Disability rights campaigners are celebrating the government’s decision to scrap plans to close hundreds of rail ticket offices in England. The Transport Secretary Mark Harper announced that train operators have been asked to withdraw their proposals because they do not meet high passenger standards, the BBC reports.
Train companies were pushing for the measures in an effort to reduce costs, arguing that only 12% of tickets were bought at station offices, and the staff could more usefully be deployed elsewhere. However, watchdogs, campaign groups and members of the public have raised significant objections to the proposals.
The proposed closures would have severely restricted the access to rail services for thousands of disabled people who rely on rail staff to help them purchase tickets, access platforms and toilets, and safely board and disembark from the trains.
The passenger watchdogs Transport Focus and London TravelWatch have both raised serious concerns about the proposals and received 750,000 objections from members of the public.
The Disability News Service described the government’s U turn as ‘bittersweet’. Campaigner Doug Paulley said: “It is a great relief that the government have given up these ill-conceived and ableist plans, for which they disingenuously blamed the train operating companies.”
He added: “This caused so much distress, and treated disabled people’s access needs with such contempt. So many fought so hard, in so many ways, to prevent this from occurring, and we should be proud.”
“But we shouldn’t kid ourselves that the prospect of destaffing the railway is gone, nor the ableist mindsets that allowed such a hateful initiative to be proposed in the first place.”
Transport for All (TfA) described the reversal of the proposals as a “major victory”, adding that it is “down to the tenacity of disabled people and our community”.
Katie Pennick, TfA’s campaigns manager, said: “Today represents the best possible outcome – but it’s not a step forward, instead we have resisted things getting worse.”
She added: “The disastrous and discriminatory proposals should never have been put forward. It took multiple legal challenges, public uproar, cross-party opposition, and ultimately a watchdog decision for the Department for Transport to finally withdraw its support for the closures.”
The Rail Delivery Group said its proposals “were about adapting the railway to the changing needs of customers in the smartphone era, balanced against the significant financial challenge faced by the industry as it recovers from the pandemic”.
It added: “While these plans won’t now be taken forward, we will continue to look at other ways to improve passenger experience while delivering value for the taxpayer.”
As well as the closure of ticket offices, the plans would have reduced the number of hours that stations were staffed to just two hours a day in many cases, with no staff at all on Saturdays. This would make it impossible for people who use mobility scooters or wheelchair users to access the platforms.
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