The Transport Select Committee has published a letter to the Rail Minister this morning (Monday 23rd October), describing the ticket office proposals as going “too far, too fast”, and warning that the change “risks excluding some passengers from the railway”.
In a remarkable intervention from the cross-party Transport Committee, MPs from both sides of the Commons have raised a number of key concerns, including the flawed consultation process, a lack of transparency from industry and government, and potentially detrimental effects on rail accessibility.
This follows a momentous public backlash against the proposals, as well as a Committee Inquiry evidence session in which our Campaigns Manager, Katie Pennick, told MPs in frank terms about the lack of accessible formats. These comments were quoted in the Committee’s letter, which goes on to say:
“Given that the timing of this consultation was entirely in the gift of the operators and that the proposals had clearly been in preparation for some time, the inconsistency and inaccessibility of the consultation materials was unacceptable.”
Chair of the Transport Select Committee
The Committee is particularly scathing of the role that the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) played, writing that it “should have been better prepared, and given better advice to operators”.
In a newly published letter from Chiltern Railways, the operator reveals that they were not advised by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) on the need for multiple alternative formats prior to the consultation period, and were not instructed to include an Easy Read version until much later (10th August 2023) when the deadline was fast approaching. Chiltern writes that they did not publish the EasyRead format until the w/c 21st August, which would have been a maximum of 10 days before the consultation closed.
Responding to the publication of the letter, Caroline Stickland, CEO of Transport for All, said:
“The scathing letter published today sets out many of the arguments that were made by Transport for All in the evidence session last month, as well as in the hundreds of written responses submitted by disabled people.
It is outrageous to hear that the Rail Delivery Group did not instruct train operators to produce the consultation documents in EasyRead format until 10th August – mere weeks before the deadline. The letter reiterates what many have been saying for months; these consultations were unacceptable. From misleading and contradictory statements, to missing details and inaccessible formats, it excluded countless disabled passengers from meaningfully having our say.
We hope this remarkable intervention from the cross-party Transport Committee will signal the end of these disastrous proposals.”
Caroline Stickland, CEO, Transport for All
The timing of the letter is particularly significant; at the end of this month, the independent passenger bodies (Transport Focus and London Travel Watch) will publish their response to the public consultation on ticket office closures. The initial consultation period had to be extended in part due to the overwhelming number of respondents, with nearly 700,000 people submitting letters of objection, the largest response to any consultation in British history.
If the passenger bodies formally object to the proposals and cannot reach a compromise with train operating companies, then the decision will be escalated to the Secretary of State for Transport to determine whether the plans will move forward or not.
Up until now, the Department for Transport has continued to assert that the mass closure of ticket offices is necessary step towards “modernising” the rail network. But public uproar, a barrage of legal challenges, and now a letter from cross-party committee saying the proposals go “too far, too fast”, will make maintaining this stance increasingly difficult, especially when the final decision rests in their hands.