Gunning principles for fair consultation, specifically “There is sufficient information to give ‘intelligent consideration’”.
We will be appealing the decision and will update our members in due course.
You have until Midnight tonight to respond to the consultation, our template for doing so is here.
Our own letter of objection is here.