Statement on Government’s discriminatory rail reform plans

The GM Equality Alliance (GM=EqAl) represents a wide spectrum of marginalised communities based in Greater Manchester.

Our members include the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP), which, alongside groups such as Transport for All (TfA) and the National Federation of the Blind (NFBUK) have for months been warning the ministers of the devastating impacts of threatened reforms to UK rail services.  

Just as rail bosses and striking unions were approaching a deal last December, the Government intervened and imposed a string of ‘modernisation’ conditions which has ensured that, six month’s on, the dispute is ongoing.

The proposed changes, including closing around 1,000 ticket offices, de-staffing stations and a rapid shift to driver-only trains, would be “catastrophic” for disabled people, according to TfA. “Travelling by train will become inaccessible and unsafe for millions, shutting many of us out of the rail network completely.”

Ahead of the anticipated ticket office closures, a trial scheme (with Northern rail) has already begun that prevents staff from selling face-to-face customers the cheapest fare – forcing people to go online or use a machine to get an advance ticket.

And it not just Disabled people who would be disproportionately affected.

GM=EqAl members write:

People on low incomes; women; LGBTQI+ people; people with low literacy

“For some people, actual cash is still used for most transactions. If ticket offices are closed then this may leave some people unable to buy tickets using cash and then risk prosecution. Ticket offices also offer an additional level of support for people who find reading timetables and notices complex, so they can ask in the ticket office for clarity and support.”

“Having a guard on the train adds a level of psychological safety for so many people who face intersectional discrimination and intersectional disadvantages, as an example, women and LGBTQ+ people find the guard a source of support when faced with the harassment and discrimination so often experienced on trains. In the absence of such a train guard, many people may feel unsafe and choose not to travel.”

Older people; people who are digitally excluded:

“Will not having access to a computer to buy tickets mean that one would be unable to purchase in advance when tickets are cheaper for the journey? What about those people who just cannot manage to use a machine to buy the ticket? Elderly people may find the system confusing - and what if the machines go wrong? What if a machine gobbles up your card or cash without vending a ticket?

Disabled people:

“Most local services need a portable ramp which is fitted by the conductor to enable wheelchair passengers to join or alight the train. Who will take charge of this procedure? The older units which will be around for many more years yet are not fitted with automatic ramps which slide out when the doors open.”

[See a detailed list of the impacts on disabled people here.]

Communities experiencing racial inequality:

“A lot of people from my community of African Descent already struggle with understanding where to go, even with staff in the station. It is horrendous to imagine people having to rely on ticket machines and voice messages just to get about. Having staffed facilities is an essential part of community life. Even for those who speak English, it can be difficult understanding accents - having a person in front of you helps you to communicate efficiently. Should it become more complicated to take public transport, more people will opt for cars where they can rely on themselves. To think people will simply carry on taking trains as though nothing has changed is short-sighted, discriminatory and unrealistic.”

In short, the loss of staff in ticket offices, on platforms and on board trains would be felt most acutely by our already-marginalised communities, exacerbating inequality and exclusion. We would expect to see full equality impact assessments conducted on such drastic service changes, and it is alarming that there is no statutory obligation on Train Operating Companies to do so.  

Members of GM=EqAl therefore wish to join our voices with those calling on the UK Government to protect the rights of all passengers to travel in safety and without discrimination, at a time when we need to be attracting users from air and road to meet climate goals.

Until the DfT can show an appropriate assessment on service changes and has alternative proposals to address adverse impacts, we see the necessity for a commitment to retaining guards on trains and keeping station offices staffed.

Jules Palfreyman (Chair)

On behalf of GM=EqAl

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