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Blind and partially sighted travellers face barriers taking part in the consultation on ticket office closures

RNIB tested how easy it is to get alternative formats of the train ticket offices consultation information.

Many of us want to have our say on the proposal to close almost all ticket offices across England, as well as Glasgow Central, published on 5 July 2023, which has generated alarm and concern among blind and partially sighted people.

But we need to understand the proposals, which depends on accessing the consultation documents in a preferred format.

Mixed results

There are a number of documents to read as each train operating company publishes it's own proposals. Over twelve days, RNIB staff requested braille or large print formats of the consultation documents from seventeen operators:

  • Ten operators delivered the information ahead of the 1 September deadline.
  • Five delivered the information ahead of the original 26 July deadline before the consultation was extended to 1 September.

Consultation complications

There were barriers to accessing the consultation online. There are two separate bodies to contact depending on the location of the train stations people use, and different contact numbers or email addresses once again depending on which train operating company runs the station. There is no simple way to find this out.

From inaccessible websites to hard-to-read help pages, there were barriers to finding information for contacting each operator about its specific proposals.

Blind and partially sighted people are twice as likely to be digitally excluded and are more likely to rely on physical information formats like braille or large print. All these barriers can prevent many people with sight loss from having an informed say. They may well have put some people off sharing their views altogether.

Responses from train operators

One train operating company said on their website that anybody requiring the consultation information in an alternate format should call the number provided; yet, when we called, we were told that alternate formats can only be requested via email. We made the request by email on 12 July, but the braille version hasn’t arrived at time of publication of this page, despite an update on 18 August to say it would arrive shortly.

Positively, two train operators had an online webform specifically for requesting alternate formats. After filling out the forms on 12 July, we received an update within two working days that the order had been raised. The braille versions of the consultation arrived on 26 July, making it even more important that the consultation was extended to 1 September as this would have left no time for reading and responding if the original deadline had remained.

After a request on 17 July, another operator contacted us in early August to say that alternative formats of the consultation information were not yet available. When asked if there were any plans to have alternative formats available at all, they said that the request was being looked into by the relevant team. We are yet to receive an update.

It wasn’t all bad news. Five rail operators delivered large print or braille versions of the consultation within a week of our request. Those were: South Eastern, Northern, GWR, East Midlands Railway and Avanti West Coast.

East Midlands Railway and Avanti West Coast were the most responsive and tied for speediest delivery, each taking just 48 hours to organise and deliver a braille copy.

However, there was inconsistency in performance generally. One campaigner waited more than six weeks for a large print copy of the consultation from an operator and had to call three times to check in on the request. Yet the same operator provided us with a braille version within a week of our request.

Overall, in many cases we encountered uncertainty from operators about the availability of alternative formats, despite many saying publicly on their consultation webpage that alternative formats could be requested.

It’s clear that there is still a very long way to go before blind and partially sighted people can be assured of the information they are entitled to in a format they can access, even on an issue as fundamental as the staffing of train ticket offices.

Did you request an alternative format?

We’re keen to hear your experiences of engaging with the consultation and how accessible you found it. You can get in touch by emailing [email protected], sending us a Tweet to @RNIB_Campaigns or by calling 0303 123 9999 Monday to Friday 9am to 8pm on weekdays and 9am to 1pm on Saturdays.