UK sight loss charities reiterate their opposition to proposed train ticket office closures in second letter to Transport Secretary
Dear Secretary of State
Re: Follow-Up on Our Concerns Regarding Rail Ticket Office Closures
We are writing to express our deep disappointment at not having received a response to our previous letter dated July 10th, 2023, regarding the proposed closure of rail ticket offices. As a collective of organisations representing blind and partially sighted people, we consider this matter of utmost importance and believe that our concerns merit your urgent attention.
In our previous letter, we highlighted the severe negative impact that the proposed closure of rail ticket offices would have on the ability of blind and partially sighted people to purchase tickets, arrange assistance, and travel independently by rail. We emphasised the rushed, uncoordinated, and overly complex nature of the consultation process, which has left us concerned about the future accessibility of rail travel for our community.
The crux of our concerns remains the potential abandonment of a critical service for individuals who rely on ticket offices for various essential functions. The inaccessibility of online ticket purchasing and ticket vending machines to many blind and partially sighted people cannot be overstated. It is essential to recognise that the value of ticket offices extends beyond the mere number of tickets sold; they serve as a consistent, navigable point of contact for various forms of assistance that are integral to safe and independent rail travel.
Some of the issues we raised in our original letter have been surpassed by events, which is disappointing and emphasises the importance of early engagement with us. For example, we had raised concerns about the accessibility of the national consultation process. Whilst we acknowledge that some train operating companies attempted belatedly to strengthen accessibility of consultation materials and the extended consultation window, this was too little, too late.
Extending the consultation window without fixing the fundamental problems with it in terms of accessibility and complexity is not a solution. For example, some train operating companies have still not provided alternative formats of their proposals by blind and partially sighted people – even after the consultation has ended.
As you move forward to consider the feedback from the consultation, we would reiterate our request for urgent action in this matter, including:
- A meeting with yourself and the Rail Minister Huw Merriman to discuss our concerns comprehensively. Whilst we appreciate the meetings that Minister Merriman has hosted with interested stakeholders, this is not a substitute for a dedicated meeting focussed on the issues presented by our organisations.
- A detailed update on the Rail Accessibility Action Plan, as promised in 2019, to provide clarity on the plans and ensure that the closure of ticket offices aligns with the broader accessibility objectives.
- Immediate publication of Equality Impact Assessments by the Department for Transport and train operating companies to address concerns of discrimination against disabled people and to present mitigation strategies. These assessments must be available for public review.
- Assurance that the result of the consultation will not treat the closure of train ticket offices as a foregone conclusion, emphasizing the importance of meaningful engagement and consideration of alternative solutions.
- We would urge you to visit a railway station with blind or partially sighted rail users to understand the challenges from a practical point of view. As you consider the consultation responses – and we understand there are around half a million comments – it is critical that you have a clear personal understanding of the real world experience of visually impaired people in using our rail network. We would be happy to work with your office to enable such a visit.
We believe that these actions are essential to ensuring the continued accessibility and inclusivity of rail travel for blind and partially sighted individuals. We urge you to recognise the gravity of our concerns and the urgency of the situation.
We eagerly anticipate your prompt response and hope that we can arrange a meeting to discuss these issues further. Thank you for your attention to this critical matter.
Matt Stringer, CEO, RNIB
Charles Colquhoun, CEO, Thomas Pocklington Trust
Tom Wright, CEO, Guide Dogs
Cathy Yelf, CEO, Macular Society
Adrian Bell, CEO, Blind Veterans UK
Tina Garvey, CEO, Retina UK
Joanne Creighton, CEO, Glaucoma UK
Fiona Sandford, CEO, Visionary
Lisa Hopkins, CEO, SeeAbility
Keith Valentine, CEO, Fight for Sight / Vision Foundation
Rt Hon Huw Merriman MP, Rail Minister