Detailed evidence prepared by disabled campaigners shows the “disastrous” impact that proposals to close hundreds of ticket offices across England would have on disabled rail passengers.
In a 13,000-word letter, they describe how the details within proposals published by 16 train operating companies “completely contradict” pledges they have made around access to support for disabled passengers, staffing levels, ticket sales, and the treatment of rail staff.
The letter was published as the train companies agreed to extend their public consultations on the plans until 1 September, following anger over an initial three-week deadline which was due to expire yesterday (Wednesday).
The letter, drawn up by the disabled-led campaigning organisation Transport for All (TfA), says its analysis of the consultation documents shows the government’s claim that no currently staffed station will become unstaffed as a result of the closures is untrue, as revealed by Disability News Service earlier this month.
This is because many stations will lose their own staff and will be served instead by “mobile teams” covering groups of stations.
The TfA letter says the information published by West Midlands Trains, which runs two rail franchises, suggests 78 stations will lose their designated staff teams and rely instead on roving “mobile teams” on a “flexible basis”.
This shows the government claim is “false”, says the letter.
And closures at East Midlands Railway will see 16 stations become unstaffed, with six of the stations relying on “daily visits” from mobile staff, and another 10 only expected to have “weekly visits”.
TfA says this is “shocking and unacceptable” and contradicts the government’s promise.
Its letter, signed by more than 50 disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and allies, is being sent to the two passenger watchdogs that are running the consultation process, Transport Focus and London TravelWatch.
The letter says the proposed closures across England “will make it impossible for disabled people to access the support we need to travel by rail”.
TfA also says that plans to move ticket office staff into “multifunctional roles”, where they will be “roaming around the station”, will make them “harder to find for the people who need them most”, including people with mobility or energy-limiting impairments and visually-impaired people.
And it says that cutting staff, together with an increasing dependence on inaccessible alternatives such as ticket vending machines, help points, digital ticketing, and mobile and roaming staff, will lead to a “deterioration” in already “unacceptable standards” of support.
Among the DPOs that have signed the letter are Disabled People Against Cuts, Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, Buckinghamshire Disability Service, Disability Poverty Campaign Group, WinVisible, Inclusion London, Disability Rights UK, Chronic Illness Inclusion and Sisters of Frida.
They are “shocked” at the consultation process’s lack of accessibility, with many train companies failing to provide their proposals in accessible formats such as British Sign Language, easy read, braille and large print.
The letter also warns that about half the companies “explicitly state” that passengers will have to travel to a different station or third-party shop to access certain types of ticket.
And it says that almost none of the train companies have mentioned how they will continue to provide induction loop facilities once their ticket offices close.
The letter says: “The ticket office is one of the most vital accessibility features of these stations; it impacts everything from the ability to buy tickets, receive assistance, access site facilities, navigate the station, plan routes, and feel confident in making journeys.”
It also says that TfA is “shocked” by the proposed staffing cuts contained with the proposals published by the 16 companies, which will “severely curtail” the ability of disabled passengers to use the rail network without booking in advance.
It also criticises the “piecemeal, fragmented” proposals, with plans that are inconsistent across different train companies, which will create “ample room for confusion” among disabled passengers.
And it says it is “staggering” that disabled people and their organisations have not had the opportunity to “meaningfully influence” policy at national level over the last months.
Caroline Stickland, TfA’s chief executive, 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.”
At the end of the consultation period, Transport Focus and London TravelWatch will have 35 days to examine the consultation responses before deciding whether to object to any of the proposals.
If a train company decides to ignore those objections, the dispute will be referred to transport secretary Mark Harper.
Meanwhile, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has welcomed the extension of the consultation deadline.
It said it had written to the Department for Transport this week about the proposed closures to raise “significant concerns about the potential adverse effects these closures could have on disabled and older individuals” and to highlight the insufficient time provided for the consultations.
But the commission refused to release its letter to Disability News Service.
EHRC has faced calls for nearly a year to raise concerns publicly about rail destaffing, the closure of ticket offices, and the potential impact of these policies on disabled people’s access to the rail network.
It has repeatedly refused to speak out and criticise the government and rail industry.
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