Margaret Greenwood MP has spoken out against proposals to close or reduce the opening hours of most train station ticket offices in England.
The proposals have been put forward by Train Operating Companies under contract with the government’s Department for Transport. While ministers have said that the process is industry-led, Labour has said that it is “driven every inch of the way” by the government.
There were around 680,000 responses to the public consultation which has now closed. Transport Focus and London TravelWatch are now assessing the consultation responses, and they are due to respond by 31 October.
Margaret Greenwood, the MP for Wirral West, said in a parliamentary debate that many Wirral West residents had been in touch with her to express their opposition to the proposals.
She raised particular concerns about what the proposals would mean for staff who work in ticket offices, after the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) Union said that 2,300 station staff jobs could be at risk.
Margaret Greenwood also suggested that people who have visual impairments and people who have poor literacy and numeracy skills would find it more difficult to travel by train if they had to use ticket vending machines rather than buy their tickets from a ticket office.
A recent survey by the Royal National Institute of Blind People revealed that only 3% of blind and partially sighted respondents said that they could use a ticket vending machine without problems.
On Merseyside, Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram recently confirmed that there are no plans to close ticket offices on the Merseyrail network in the coming years.
Speaking after the debate in parliament, Margaret Greenwood MP said, “The proposals to close or reduce the opening hours of most train station ticket offices in England are a matter of real concern.
“Ticket office staff play a vital role in helping passengers understand their travel options, buy the right ticket, find the right platform and secure assistance if they are disabled.
“Ticket offices are particularly important for people who are visually impaired, have mobility problems or who are vulnerable.
“A number of Wirral West residents have been in touch with me to express their opposition to the proposals.
“One, who works in a railway station ticket office, is rightly concerned about what this will mean for their job.
“Another, who has a severe visual impairment, believes that ticket office closures will see even more visually impaired people excluded from travelling independently by train.
“We must also consider the impact of the proposals on people with very poor literacy and numeracy skills.
“It is shocking that the government has refused to release its equality and impact assessments regarding the proposals. The public has a right to see these.
“Public transport must be inclusive. It is vital for employment, leisure, accessing education and healthcare, visiting friends and the operation of the economy.
“Making it harder to travel by train simply makes no sense, and I urge Transport Focus and London TravelWatch to listen carefully to the concerns that have been raised about the proposals and the negative impacts that they would have on so many.
“I also call on the government to play its part in protecting railway ticket offices.
“The response from the minister at the end of the debate was disappointing and I hope he will go away and think very carefully about what these plans would mean for the travelling public.
“To allow these closures and service reductions to go ahead would be sheer folly.”
Image: Steph Gray