Disabled campaigners and allies have called for an “urgent intervention” from regulators to prevent the closure of nearly 1,000 rail ticket offices across England.
In an open letter to the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), they say government-backed plans for a national closure programme are likely to “undo decades of progress made towards rail accessibility”.
The letter was sent the day before rail companies launched consultations on proposals to close most ticket offices in England (see separate story).
The letter says the two regulators need to act urgently to ensure the closure programme takes full account of the possible impact on accessibility.
And they warn that the real purpose of the closure programme is to make cuts to staff by “stealth”, and that the closure programme could create 500 more unstaffed stations across England.
They also warn that access problems with ticket machines mean the planned closures will “guarantee a discriminatory impact on disabled people” if the government is allowed to press ahead with its plans, which will be implemented by train companies.
Among those who have signed the letter are Ann Bates, former chair and vice-chair of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC); Matthew Smith, who resigned from DPTAC last year, after accusing ministers of backing policies on de-staffing the rail network that discriminate against disabled rail passengers; and Caroline Eglinton, the government’s own disability and access ambassador for the rail industry.
The letter says: “If passengers cannot purchase the ticket they need from a ticket vending machine (TVM), they will have to travel to one of the few remaining ticket offices, probably at bigger stations.
“This will cause extra costs and inconvenience to all passengers seeking better ticket options, advice, refunds; and directly excludes anyone who finds TVMs or e-ticketing inaccessible.
“It is sure to have a disproportionate effect on disabled people and put them at ‘substantial disadvantage’.”
Emily Yates, co-founder of the Association of British Commuters, led on drafting the letter, which is also signed by leading disabled access campaigners including Doug Paulley, Tony Jennings, Christiane Link, Sam Jennings, Andrew Hodgson and Sarah Leadbetter.
It calls on ORR and EHRC to make a public statement on whether they are satisfied that steps have been taken to ensure accessibility is not affected by the closures.
It says: “If they do not believe this to be the case, they should call for an immediate pause to proceedings and prepare to make use of their full regulatory powers to intervene.”
They say in the letter that they fear the Department for Transport has not been meeting its public sector equality duty over the plans.
The letter adds: “It is hard to understand how there can possibly be an economic justification for these plans, which are likely to prevent the growth of ridership for all passenger groups; prevent access to employment, leisure, and health facilities; and undo decades of progress made towards rail accessibility – also undermining the value of current investments.”
An ORR spokesperson said on Tuesday: “ORR has today received the letter and will respond in due course.”
But ORR did write to train companies (PDF) the following day to demand that they provide an assessment of how the closures will impact on their accessible travel policies (ATPs) and show what changes they plan to make at stations to ensure they comply with ATP guidance.
This includes the impact of the closures on providing a “turn up and go” service to disabled passengers, as well as on booked assistance, ticket purchase, and the provision of information.
An ORR spokesperson said in a statement: “In light of proposals to change staffing arrangements, ORR has written to all train operators to ask them how they propose to remain compliant with accessible travel policy guidance.
“The guidance addresses a wide range of issues, including ticketing and provision of assistance.
“Operators will need to submit any material changes to their accessible travel policies to ORR for approval.”
An EHRC spokesperson said: “We have received the letter from the Association of British Commuters and will carefully consider the points raised before responding in due course.
“We are working with transport regulators, such as the Office of Rail and Road, to ensure disabled people receive fair and equal access to travel.
“We have also met with the Department for Transport regarding staffing on the rail network.
“Disabled people are protected under the 2010 Equality Act, which the EHRC is responsible for enforcing.
“Public bodies and private companies alike must anticipate the adjustments that people with disabilities will need, so they are not disadvantaged when using a service.
“Failure to do so may be unlawful discrimination, even if it is not intentional.”
Picture by Office of Rail and Road
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