A government-backed programme to close most ticket offices across the country will lead to a significant fall in the number of staff available to support disabled passengers, analysis of consultation documents has shown.
Several of the documents published last week by train companies make it impossible to assess the impact of the closure programme on staffing levels at rail stations.
But analysis by Disability News Service (DNS) shows those companies that have released enough information to allow passengers to assess the impact of the proposed closures show clear cuts to support across many of the hundreds of stations affected – mostly in England – despite repeated pledges by government and the rail industry.
One company, West Midlands Railway (WMR), is set to close a number of ticket offices and replace them with assistance from “mobile teams” covering a group of local stations.
This will mean there will be no permanent staff presence for passenger assistance at these stations.
This will cover stations such as Longbridge, Bournville, Bromsgrove and the tourism centre of Stratford-upon-Avon, which all currently have ticket offices that are open at least 11 hours a day during the week.
WMR refused this week to justify the move to shut these ticket offices and replace them with assistance from mobile teams.
Instead, a spokesperson claimed the company was “committed to providing an accessible railway for all” and that “moving staff out from behind windows and onto concourses and platforms will enable them to provide support and assistance to passengers in a way that they currently cannot”.
Some of the stations run by East Midlands Railway will see ticket offices that are currently open for up to 11 hours a day during the week shut down and replaced by daily or even weekly visits from members of a mobile team covering a group of local stations.
Great Western Railway (GWR) plans to cut staffing hours by more than two hours a day during the week at Bristol Temple Meads, the city’s main station.
At GWR’s main station in Reading, where nearly a quarter of all tickets in 2022-23 were sold at the ticket office, the company plans to close that ticket office and cut the availability of staff by nearly three hours a day on weekdays.
Avanti West Coast’s consultation document shows that “ticketing support” at London Euston will end at 10pm on weekdays, rather than midnight at present, once the ticket office has closed.
At Manchester Piccadilly, ticketing support will end at 9pm rather than 10.30pm, every day of the week, while also starting later each day.
All but 18 ticket offices at stations run by Northern will see their ticket offices closed.
Disabled activist Doug Paulley said his calculations show Northern’s staffed station hours will decrease by three-fifths under its proposals, from 10,793 to 4,238 hours per week, with nearly all the cuts at weekends and evenings.
Staff support at many Northern stations, including Ulverston and Hexham, will be drastically cut when the ticket offices close, in Ulverston’s case from more than eight hours a day on weekdays to just two, with an end to any support on Sundays when it was previously available for more than nine hours.
Staff support at these two stations is particularly important for many disabled people because they include “barrow crossings”, crossing-points that allow passengers who cannot use steps to cross the tracks to move from one platform to another with the support of staff.
Tony Jennings, a mobility scooter-user whose local station is Ulverston, said it would become “token staffing” at the station if the changes went ahead, and it would “essentially become inaccessible”.
He said there would be “virtually no opportunity” for spontaneous travel (“turn up and go”) for disabled people from their local station under the plans.
He believes Northern will be failing to comply with its accessible travel policy (ATPs) under its proposals, which the Office of Rail and Road is examining this month along with those of all the other train companies proposing ticket office closures.
He said: “Wheelchair- and mobility scooter-users are dependent on staff to escort them across the barrow crossing.
“The station will become inaccessible if the proposed hours are reduced and the nearest accessible station is 10 miles away and wheelchair-accessible taxis are virtually non-existent so disabled people will be excluded from travelling on Northern trains.
“Be under no illusion, closing ticket offices is about cutting staff, and disabled people will suffer the consequences.”
Jennings, a member of Northern’s accessibility panel, said later that he had been told by the company that it was prioritising mitigation for the closures.
A Northern spokesperson said: “These are proposals at this point and we welcome feedback from users of the station.”
Northern is among companies that are defending the closure proposals, arguing that only one in six journeys on its services are purchased through a ticket office and that it needs to “modernise to meet the changing needs” of passengers.
The Northern spokesperson said: “These proposals include the creation of a new, more visible customer facing role that will offer a wider range of support across our stations.”
Another company, Southeastern, which wants to close many of its ticket offices in south-east London, has admitted that, when it closes ticket offices at “medium and larger sized” locations, those stations “will have fewer staff”.
TransPennine Express will be closing 14 of its 16 ticket offices, with station staffing reducing at the majority of those 14 stations.
Limehouse station in east London, run by rail company C2C, currently has a ticket station open more than six hours a day on weekdays, but the provision of ticketing advice at the station will drop to zero after it closes.
Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), which runs Southern, Gatwick Express, Thameslink and Great Northern, refused to explain how its programme of closures would affect overall staffing numbers at its stations.
DNS asked GTR how passengers could assess the impact of the closures without the necessary information in its consultation documents – when online reports suggest there will be more than 260 fewer staff under its plans – but it refused to answer the question.
Instead, Jenny Saunders, its customer service director, claimed the closures were a “real opportunity to modernise and improve the experience of our customers” and that “no station that is staffed today would become unstaffed and we would continue to provide accessibility support and assistance”.
Chiltern – which reports suggest will lose 19 staff due to the planned closures – also refused to explain how passengers could assess the impact of the closures without the necessary information in its consultation document.
A Chiltern* spokesperson claimed instead that “Chiltern colleagues will be available to help customers at similar, if not the same times, as they currently do today with ticketing and accessibility queries in all of our staffed stations” and that “the proposed change amounts to moving colleagues from behind the glass as opposed to any reduction in provision of ticketing or accessibility services – including hours of operation”.
There are also growing concerns at the failure of the train companies to provide their consultation documents in accessible formats such as easy read, British Sign Language and large print, in addition to a consultation process that will only last three weeks.
The government has claimed that the “industry-led consultations are about enhancing the role of station workers and getting staff out from behind ticket office screens and into more active, customer-facing roles that will allow them to better support all passengers”.
But Katie Pennick, campaigns manager for Transport for All (TfA), said: “The line coming from government and industry is that staffing levels will remain broadly the same, but there’s a reason we are so sceptical about this argument.
“We know these plans are ultimately about cutting costs, which tells us staff will be reduced.
“The process of closing ticket offices requires public consultation – but if/when they close, there’s absolutely nothing stopping train operating companies from de-staffing entirely.
“This could result in train operators destaffing stations by stealth.
“Moreover, upon closer analysis of the proposals, it seems staffing levels are indeed set to reduce, with some operators proposing replacing assistance staff with ‘mobile teams’ covering a number of local stations. This is unacceptable.
“It is difficult enough for disabled people to get staff’s attention and arrange assistance currently, even when staff are located at the ticket office/assistance point.
“Imagine how much more difficult this will be if staff are ‘roaming’ and could be anywhere in the station or on any platform, or indeed at another station entirely?
“Disabled people should not be (and are not) required to book assistance in advance.
“The proposals must be scrapped.”
To respond to the consultations launched by individual train companies, passengers should contact the independent transport user watchdog Transport Focus, or London TravelWatch in London. The consultation period lasts just 21 days (until 26 July).
TfA has advice on how to write a letter of objection to the consultations.
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