“Proposals to close or reduce train station ticket offices ignore the needs of passengers and put jobs at risk.”Margaret Greenwood MP
By Margaret Greenwood MP
It would appear that the government has lost sight of the fundamental purpose of public transport: that it is there to serve our communities.
The proposals from the Train Operating Companies (TOCs) under contract with the Department for Transport (DfT) to close or reduce the opening hours of most train station ticket offices in England roundly ignores the needs of passengers. It also threatens to put jobs at risk and impact on working conditions.
Ticket office staff play a vital role in helping passengers understand their travel options, buy the right ticket, find the right platform and secure assistance if they are disabled. Yet the government and the TOCs seem to see this crucial work as a costly inconvenience rather than the important service that it is.
There has been a huge outcry against the proposals, and this was evident in the passion of the recent debate in parliament on the matter.
One woman with a severe visual impairment wrote to me saying that, for blind and partially sighted people, the support provided by ticket offices and staff is vital. She expressed serious concerns that ticket office closures will see even more visually impaired people excluded from travelling independently by train.
A survey by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) showed that only 3% of blind and partially sighted respondents said that they could use a ticket vending machine without problems.
We must remember the impact of the proposals on those with poor literacy and numeracy skills too. In England, 7.1 million adults – 16.4% of the adult population – are functionally illiterate. They are unlikely to be able to use ticket machines.
As a result, there could be a significant numbers of people who are not be able to get to work, attend healthcare appointments, travel to meet friends or take part in leisure activities.
We must also question why the government is refusing to release equality and impact assessments that it has done on the proposals.
This is not acceptable: the public has a right to see them. The government should release them immediately.
Even the train companies’ own equality impact assessments identify serious issues.
For instance, Avanti has said: “This project may lead more customers to use the (Ticket Vending Machines). TVMs may not be accessible for some disabled customers, including those with visual impairments.”
Northern has said: “Customers at 131 stations will not be able to use cash to purchase ticket products in or at the station, impacting those who rely on cash as a payment method.”
East Midlands Railway has said: “Not all ticket products are available to purchase on board the train or at the TVMs. This may leave the customer at a financial disadvantage, by having to buy a more expensive ticket type.”
These should be reasons enough for common sense to prevail and the proposals to be dropped.
The minister Huw Merriman’s argument that, “The idea is to take the member of staff on to the platform or concourse to help passengers where they need it – as opposed to at the ticket office – and to provide extra information, reassurance and additional security for all passengers,” seems extraordinary.
The ticket office is visible, it is signposted and passengers know where to find it. What’s more, it is likely that such change would lead to a far more stressful environment for staff who the public would expect to be able to respond to their myriad concerns; and it is likely too that the most vulnerable of passengers would find it the most difficult to secure the support that they need.
There are real concerns that the proposals will lead to job losses. The Rail Delivery Group has admitted that it is not able to make any commitments about not making compulsory redundancies. Further, analysis by the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) Union has found that 2,300 station staff jobs are at risk of redundancy as a result of the plans, which is nearly a quarter of all station staff at the companies involved.
A system that makes it more difficult for people who are disabled, elderly or otherwise vulnerable to travel on the railways is not a fair or inclusive one.
The government must play its part in protecting railway ticket offices.
And they should go further, too. Ministers should be taking steps to bring the railways fully back into public ownership so that the needs of the public can be put first. Last summer, a poll by Survation found that 68% of those surveyed wanted this to happen.
Public ownership of the railways would mean that more could be invested in improving services and lowering fares, instead of lining the pockets of shareholders.
Ministers must protect station ticket offices, ensure they are fully accessible and guarantee the jobs of ticket office staff.
- Margaret Greenwood is the Labour MP for Wirral West, you can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
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