As your local MP and as the Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, this is a matter I have been looking into with the utmost seriousness and urgency. You can watch me hold the Government accountable for this crisis here, despite the Secretary of State failing to show his face in the House of Commons: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-6mXcnq9qs
As you know, a consultation – which will last just 21 days – was opened on 5 July. This is a ludicrously short period of time, for a decision which will impact over 150 million rail journeys a year.
The consultation is nothing more than a rubber stamp for a decision made by the Government, with no consideration on the devastating impact it will have on so many, especially the most vulnerable in our society.
It proposes to close a large number of rail ticket offices, leaving ticket office facilities at just the busiest stations and interchanges.
Given that one in nine tickets are still sold at physical ticket offices, I know this announcement is causing huge amounts of anxiety, especially to vulnerable and disabled passengers. The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) has said that the mass closure of rail ticket offices “would have a hugely detrimental impact on blind and partially sighted people’s ability to buy tickets, arrange assistance and, critically, travel independently”. I am meeting with the RNIB and other groups this week to learn more about their concerns and raise these in Parliament.
Despite this, the Government has not published equality impact assessments alongside the consultations. We urgently need answers to questions about what will happen for passengers who struggle to use digital alternatives to ticket offices, as well as to when digital and pay-as-you-go ticketing technology will be available across existing networks.
Once again we are seeing Conservative ministers ducking and diving from scrutiny. They have simply refused to say how many stations have alternatives to ticket offices, what the impact will be on jobs, or how it will hit vulnerable rail users.
The Conservatives should come clean, and give passengers the answers they deserve.
I am also aware that this announcement will be causing a great deal of worry to rail staff currently deployed in rail ticket offices. It is important that we know what will happen to them and what impact this will have on their job security.
I remain extremely concerned that this consultation is not about modernisation, but more cuts on our declining railways. Our rail services are already being run into the ground, with cancellations at record highs. I am deeply concerned that this process is simply a prelude to job losses that will mean far fewer staff to serve the travelling public, and the continued managed decline of our railways.
Railroading this decision in just three weeks, without proper consideration for staff and vulnerable passengers, only risks exacerbating the managed decline of the rail network.
Thank you once again for contacting me about this issue. I assure you that I will continue to raise your concerns and questions in Parliament.