The impact on visually impaired travellers
Recently, there has been much discussion about the proposals to close the majority of railway station ticket offices.
The train operators say that the reason for closing the ticket offices is to allow their staff to be more visible on the station concourse and more easily accessible to their customers.
I travel by train quite often, either with or without my guide dog, Harper, and my experience has been generally good.
My usual method of purchasing tickets is to book them using a website and then pick them up at the station. I cannot see well enough to use the ticket machine, so I go to the ticket office.
In the absence of a ticket office, I would have to try and locate the staff member on the station concourse in order to collect my ticket, creating much more stress and challenge to what was previously a simple process.
The ticket office as a meeting place
It’s not just about ticket collections though. I always book assistance for getting on and off the trains and to find my way around the station. I have done this since the day I almost stepped off the platform between two carriages.
I always meet my assistant at the ticket office, as this seems the most logical and safe place to meet for both of us.
It can be pretty stressful when you arrive at the station, as it is busy with other travellers rushing around. Imagine how much more stress it would cause if you did not have a fixed place to head to.
The ticket office provides that fixed place, and once you get to it, you can relax.
Without it, you must try and find a staff member moving around the concourse, which can only make you feel more nervous and vulnerable.
What do staff and passengers think?
During my recent trip to Stockport, Southport and Liverpool, I took the opportunity to canvass opinions from passengers and staff.
The rail companies say that their staff on the concourse will be able to give advice and sell tickets. I am sure that they will not want staff carrying cash as they walk around, so they will expect contactless payments. This will also preclude those who, for whatever reason, only use cash for their daily transactions.
There was a certain amount of cynicism amongst the staff, who believed that the proposed closures were more about cutting staff, rather than providing the more flexible services that the train operators are suggesting.
Among the passengers I spoke to, the feelings were more mixed, although many had not considered the impact of the closures on those who need more assistance.
Anyone using the train to visit one of our support centres will certainly be impacted.
Will the change go ahead?
The consultation period ended at the start of this month and a significant number of people voiced their opposition.
If Transport Focus and London Travelwatch do object to ticket office closures, then the decision will go to the Transport Secretary.
At this point, the RMT has already confirmed that “there will be a renewed campaign to put the pressure directly on the Transport Secretary Mark Harper to keep ticket offices open”.
Having a place to go when you arrive at the station makes it easier and safer for people who need assistance to access rail travel.
If you, like me, go to the ticket office to collect tickets and meet booked assistance, it is the best place to go.
In my view, closing ticket offices will make the railway less accessible to anyone who has a mobility need.
What do you think?
Community Engagement and Fundraising Officer