Sarah Leadbetter from Leicestershire, who is registered blind, and Doug Paulley, a wheelchair user from West Yorkshire who has hearing loss, say the consultation was unfair as it did not give people the opportunity to meaningfully respond to the proposals. This unfairness was particularly stark for disabled people, because of lack of information about how the proposals will affect them and the poor accessibility of consultation documents. Many disabled people rely on ticket office staff for assistance when travelling by rail.
The consultation was launched on 5th July by 16 Train Operating Companies (TOCs). The consultation was originally open for just 21 days, but this was extended to just over 8 weeks after Leigh Day sent a legal letter before action. However, serious flaws in the consultation process persisted and Ms Leadbetter and Mr Paulley are now challenging the consultations carried out by four publicly owned Train Operating Companies: London North Eastern Railway, Northern Trains, South East Trains and Transpennine Trains. All four plan to close hundreds of staffed ticket offices in England over the next three years in favour of Ticket Vending Machine and online ticket purchasing systems.
Ms Leadbetter and Mr Paulley say the rail operators’ consultation had multiple, serious flaws including:
• Failure to provide disabled people with enough information about how the changes will affect them and to provide accessible consultation documents.
• Failure to explain adequately whether the plans met the strict criteria for closing ticket offices, including whether they were designed to improve services, cut costs or both.
The pair are calling for the consultations to be declared unlawful and any decision to close ticket offices based on their results to be quashed. Ms Leadbetter and Mr Paulley are represented by Kate Egerton at law firm Leigh Day. Their claim is being supported by sight loss charity the Royal National Institute of Blind People and the disabled-led charity Transport for All.
The four Train Operating Companies deny that the consultation was inadequate and argue that they did provide consultation material in accessible formats.
Sarah Leadbetter, a rail user who is registered blind, said:
“People with visual impairments regularly need ticket office staff to help us navigate stations, work out which platform to go to, and get on the right train. My guide dog is even trained to take me to the station ticket office where I can get assistance from staff. To hold a consultation on taking away this help that fails to hear from those who need it most is totally unfair.”
Doug Paulley, who uses a wheelchair, said:
"The consultation is a fig leaf for predetermined decisions to cut staff by bypassing normal processes. Even when extended due to the outcry from disabled communities and others, it was not long enough, inaccessible to many disabled people and not fit for purpose. If it goes unchallenged, disabled and older travellers will be harmed, and will be less able to travel."
Katie Pennick, Campaigns Manager at Transport for All, said:
“Transport for All are proud to be a witness in this case. As a Disabled People’s Organisation, we know all too well how plans to close ticket offices risk locking disabled people out of the rail network entirely. The ‘public consultation’ was inaccessible to people across the disabled community: the very people who will be impacted the most. From misleading and contradictory statements, to missing details and inaccessible formats, it excluded countless disabled passengers from meaningfully having our say.”
“The plans to close railway ticket offices could leave many disabled passengers unable to travel by train. The rail operators’ consultation process has clearly excluded the very people who rely on ticket office staff the most. That’s why our clients are calling for the consultation to be declared unlawful and any decision to close ticket offices based on its results to be quashed.”