One of the two watchdogs tasked with running the huge public consultation on proposals to shut hundreds of rail ticket offices appears to have suggested to MPs that it will probably approve many of the planned closures.
Transport Focus appears set to recommend a “review period of 12 months to see how the changes have gone”, despite a consultation process that has seen hundreds of thousands of rail passengers raise concerns about the government-backed proposals put forward by rail companies.
Its chief executive, Anthony Smith (pictured), told the committee: “I think there is a case, and we may well argue this either in particular cases or generally, that there is an argument for piloting this and seeing what the effect is and having a formal review after a period of time.”
He then added: “I think we might be arguing for a review period of 12 months to see how the changes have gone.”
He also suggested that Transport Focus would tell the train companies that the “mitigation” measures they have suggested to ease the impact of the closures – which mostly affect ticket offices in England – would have to be in place before the ticket offices are closed.
He said: “Without prejudging any individual responses, I think it’s quite clear that we will be saying to the train companies that the mitigation factors have to be in place before the changes come in because otherwise you’re getting the cart and the horse slightly the wrong way round.”
The next stage of the consultation process will end on 31 October, when Transport Focus and London TravelWatch will publish letters to each train company with their conclusions, as well as a general comment about the process and the issues raised during the consultation.
Smith also told the committee that the watchdog was “not in any way opposed” to the idea proposed by the train companies of “redeploying staff out of ticket offices onto a more visible role onto stations”.
He said: “If done properly, that could be of benefit to very many passengers who are seeking assistance… the principle, I think, is a positive one about redeployment, but it’s got to be done well and it’s got to pass quite a high hurdle.”
There was also a suggestion to MPs from the regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), that it would not oppose ticket office closures.
Stephanie Tobyn, ORR’s director of strategy, policy and reform, told the committee that the mitigation measures provided by the train companies would be there for passengers “who will not adapt well to this without support”.
She added: “I think it will take time to adjust, I think there will be a significant period of adjustment.”
Tobyn told the committee that she did not understand some of the proposals put forward by the train companies, particularly those relating to stations that would rely on mobile teams to turn up to provide support at smaller stations once a week at a certain time.
She said: “I can’t understand how that would facilitate turn up and go assistance [for disabled people].”
Tobyn said she also had concerns about how passengers with visual impairments would find staff to assist them on stations once ticket offices had closed, and how induction loops would be provided.
She added: “The most risk will be unstaffed stations where people wish to turn up and go and how that assistance will be provided.”
The committee had earlier heard from the disabled people’s organisation Transport for All that it did not trust the government to listen to the hundreds of thousands of concerns raised during the consultation (see separate story).
Four representatives of the rail industry also gave evidence, but they provided little new information.
Andy Mellors, managing director of Avanti West Coast, did eventually admit that its 27 staff at Glasgow Central would be cut by nine or 10 under its current proposals.
Simon Moorhead, chief information officer of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the companies that run Britain’s railways, admitted that 20 per cent of tickets purchased by holders of disabled persons railcards were currently bought in ticket offices.
He declined to say how many rail stations that are currently staffed would become unstaffed under the current proposals, but he said he would write to the committee with that information.
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…