What do you need when you’re disabled? One way of seeing it is my usual mantra for Access Thanet: ACCESS, POLICY, ATTITUDE.
On Saturday I sat in my wheelchair on yet another picket line because I see the current campaign to keep rail ticket offices open under all these headings.
I’ve never had a car, I’ve always travelled by train. I chose a house near a station and been grateful for the patient staff in the various ticket offices I’ve used over the years for working out my best route for long distance travel. Thanks especially to the lovely man in Broadstairs ticket office who worked out my tickets for Fort William in the far north of Scotland, returning via Ardrossan and Dumfries so I could visit friends in Wigtown. Look at a map – its a great journey!
But now my legs don’t work ticket offices are even more essential. You need advice about how accessible stations are – I was told on some telephone help line once that Deal Station has a lift. It doesn’t! But the poor soul telling me was in Newcastle so how would she know if the computer was telling lies?
You need to book a ramp if you’re a wheel user or can’t do big steps. If there’s no one on the station who will get the ramp? And why don’t all trains have accessible entrances anyhow?
A conversation with a real person, with local knowledge, face to face can solve problems instantly.
The rail companies who say that stations will still be staffed even if they abolish ticket offices have met with a collective cynical OH YEAH? from the disabled community. It’s hard enough finding a real person on little stations like Broadstairs now but without a ticket office, where do you look?
So I’ve been joining members of the RMT – the main trade union for rail workers – in their campaign to keep ticket offices open. The rail companies are trying to cut staff – and cut their costs – and get the customers doing all the work of researching their journeys, booking their tickets online or using the awful ticket machines.
It’s a minefield for people of normal abilities with loads of options for differently priced tickets depending on time of travel, rail cards, returns, destination station – it might be different prices, for example, to Victoria or St Pancras etc etc.
Friends tell you of weird anomalies – it used to be cheaper getting a return to Rugby from Thanet than to London! Different companies might be in charge of different bits of your journey with wildly different pricing systems.
But booking disabled help on a complicated journey has been too much for me lately. Access Thanet member Mandy did it recently and would still be on one train now if fellow passengers hadn’t stepped in to help lifting her walker off the train and holding on to her as she stumbled off the train.
I find the ticket machines almost impossible to use as can’t reach or see the screen from a scooter or wheelchair but if you can’t see at all, or only blurred, it’s absolutely out of the question. Guide dogs are wonderful but they can’t get you a ticket from a machine!
So if you see me outside a station with a placard, come and join us!
The consultation on ticket office closures has been extended – find it here and have your say.
Christine is a founder member of disability campaign group Access Thanet