Historically, railway stations have stood as vital hubs, pulsating with the rhythm of Yorkshire’s communities. They’re no mere transit points but iconic symbols of our industrial legacy and seamless connectivity. The recent wave of ticket office closure proposals presents a profound blow to our communal fabric.
The recent announcements detailing plans to shut down nearly all of the remaining 1,007 ticket offices across England hasn’t been well-received. Included in this sweep are several stations across the Yorkshire and Humber region, and the Tees Valley, such as Northern’s stations at Barnsley, Beverley, Bingley, Bradford Forster Square, Bridlington, Cross Gates, Driffield, Garforth, Goole, Guiseley, Halifax, Hebden Bridge, Horsforth, Ilkley, Keighley, Leeds, Littleborough, Meadowhall, Menston, Mexborough, New Pudsey, Rotherham Central, Settle, Shipley, Swinton, Thorne North and Todmorden.
TransPennine Express is targeting a broad range of stations, including Hull Paragon, Brough, Cleethorpes, Dewsbury, Grimsby Town, Malton, Middlesbrough, Northallerton, Scarborough, Scunthorpe, Selby, Stalybridge, Thirsk, and Thornaby, are all flagged for shutdown. Altered staffing times are also proposed at Brough, Cleethorpes, Dewsbury, Grimsby Town, Malton, Northallerton, Scunthorpe, Stalybridge, and Thornaby.
East Midlands Railway isn’t far behind, adding Chesterfield to the chopping block. London North Eastern Railway, too, is contemplating shutting the doors of Wakefield Westgate and Darlington ticket offices.
Ticket office closures: a modernisation drive?
The powers-that-be brand this as a ‘modernisation’ drive. But the stark chasm between policy and the actual needs of everyday travellers is evident. While these closures inevitably translate to job losses, the ticket purchasing process is about to become an uphill task for many passengers.
Vulnerable groups, including the elderly, disabled, and those without digital means, often depend on ticket offices for assistance. The proposed shift towards self-service machines and online ticket purchases casts a heavy, unfair load on these individuals. The looming possibility of malfunctioning machines, coupled with the potential confusion over ticket prices and options, might inadvertently cause more instances of unintentional fare evasion.
Moreover, shutting down these offices may strip away the human touch from the services. Interactions with station staff, always a comforting presence, could become a memory of the past. These personable exchanges provide travellers with a sense of security, aid in resolving immediate travel queries, and serve as a guiding light for those unfamiliar with often labyrinthine railway routes.
Response from Labour and the Green Party
Voices of dissent have begun to reverberate throughout the region. Shadow transport secretary and Sheffield MP Louise Haigh said in response to rail minister Huw Merriman’s statement in the Commons on Thursday that the proposals were “merely a prelude for job losses”.
“They have already ditched plans for GB rail; it’s not about modernisation, his department has already confirmed the contactless ticket rollout is limited to London and the south-east.
“This is about one thing and one thing only: the Conservatives crashed the economy and now they are asking for more self-defeating cuts on our declining railways.”
Matt Edwards, the Green Party’s transport spokesperson and leader of the Green group on Bradford council, lambasted the proposed closures, stressing the significance of maintaining operational ticket offices to ensure convenience for travellers and safeguard jobs. Edwards firmly believes that the government should prioritise enhancing the service’s punctuality, tackling overcrowding, and addressing affordability concerns instead of resorting to cost-cutting measures.
Edwards told us, “Closing ticket offices is a short-sighted decision by a government indifferent to public transport users”. He further pointed out the unreliability of station machines, the difficulties for cash-paying travellers, and the importance of human interaction, especially for passengers with disabilities and limited mobility. Edwards urged:
“Instead of needless fights with unions and passengers, the government should focus on service improvements, addressing overcrowding, and making rail travel more affordable. Closing ticket offices will achieve none of these goals.”
Consultation on ticket office closures
In the wake of these dramatic shifts, the public is urged to express their concerns via consultation with Transport Focus. Feedback submitted by 26 July 2023, will be taken into account in the final decision-making. It is, therefore, of utmost importance that Yorkshire’s citizens share their thoughts and experiences to underline the crucial need to keep ticket offices up and running. An additional consultation exercise is being run by Avanti for their West Coast lines.
These proposed closures underscore the dire need for transport policies that value community needs over penny-pinching. As we stride towards the future, it’s key to remember that modernisation, while beneficial, must never eclipse accessibility, convenience, and the human connection in our public services.
Impact of station closures on people with disabilities
There’s been a fierce pushback against the closures, especially from the disability advocacy community, with many activists pledging to combat the proposed measures. Their concerns revolve around the potential negative impact on disabled passengers, impeding their rightful access to public transportation.
Prominent activists like Sam Jennings, an accessible transport campaigner, have voiced their strong disapproval of the proposals. Jennings suggests the likelihood of a legal challenge, stating that the changes could have a “catastrophic” effect on disabled people and that the impact would not be meaningfully mitigated.
Echoing Jennings’s sentiments, activist Doug Paulley expressed his “grim sadness” at the proposals and the potential negative impact on passenger confidence, especially among disabled people. Sarah Leadbetter, national campaigns officer for The National Federation of the Blind of the UK (NFB UK), has also criticised the move as exclusionary towards disabled and elderly people. She said:
“We are definitely fighting. We will fight to make sure this doesn’t happen. We have got to stop this because it’s horrendous and it’s disgusting. I am so angry. They are just excluding disabled people and elderly people again and again and again. I will not be able to travel. It will be excluding and isolating. That’s my independence gone.”
She has also hinted at supporting legal action against the closures.
Accessibility impact assessment
At the heart of these objections is the fear that ticket machines, which are set to replace human-staffed ticket offices, could prove inaccessible for many disabled passengers. Additionally, the task of locating ‘roving’ staff members for assistance might be daunting for many disabled passengers, including those who are blind or partially sighted.
The Office of Rail and Road, the rail regulator, has instructed train companies to provide an impact assessment of the closures on their accessible travel policies. The assessment must also detail any changes planned at the stations to ensure compliance with accessibility guidelines.
As the public sentiment towards the proposals teeters on the edge, the outcry from disabled activists suggests a bumpy road ahead for the proposed changes. Whether the formidable opposition can halt these widespread closures remains to be seen.