5 reasons why ticket office closures must be stopped

Mick Lynch and disability rights activist Paula Peters weigh in over the 'catastrophic' government proposals

A photo of a 'Save Our Ticket Offices' rally

Campaigners and trade unionists gathered outside Kings Cross station on Friday to rally against the proposals to close 1,000 ticket offices, which has now faced opposition from across the political divide.

General Secretary of the RMT rail union Mick Lynch, disability rights activist Paula Peters, and Jeremy Corbyn were among the speakers calling for the government to stop the closures and save the ticket offices. Here is why.

The huge impact on people with disabilities 

Speaking to LFF at the rally, Paula Peters from the organisation Disabled People Against Cuts said the closures would make it, ‘ten times harder than it already is’ for people with disabilities to use the transport system. With the closures disproportionality effecting elderly, disabled and vulnerable passengers hugely.

“For a lot of disabled people, they’re not going to be able to access the rail network at all,” warned Peters. “It’s a catastrophic move by the government.”

Travelers will be forced to rely on using ticket machines and apps to buy tickets, with remote mobile teams for assistance, but campaigners are asking, what about the people who can’t use these services?  

“Ticket machines are inaccessible for a great many disabled people including myself,” said Peters.

“I have dexterity issues with my hands so I struggle to press the buttons and the chip and pin machine is so small. If you’ve got a visual impairment, are a BSL user or have a learning impairment, you can’t use the ticket vending machines. So the ticket offices are a vital lifeline.”

Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, put it well: “The rail companies say ‘we sell 88% of our tickets online’, are they saying that the 12% of people who use ticket offices don’t matter?”

The ‘dystopian future’ of our public services

Mick Lynch said the closures represent a ‘dystopian future for our public services’ and for the direction of ‘modernisation’ in our society.

Speaking to LFF on Friday, Lynch said it will set a precedent for the ‘modernisation’ of services which will equate to job cuts and a reliance on technology, creating a ‘dehumanised’ service that works for profit not people.

“That’s the way public services will go entirely in this country if we’re not careful,” warned Lynch. “It will be dehumanised and we’ll have a dystopian society I think. We need to connect up with each other like we are doing tonight. We need that in all our public services.”

He added: “It’s cuts in order to chase profits, these companies have made profits throughout the pandemic all the way through this dispute and this is delivering from the government, to deliver more profits for those train operators and disregard the needs of the people.”

Rail workers’ jobs threatened

Many rail workers have already faced statutory redundancy notices due to the proposed closures and ‘multiskilling’ of station staff. Over 2,300 jobs have already been put at risk. The RMT union has raised concern that this is ‘just the start’, with further proposals for other train operating grades. 

Mick Lynch said RMT members felt ‘under attack’ and noted some train operators were cutting two thirds of their workforce.

“They’re attacking our jobs, our conditions, but we’re determined to see this through,” said Lynch at the rally.

Protect passenger safety

A direct implication of staff cuts in the railway service will be for the safety of passengers, as Paula Peters noted safety runs paramount to the campaign to stop the closures.

“You feel safe knowing a ticket office is open late at night and you can talk to someone at the counter, knowing there’s someone around when there’s an issue like you’ve been assaulted at a station, you feel you’re being followed, feel unsafe, and you can get hold of someone.”

Mick Lynch summed it up: “Everyone should expect a safe and securely staffed railway where somebody is keeping an eye out for them, with their care in mind, rather than just the profits of train operators.”

Ticket offices give the best deals

“You get the best ticket deals in a ticket office, which a ticket vending machine doesn’t give you,” Peters told us as she shared how important ticket offices are for disabled people from a practical and financial perspective too.

“For example the D50 ticket for wheelchair users and if you’re visually impaired, you get 50% discount on a ticket. Only a ticket office gives those tickets, ticket vending machines don’t.”

It’s also the case that asking someone in person generally means they know exactly where to look and how to find the best deal to fit the requirements and needs of the traveler. This will especially effect people who don’t have English as their first language and may struggle to find the right ticket or need help planning their journey.

120 million journeys are predicted to be effected by the closures, with 12% of users equating to 360 million tickets sold via a ticket office in a year, according to TSSA union research.

Campaigners, unions and local mayors are looking into legal action over the 21-day consolation which was launched last week by the government about the proposals. They say the consultation breaches equality law for failing to be accessible.

While experts have now called for the Office of Rail and Road and Equality and Human Rights Commission to intervene, after concerns were raised about the Department for Transport’s failure to consult expert bodies on the plans and therefore follow due process.

Hannah Davenport is trade union reporter at Left Foot Forward

Left Foot Forward’s trade union reporting is supported by the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust

Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust logo
Comments are closed.