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Contact: Emma Vogelmann
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Disability charities join forces to condemn ticket office closures
Over 50 organisations representing disabled people and allies have joined forces to object to the proposals to close almost 1000 rail ticket offices across England.
In a letter written by the disabled-led campaign group, Transport for All, and signed by charities including the RNIB, RNID, Guide Dogs, Scope, National Autistic Society, and Disability Rights UK, the coalition objects to the proposals in the “strongest possible terms”, arguing that the plans would “severely curtail disabled passengers’ ability to Turn Up And Go”.
The letter points out that the proposals directly contradict all four ‘industry-wide pledges’ underpinning the programme, and that they represent a deterioration in the quality of service received by disabled people that would likely violate the Equality Act.
While the rail minister Huw Merriman MP has repeatedly asserted that “no station that is currently staffed will become unstaffed as a result of these proposals”, an analysis of the proposals set out in the letter shows this statement to be false.
Under East Midland Railway’s plans, for example, 16 stations will become completely unstaffed, with staff presence limited to “daily” or even “weekly” visits from mobile teams. For West Midland Railways, this rises to 78 stations.
The letter, which is 13,000 words long, also details issues with digital exclusion, the inaccessibility of ticket vending machines, the unavailability of particular rail products (some disability-related discounts are only available from a ticket office) and the piecemeal and inconsistent approach to mitigations.
Caroline Stickland, CEO of Transport for All, said:
“Government and industry claim that these proposals represent a step forward in terms of accessibility and will bring benefits for disabled passengers. The coalition of groups that have signed our letter of objection, however, show that this could not be further from the truth.
“In it, we make irrefutably clear that these closures will lock millions of disabled people out of the rail network, reversing years of progress to make transport more accessible, and likely violating the Equality Act on multiple counts.
“We stand together against these discriminatory reforms, and will continue to fight for as long as it takes.”
Vivienne Francis, RNIB’s Chief Social Change Officer said:
“’RNIB is co-signing this letter because we believe that modernisation should mean inclusivity, not apps and touchscreens. A mass closure of rail ticket offices would have a hugely detrimental impact on blind and partially sighted people’s ability to buy tickets, arrange assistance, and – critically – travel independently.
“We know that not being able to get out and about independently prevents people with sight loss from being able to make journeys to get to work, meet their friends, go to sporting events or generally make plans like everyone else. The level of planning and preparation required to travel is significantly greater for blind or partially sighted people, and over half find it difficult to plan an unfamiliar journey.
“RNIB research shows that only three per cent of people with sight loss said they could use a ticket vending machine without problems, 58 per cent said it was impossible. As well as accessibility problems with online ticket websites and apps, they immediately exclude the large number of blind and partially sighted people without internet or smartphones.
“The Government claims it wants to ‘bring staff out from behind the glass’ but in truth it risks leaving blind and partially sighted people behind a new barrier.”
Public consultations on the proposals opened earlier this month, with the passenger bodies Transport Focus and London TravelWatch reporting that they have already received over 100,000 responses.
This letter is the latest example of the strong backlash there has been against the proposals. Last week disabled activists launched legal action against four of the train companies, calling the public consultations “woefully inadequate”. Several Labour Mayors including Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham are also preparing their own legal action against seven train companies.
The deadline for the public to respond to the consultations is Wednesday 26th July.
Notes to editors
About Transport for All
Transport for All is the only disabled-led group striving to increase access to transport and streets across the UK. We are a pan-impairment organisation, advocating for every disabled person. We work with our members to fight for transport access, championing disabled and older people’s rights and providing an unrivalled community of support.
- Around 1 in 5 people (20%) in the UK are disabled people (ONS, 2015). Everyone should have the right to travel freely on public transport and around their local streets.
- Currently, only 1 in 4 mainline train stations has step-free access to the platform. At almost all of these stations, station staff are still required to deploy manual boarding ramps for wheelchair users, and other people who need assistance onboarding.
- 23% of disabled adults are internet non-users, compared with 6% of non-disabled adults (ONS, 2019)
- Among working age disabled people, the employment rate is 28.8 percentage points lower than the employment rate of non-disabled people (House of Commons Library, 2021).
- Among 21 to 24 year olds, there is a 10.3 percentage point gap between disabled people with no qualifications and non-disabled people with no qualifications (ONS, 2021). Access to transport is a key enabler to both employment and education.
- A recent survey from Transport Focus found that 26% of disabled passengers felt that local public transport provision limited their access to employment.
- Transport for All’s research found that a third of disabled people use ticket offices, almost twice the number that use ticket vending machines. The government’s own metric found that 40% of disabled people report the ticket office being closed as a barrier to purchasing a ticket.