New evidence about the closure of hundreds of ticket offices shows the government is “sacrificing” disabled people’s right to enjoy spontaneous travel on the rail network, says a leading campaigner.
A detailed government questionnaire that rail companies must fill in as part of consultations on their closure plans asks if they will be able to continue providing assistance to disabled passengers if it is booked a minimum of two hours ahead of departure.
But the safety and accessibility section of the “major changes” spreadsheet fails to ask how the operator will preserve the right of disabled people to “turn up and go” assistance that does not have to be booked in advance.
Disability News Service (DNS) has confirmed that the template was drawn up by the Department for Transport (DfT).
Last week, DNS reported how campaigners were warning that disabled people’s right to enjoy spontaneous travel on the rail network was under “serious threat” because of the planned closure of nearly 1,000 ticket offices.
They said they believed their right to spontaneous travel through the turn up and go (TUAG) system was under clear threat.
But disabled activist Doug Paulley has now secured a completed spreadsheet from rail operator Northern through a freedom of information request.
The spreadsheet shows Northern being asked how it would maintain its commitment to the “two hour requirement” if the closures went ahead, but no questions about how it would continue to allow TUAG.
This week, the Department for Transport (DfT) refused to answer any questions about its spreadsheet.
A DfT spokesperson refused to say why DfT did not use the spreadsheet to try to protect the right to TUAG assistance.
And she refused to say if DfT wanted to protect the right to turn up and go.
She pointed instead to a statement made by the private sector Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents the companies that run Britain’s railways, in which it claims that the “commitment to 20 minute turn up and go will be maintained”.
RDG has refused to explain what it means by its “commitment to 20 minute turn up and go”.
Paulley said: “The DfT’s attempts to paint the intended closures as being an initiative of the train operating companies is so transparently dishonest.
“It is totally clear that the DfT are the drivers of this problematic and ableist attempt to erode disabled people’s rights in the name of economy, and the fact they wrote this spreadsheet, a key part of the closure consultation process, reinforces this.
“There’s no way that these massive staff cuts can be made without significantly affecting disabled people’s right to travel.
“The DfT’s spreadsheet makes even more apparent that disabled people’s right to turn up and go without booking in advance is being sacrificed.
“This is a terrible state of affairs. We are going backwards and our rights being eroded by the government for supposed financial savings.
“This must not be allowed to happen.”
Transport Focus, one of the passenger watchdogs running the consultation process, declined to say if it was concerned by DfT’s failure to include a question about turn up and go on its spreadsheet.
It said it had not produced a separate spreadsheet to the one produced by DfT as that would “duplicate much of the existing document”.
It said that one of the criteria it will use to assess any proposed closures is whether they will ensure that passengers needing assistance “receive that assistance in a timely and reliable manner” – which it said covers both booked and TUAG assistance – as well as the support available when buying a ticket and the ease of requesting assistance.
Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, told DNS: “Our independent review of train operators’ proposals is not limited to the information provided in the ‘major change’ template.
“If we do not think that enough information has been provided, we will ask them for more information or reassurances.
“Transport Focus will also use information contained in individual equality impact assessments in assessing train company proposals and from relevant responses received from passengers as part of the public consultation.
“Ultimately, if we are not satisfied, we will object to the proposal.”
He added: “We recognise the importance of our objectivity and independence in this process and will challenge and question train operators’ proposals robustly.
“We would encourage passengers to have their say and respond to proposals ahead of the 1 September deadline.”
Meanwhile, the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, has refused to back the proposed closure of ticket offices across his region.
He said there were “too many concerns unanswered” in planned closures of ticket offices run by West Midlands Railway, London Northwestern Railway, Chiltern Railways and Avanti West Coast, despite agreeing “in principle” on “the need to modernise the way stations are managed and staffed”.
Street is chair of West Midlands Rail Executive (WMRE), which has released details of the response to the public consultation on the closures it has prepared alongside Transport for West Midlands.
Among their concerns, they say there is “insufficient information” on how disabled passengers would be supported.
WMRE has also asked train companies that operate in the West Midlands to address concerns raised by the disabled-led campaigning organisation Transport for All (TfA).
Last month, TfA drew up a 13,000-word letter, signed by more than 50 disabled people’s organisations and allies, that provided detailed evidence showing the “disastrous” impact that the closures would have on disabled rail passengers.
The letter described 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.
At the end of the consultation period, Transport Focus and London TravelWatch will have 35 days to examine the responses before deciding whether to object to any of the proposed closures.
If any of the train companies decide to ignore those objections, the disputes will be referred to transport secretary Mark Harper.
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