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Disabled people say rail cuts will make travel ‘impossible’

Staff cuts and the closure of ticket offices will make rail networks—which are already almost inaccessible—even harder to navigate, says Sam Ord 
Issue 2864
RMT ticket office rail

Protesters join a demonstration to stop rail ticket office closures organised by the RMT (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Paula Peters already “feels unsafe to travel” by train.  She remembers how she was left stranded on board the carriage “with no one to assist me getting off” while she used mobility ­equipment on her journey.

And now with the Tories’ and rail bosses’ plans to shut over 1,000 ticket offices travel is about to get harder her and other disabled people. The bosses’ sham “consultation”, which began last week, won’t pay any attention their views. 

Disabled people will lose their right to ride,” Paula, a leading figure in Disabled People Against Cuts (Dpac), told Socialist Worker. “It’s an extra barrier that will make my life really hard.” 

Paula explained the situation is already terrible on national rail and London Underground services. “At my local station it’s easy to see how years of cuts to stations and staff make it hard for everyone, especially disabled people,” she said. “I’ve ­struggled to find staff to assist me.”

This is the reality of a privatised and underfunded railway—and the plans would make it worse.  West Midlands Railway, for example, wants to shut several ticket offices, with “mobile teams” providing assistance across a group of local stations.

This means stations such as the tourism centre of Stratford upon Avon won’t have permanent ­passenger assistance at all.

Colin Yates from east London uses a wheelchair. “Platform ­workers at larger and medium-sized stations have unfailingly offered him help with ramps to board and exit trains,” he told Socialist Worker.

“But I haven’t been able to do train travel, even semi-independently, since the Covid lockdowns.

“Historical and recent cuts have made a bad situation increasingly worse. Nowadays I don’t have the confidence or the ability to attempt quite simple journeys that I would’ve attempted in the past.”

He added, “We must all be able to use the transport system whenever and wherever we choose. All of us need to travel comfortably and safely. Ability shouldn’t come into it.” In London, ticket office closures would be compounded by a reduction in Tube staff. 

It will see the remaining workers will take on more tasks and a heavier workload. Paula said this will mean staff are “easily fatigued and harder to locate, which will compromise ­disabled safety.” 

“Many won’t be able to use the Underground because they need assistance to get on and off the trains if they are visually impaired, for example,” she said. 

There is no logical reason to cut ticket offices as train operating companies made £310 million in profit between March 2020 and September 2022. And on the London Underground, passenger levels are close to matching pre-pandemic levels. 

Paula said the cuts are “all about greed at the expense of access and safety”.“A ticket office gives service that an app or vending machine doesn’t,” she said. 

“We need interaction. We must save them and support the RMT union in their campaign and strikes.”

The Tories want to make these cuts to make rail bosses some extra money. Trade unionists and campaigners should battle for ticket offices to stay open and for Britain’s rail network to be made accessible to all.

‘Ticket office closures will put people off travel’   

Some 180 million journeys began with buying or enquiring about a ticket at a ticket office last year.  Now the RMT rail union, with the support of disabled people groups, has launched a campaign to save ticket offices with protests. 

The RMT has also planned strikes for Thursday, Saturday and 29 July over the closures as well as pay and conditions.

“Downing Street is determined to ruin our industry,” said Anela, an RMT member at Kings Cross station in London. “We never asked for this. It’s Mark Harper—Tory transport minister—who wants it.”

The Tories and rail bosses use the guise of “modernisation” to drive through the attacks. 

“Only 3 percent of blind and visually impaired people are able to buy tickets from a vending machine,” she said. “Ticket machines fail and break all the time,” said Anela.  “There have been redundancies of staff but an increase in train fares. 

“There was a 9.5 percent increase in train fares, but who has received a 9.5 percent pay rise? No one.”

Station worker Mina told Socialist Worker, “Ticket office closures will put loads of people off travelling, full stop.” 

She added that rail companies “say ticket vending machines and apps are good enough to replace ticket offices, but that’s complete rubbish”. 

“Staff need to be able to talk to customers. Sometimes we have to translate for customers who don’t understand English well. We use an app so we can get them the correct ticket.

“Also if a woman is alone in a station at night, getting harassed, in the past she could go to safety in the ticket office. 

“What if there’s no staff around to help her? What’s a vending machine or an app going to do?”

Mina is a pseudonym. For more details on how to get involved in the campaign go to saveticketofficesRMT 

Tube workers plan strike 

London Underground workers are resisting bosses’ plans to cut 600 staff. Strikes are planned from Sunday to 28 July. Jobs are on the line because, unlike other big cities internationally, the London Underground depends on ticket fares. 

When people stayed in their homes during the Covid pandemic, the Underground’s income decreased—now bosses want workers to pay. 

Underground worker Phil Rowan told Socialist Worker, “There’s a number of job positions they want to get rid of across most grades. Once these people retire their positions won’t get refilled.

“Fewer people in stations means it’s harder to ensure minimum staffing numbers, and it means more dead early and dead late starts as well as weekend working and more.

“The amount of stations closing now has already increased tenfold since before covid. This is because we need a minimum staff level to evacuate stations safely.

“We need to increase the numbers, not reduced them. We have a wave of strikes coming up to demand that, and the level of action is greater than just one or two days of strikes.”

Despite saying it has no choice but to make cuts, Transport for London made £380 million in income in the first four weeks of the financial year. 

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