Hope for disabled train users as ticket office closure plans delayed

In a major climb down, rail users are now being given until September to respond to controversial plans to close nearly every station ticket office in England. ITV News Consumer Editor Chris Choi reports

A consultation on the closure of train ticket office closures has been delayed, leading to hope among travellers that the plan could be scrapped.

Ministers recently announced a plan to "modernise" the railway by closing all of England's ticket offices and opened an evidence-taking process which was due to last 21 days but has now been extended to September 1.

The consultation had already received 170,000 comments, according to watchdog Transport Focus and the Rail Delivery Group said operators are "keen to give more people a chance to give their views on the proposals".

The chairman of Network Rail, Lord Peter Hendy, told the BBC the consultation's delay is a "really good thing for our customers" and shows that "government and the operators want to hear more from passengers".

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “While this is a matter for the industry, it is right that train operators have listened to feedback and extended their consultations, following continued engagement with stakeholders, including accessibility groups.

“Following the consultations, independent passenger bodies will continue to play a vital role in assessing and shaping proposals.”

Labour's Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh said: "This delay is proof that the ticket office closure process has been a sham from the start.

“The Tories tried to ignore passenger and staff concerns and railroad through these huge changes to our rail network.

“They must halt this chaotic consultation process and come clean about their plans for the future of our railways."

The consultation was paused because "some train companies did not provide people with complete and accessible formats from the start of the consultation period", according to London TravelWatch.

Disabled and older users of the rail network had reacted with anger, explaining that ticket offices and their staff are critical for the success of their journeys.

The Rail Delivery Group, the industry body in charge of improving Britain's train network, said just 12% of tickets are bought at offices and staff would be better used elsewhere in the station.

Jacqueline Starr, Rail Delivery Group chief executive, said the proposals "would mean more staff on hand on to give face to face help with a much wider range of support, from journey planning, to finding the right ticket and helping those with accessibility needs".

But 50 organisations representing disabled people have joined forces to demand the plans to close almost 1,000 ticket offices are scrapped.

In a letter written by the disabled-led campaign group, Transport for All and signed by charities including Scope, the National Autistic Society, and Disability Rights UK, the coalition said it objects in the “strongest possible terms” because the plan would “severely curtail disabled passengers’ ability to" travel.

Caroline Stickland, CEO of Transport for All, said: "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.” 

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Rail minister Huw Merriman MP has insisted “no station that is currently staffed will become unstaffed as a result of these proposals” but trade unions including the RMT are sceptical.

General secretary Mick Lynch said: “Our union is taking our campaign to save ticket offices out into every town, city and village in this country.

“The recent announcements of ticket office closures is a fig-leaf for the wholescale de-staffing of stations, including safety critical train dispatch, safety critical train despatch staff, passenger assistance and other non-ticket office customer service workers.

“Ticket office closures under Schedule 17 means there will be no regulations on staffing levels at stations whatsoever.

“Train operators will then be free to staff or de-staff any station to whatever level they choose.

“Our union and the travelling public do not want a de-humanised railway that will be a rife with crime and anti-social behaviour, inaccessible to the most vulnerable.

“We will fight these plans all the way and need the public’s support in joining our campaign and taking part in the consultation.”