Weekly Poll – ScotRail consultation: Changes to Ticket Office Opening Hours

Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue. For the week beginning 17 January 2022, we asked a question about the ScotRail consultation on changes to ticket office opening hours.

Results

Question. Do you agree with the proposals to change ticket office opening hours at stations across Scotland? 

  • YES – 5% (13 respondents)
  • NO – 95% (239 respondents)

Comments

We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.

Travel Information and Journey Planning

On Wednesday 12 January, ScotRail launched a period of 21 day consultation on proposals to change ticket office opening hours. The rail operator currently runs more than 2,000 train services through 359 stations, of which 143 have staffed ticket offices across Scotland. ScotRail are proposing to reduce opening hours at 120 ticket offices. They state that the proposals are based on changing customer habits, with a 50% drop in the use of ticket offices over the past 10 years. No staff will lose their jobs and will instead be redeployed in which ScotRail state will improve staff visibility and increase passenger assistance beyond their larger stations.

An overwhelming majority of respondents (95%) stated that they do not agree with the proposals featured in the ScotRail ticket office consultation. There was consensus that the changes will make it more challenging for disabled people to travel by rail. Respondents highlighted the importance of ticket office staff for answering queries in relation to ticket purchases and providing journey planning information.

“As a disabled person I am trying to change my travel habits including travelling by train if I can. However, I don’t understand timetables, how to book, best fares and the staff always help me. I would not manage without the ticket office staff to help.”

“It’s crucial that these office opening hours are not reduced or eliminated. Disabled people need face to face assistance to feel confident to travel. These cuts would add in other barriers for disabled people and make travel by rail through these stations less accessible.”

“I use some of the stations that are proposed for changes in opening times. I am against this as a disabled person who travels by rail and often needs advice (person to person) from staff.”

“What happens when disabled train users try to get information or tickets, will there be staff available at these stations when the ticket offices close.”

“One time I was trying to find out if there was a buffet as it was a long journey – It’s not easy to get this information from a machine, if at all. It’s often impossible to a person on the phone or if you do, they don’t know the answer, that’s happened a good few times to me. If they want to improve visibility It should still be easy to keep open the ticket office.”

Passenger Assistance

ScotRail staff provide requested assistance for disabled people at stations, including help with boarding and alighting between platforms and train, entering and leaving the station, travelling to and from car park drop-off/pick-up areas. Respondents raised concerns that passenger assistance requests will not be met at stations where ticket offices have reduced opening hours.

“Reducing opening times/closing ticket offices will make it more difficult for those requiring assistance to board trains and for some impossible.”

“Many people who require assistance getting on and off trains are often assisted by staff in ticket offices. So, these proposals could prevent people travelling if they require assistance. Train staff do assist but don’t have time to help people away from the platform as they have to go back on to the train. It could soon be the case that all the stations will be unstaffed with the exception of those in the large major cities. So, you might be able to get help on the train in Glasgow or Edinburgh but find out there is no assistance available at your destination.”

“What happens to disabled passengers who need assistance at any of these stations and rely on them being open and staffed for help.”

“If ticket offices are closed, particularly in the evening, as seems almost universally proposed, stations are likely to be unstaffed and there will be no one to assist disabled people, if necessary, for instance if lifts are not working.” 

Help Points

In the consultation, ScotRail state that all stations have help points that are linked to the customer service centres, so customers can speak to a member of staff any time of the day. However, it was noted by respondents that help points are not always accessible for some disabled people.

“How do you get advice and help about longer journeys – not all people can use help points. This is really treating the travelling public with contempt.”

“Help points are a great idea but what about D(d)eaf people etc.? Induction loops don’t work for everyone. Information boards are great but what about people with sight issues.”

“I need assistance from the staff at the ticket office and can’t do online or the help points. Removing staff just creates more barriers to travelling for people with learning difficulties.”

“Help points are not always useful in this context as those with visual impairment cannot necessarily find them as you need to know where they are, and you may need staff on site to assist you of course.”

Purchasing Tickets

ScotRail highlight that there has been a change in customer purchasing habits, which has resulted in a 50% drop in the use of ticket offices over the past 10 years. There are currently 355 ticket vending machines located at 61% of stations across the ScotRail network. Based on 2019 data, vending machines account for 26% of all ticket sales. However, respondents raised concerns about the accessibility of ticket machines.

“Human contact is more helpful and useful, than a machine. Machines are not accessible and for a person with hearing loss, I can’t hear what the machine says. Sometimes machines are not clear either, if sun is shining bright on the machine. Some machines are not clean or hygiene safety. Sometimes machines don’t always give an alternative. I struggled previously to buy tickets on the machines with my railcard option.”

“To close ticket offices, or alter opening hours, consideration must be given to disabled access. My local station has a ticket machine on the northbound platform, accessed only by an underpass using two flights of stairs or long way round outside of the station and involves a reasonably steep ramp to get to the platform level.”

“ScotRail do little enough to interact with customers. Absolutely ridiculous. How many people can use the ticket machines? One per station is not enough as many are not fit to cross bridges. How do you get advice and help about longer journeys – phone lines are not good? This is really treating the travelling public with contempt.”

There has also been an increase in tickets purchased via the ScotRail website and app, which in 2019 accounted for 18% of all ticket sales. Respondents recognised that some people are digitally excluded because they may lack digital skills or confidence to get online or they are unable to use technology for other reasons, such as physical disabilities or cognitive impairment.

“I think that the proposals are not feasible. This is because there are many people of various age groups who are not able to book a ticket online. They would be liable for a fine for not paying their fare if boarding a train or unable to exit at any barriers.”

“A lot of older people don’t use IT and need the stations to be opened and staffed.”

“Not everyone buys online, some prefer cash.”

Passenger Safety

To ensure stations remain safe and secure, ScotRail have continued to invest in their CCTV network with more than six thousand cameras monitoring over 350 stations. However, respondents raised concerns that stations with reduced ticket office opening hours will be less safe with no physical staff presence. In some instances, disabled people stated that they would be less confident to travel to a station that is unstaffed due to the prospect of anti-social behaviour, which could lead to an increase in incidences of disability hate crime.

“A complete disaster for disabled travellers! Apart from assisting with accessibility needs, having staff present is always a reassurance and makes me feel safer when travelling as a lone disabled woman. It’s just another move or push towards de-humanising everything and forcing everything online.”

“Reducing staff present in the evening will mean it’s less likely as a blind person I will travel as I will feel less safe to do so and less confident that I would be able to get assistance after dark.”

“It raises public safety if stations are unstaffed – CCTV can’t provide the same support as a Worker at the station.”

“Ticket offices are more than just a place to buy tickets. They are a safe place for vulnerable commuters to go if in need.”

“I am an employee, so I see how station staff help people who either aren’t regular travellers or need assistance. This is a terrible idea as we look to attract passengers back onto trains. Ticket offices being open can also act as a deterrent for anti-social behaviour and I fear some stations will become “no go” areas after a certain time at night if these changes go ahead.”

“Staffed stations in the evenings dissuades anti-social behaviour, which we know disabled people fear more than the able-bodied from the increase in disability hate crime. In these respects, I believe that these proposals are discriminatory and could cause an increase in hate crime and another barrier to transport for disabled people.”

At Disability Equality Scotland, we have worked in partnership with Transport Scotland and transport providers to launch a National Hate Crime Charter. The purpose of the Charter is to encourage transport providers, members of the public and other services to support a zero-tolerance approach to hate crime on Scotland’s public transport network. More information about the Charter can be found on the Accessible Travel Hub: www.accessibletravel.scot/hate-crime

Train Station Facilities

Respondents believed that greater clarity is needed as to whether the closure of ticket offices will also restrict access to facilities, such as waiting rooms, accessible toilets, and food outlets.

“If ticket office is either closing early or is being closed completely then there must be a warm place for disabled people to sit while waiting for trains. Some disabled people can’t cope with the cold.”

“Will the closure of the offices mean lack of access to toilets at the stations that have them?”

“If the station ticket office closes, does this mean I will no longer have access to the waiting room, which also has a vending machine that can be useful if trains are delayed, and I need something to eat/drink.”

Consultation Process

Respondents were critical of the consultation process with regards to the limited time for responding and the lack of accessible formats. The 21 days of consultation does not provide enough time for some people to have a meaningful say. It is also vital that a range of accessible formats, such as British Sign Language, Easy Read and large text are available when the consultation launches. This can ensure that the consultation reaches as many people as possible by ensuring that formats are available which match their communication strengths and preferences.

“I would never have heard about this consultation if you hadn’t mentioned it in your member’s email. I suspect ScotRail are trying to pull a fast one and bring in changes while people will not have much chance to find out about it.”

“Given the reduced train use due to restrictions and staff absence, three weeks is a very short period for the consultation.”

“There is a tendency to produce PDFs with charts etc. which don’t work well with accessibility tools. It would have been nice to have accessible documentation available.”

Respondents also questioned whether an Equality Impact Assessment had been conducted to gauge the impact of the proposals on disabled people.

“I am disappointed that there has been no consultation with disabled people or DPOs in advance of the formal consultation. I am guessing there also hadn’t been an Equality Impact Assessment carried out?”

“I would love to see the Equality Impact Assessments on this one.”

“Will the Equality Impact Assessment behind this proposal be made available to see the rationale that deemed there would not be a negative impact on disabled people?”

“An Equalities Impact Assessment would assess the viability of other means of ticket purchase for disabled people; are all ticket machines accessible/ usable by this in wheelchairs? How usable are they by people with visual or mental impairments? How usable is the app or website by these people? Our experience is that there are significant problems for disabled people in using these alternatives means of ticket purchase and these must be dealt with before any ticket office closures/reductions in opening hours are considered.”

Conclusion

An overwhelming majority of respondents (95%) do not agree with the proposals featured in the consultation, in which ScotRail plan to reduce opening hours at 120 ticket offices across Scotland. Respondents shared emotive comments which highlight how the proposals may make it more challenging for disabled people to travel by rail. It was recognised that staffed ticket offices can assist disabled people by providing journey planning information and meeting passenger assistance requests. Help points and ticket vending machines are not accessible for some disabled people, which again stresses the importance of having a physical staff presence. Disabled people believed that a reduction in ticket office opening hours may lead to an increase in anti-social behaviour and incidences of disability hate crime. Concerns were also raised about the accessibility of the consultation process and whether an Equality Impact Assessment had been conducted to gauge the impact of the proposals on disabled people.