A disabled people’s organisation has told MPs it does not trust the government to listen to the hundreds of thousands of concerns raised during a consultation on proposals to close hundreds of rail ticket offices.
Members of the Commons transport committee heard yesterday (Wednesday) that there were likely to have been more than 750,000 responses to the consultation, once written responses have been counted by watchdogs Transport Focus and London TravelWatch.
Transport Focus later appeared to suggest to the committee that it would probably approve many of the planned closures (see separate story).
Katie Pennick, campaigns and communications manager for Transport for All, told the committee: “I don’t have trust in the government to listen to the responses of the consultation, particularly around the fact that this directive seems to have come from the department itself.”
The committee heard that the current proposals – which mostly affect ticket offices in England – were set to lead to more than 2,300 redundancies among rail staff.
Pennick (pictured) said Transport for All was fighting for more staff to be available to assist disabled rail passengers with their journeys, not fewer.
She said: “That’s what we’re fighting for and that’s what’s so demoralising about this entire conversation is that my best-case scenario in all of this is things don’t get worse, but we won’t have secured progress.”
Pennick said she was “really disappointed to see the opaqueness” of the consultation documents produced by the train companies, and “the number of misleading statements there were in the documents, particularly around staffing”.
She also told the MPs that most of the equality impact assessments produced by the train companies had been “copy and paste jobs” that “don’t take into account the specific circumstances in each area”.
And she said Transport for All was not confident that the “mitigations” promised by the train companies “will be in place and will work by the time that ticket offices are set to shut”.
Four rail industry representatives who gave evidence later in the morning repeatedly spoke of how their plans to close ticket offices would bring rail staff “out from behind the glass” into new multi-skilled roles that would benefit customers, including disabled passengers.
But Pennick told MPs: “The idea that staff currently being behind the glass is a problem that needs to be fixed is not the case at all; it’s actually one of the most important accessibility features of a ticket office.
“It’s a designated place where disabled people can go and be assured that they will find assistance from that place.”
Without that designated location, she said, disabled people – including those with mobility or energy-limiting impairments – would need to go “traipsing round a station” trying to find a member of staff to assist them.
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), said the proposals were simply about “cuts”.
He told the committee: “Reform and modernisation are the two most abused words in this building. This is a fig leaf for cuts, mass cuts to staff, mass cuts to provision.
“They’re not interested in what we’re all supposed to be interested in, the turn up and go social model of accessibility and disability.
“They just want to ram this through to save money.”
He said the changes had been initiated by transport secretary Mark Harper.
Lynch also said that a quarter of jobs would be cut at rail stations under the proposals, with the loss of 2,300 positions.
He said: “The companies have notified us of that already. They’re not taking them out of the ticket office to work on the platforms, they’re taking them out of the ticket office to make cuts.
“They are going to cut the staff and cut accessibility.”
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