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Left Stranded: The Impact of Train Ticket Office Closures on People with Disabilities

One of the most pressing issues, particularly for those with a disability or neurodivergent condition, is the reliability of public transport. There has been a recent petition doing the rounds about the proposal to close train ticket offices.

The government responded with the following statement: “The rail industry must modernise to provide the service passengers deserve, moving staff from behind the ticket office screens. Train operators are consulting passengers on the proposed changes.”

Unfortunately, these words do not take into account the true scale of the continued problems accessing trains for the public, including the demographics of people that we support. There is seemingly forever a lack of understanding of the barriers faced by disabled people and neurodivergent people in living the life they wish to live.

I have been speaking to many people about the prospect of train ticket offices closing, with many firmly against the idea of them closing. One of the first things said in my consultations with people about this, was that human presence is imperative. Without human presence, there is of course the prospect that technology can have faults with it. A number of those who I have consulted, also struggle to access technology at full capacity. There could also be the incorrect assumptions made that the vast majority of those who would be likely to use the train to travel are not disabled, or if they are, they have a travel companion and don’t need assistance from someone in a booth. So as you can see, this would exclude disabled people from considering travelling by train. And if we want to be travelling in a way that is kinder to the environment, this is very much a backwards step.

Currently, 43% of train stations in the UK are operating without a ticket office. One of the other people I consulted mentioned that with this being the case, and with the percentage seemingly rising without much consultation with those it most affects, it is almost an excuse for funding cuts. The single biggest issue with any lack of usage of public transport, is that unless there is full confidence, particularly from disabled and neurodivergent individuals in the services, they won’t use them. And as of right now, with the train strikes still continuing to cause disruption to many people, including a friend of mine, the economic consequences, particular for young people making their first steps in the world of employment, are seismic. Some people, like my friend, also have no choice but to catch the train to their workplace. So this situation is a massive hindrance.

I have never travelled on the train alone, but if I were to travel by train, I know full well I would need to seek assistance from an expert who knows what they are talking about when it comes to rail fares, and the functioning of an app, like the Train Line, for instance. I am not wholeheartedly against a digital world. I am against relying on digital solutions for everything under the sun, yes! My stance is that digital means should be used as a supplement to aid proceedings, a bit like someone consuming vitamin D as a capsule to boost immunity through the months from October to May. So, if I was trying to navigate the Train Line app, but I encountered a technical fault or I was unable to process what it was saying, I would always want to ask someone in a ticket office for advice. These are most likely, according to another friend of mine, people who would be local to the area and would be able to point someone like myself in the right direction. This is another point that must be considered by decision makers.

Whilst this issue continues, I feel it is important to acknowledge this: the most vulnerable people in society will not be able to make rail network worthwhile until they can actually access it in every way possible. This must include ticket offices! Without these, the safety of passengers could be put in serious jeopardy. And unless the entire system across the board is streamlined to make life simpler for those who have the most difficulty in accessing rail travel, then those within government will continue to make their arguments that it isn’t cost effective. What we need to do, is learn from other countries who do things well when it comes to public transport. And at the end of the day, with the loss of train ticket offices, this will result in less human connection, paving the way for loneliness to force itself back into the equation. The lived experiences of the most vulnerable must be listened to!

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