Having heard about the potential closure of all train ticket offices, I felt angry, anxious and scared. I imagined myself not being able to get home, stood on a train platform having a panic attack.
My name is Ben and I have a learning disability and am partially sighted. I am also the Chair of trustees at the charity My Life My Choice (MLMC).
As a 100% user lead charity, I listen to the views of and can speak on behalf of our membership, which currently stands at over 700 people with a range of learning disabilities.
The concern is that our members will be forced to stay at home as they are no longer able to travel independently.
Having talked with MLMC members about the ticket office closures, many members expressed the same concerns as me. Members who are blind said they would find it impossible to buy a ticket for a machine. Members with moderate or profound learning disabilities also said that they would not be able to manage this. The barriers include; not being able to read, not having a bank card and the complicated nature of the process. People were worried about making mistakes and not being able to correct it, not knowing whether they had got the right ticket, not knowing which platform to go to and not having anyone to check this information with.
At MLMC we run a travel buddy scheme that supports members to learn to travel independently. The scheme pairs a member who can travel independently with someone who cannot. They repeat the journey until the trainee is confident enough to travel alone.
Ironically, an online survey poses its own barriers and is less likely to have responses from those people who would find using the ticket machine most difficult.
The skilled travel buddy trainers, who are very experienced, have had extensive training themselves and are paid to carry out this role, do not themselves use ticket machines. Instead, 90% opt to use a ticket office. Rachael, who coordinates the Travel Buddy Scheme, supported members to complete the recent online survey by Transport Focus to consult on the decisions sharing their concerns. Ironically, an online survey poses its own barriers and is less likely to have responses from those people who would find using the ticket machine most difficult.
Oxfordshire is a rural county, with many areas being reliant on train services. For example, from where I live, the train takes 20 minutes into Oxford, the bus taking one and a half hours.
The concern is that our members will be forced to stay at home as they are no longer able to travel independently. Many of our members are only just coming back to join in with our social activities after the pandemic. We know that during the pandemic, our members were very isolated, lonely which had a profound impact on people’s mental wellbeing. I would not want to see a repeat of this and for some, ticket office closures could have this result.
I speak for myself and other disabled people as a member on the Chiltern and Cross Country Railways accessibility panel. At the next meeting I will be insisting that ticket offices must remain open. The closures have only been considered as a way to save money and people with disabilities have been overlooked. This makes me feel forgotten about and excluded, but ultimately it is discrimination. I will make it my job to raise awareness of this.
About Ben McCay
Ben McCay joined My Life My Choice (MLMC) in September 2017 after he attended the Banbury self-advocacy group. He became more involved in the charity; joining the Champion’s, a campaigning group and began working for MLMC. Ben is now co-chair of the trustees at MLMC and sits on advisory boards at Oxford Health, Oxfordshire County Council and is a spokesperson for Learning Disability England. Ben is part of the Sounddelivery Media Spokesperson Programme.