Christine Tongue: We need people not machines! 

Ticket closures protest

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.

https://www.rmt.org.uk/campaigns/rail/save-ticket-offices/

Christine is a founder member of disability campaign group Access Thanet

44 Comments

  1. Go to thetrainline.com, in my experience far better deals (particularly for longer journeys) can be found than via ticket offices.

    • Ms Pink, if you are so smart and capable, then why are you bothering to read an article that is written for the benefit of disabled people?

      And if you think thetrainline.com website is so wonderful then perhaps you should take a look at this tweet
      https://twitter.com/RMTunion/status/1685985785063882752

      …and if Twitter is beyond your reach, then here is the original message from the trainline to its disgruntled customers…

      @thetrainline
      Sorry all, our booking system is currently experiencing a technical glitch. Our team is on the case to get things up and running asap; we’ll keep you posted! You can still search journey times and access any tickets to travel already purchased.

      • You can also use National Rail to purchase tickets.
        Not all disabled people are incapable of using tech and it is rather discriminatory to suggest so.

        • “Broadstairs resident”, why are you so determined to promote online services? Are you an agent of the cost-cutting capitalists who are driving the ticket office closures? Or are you just trying to make people like Christine feel uncomfortable?

          Some of us object to using machines whether we are disabled or not. We have spent our lives interacting with fellow humans and we want to continue to do so.

          • Mr Shacklock, I am merely pointing out that by searching on the National Rail app you can check for the best prices and Advanced Fares. Not all station staff are helpful, nor is it in their best interests to give you the cheapest fares. The pricing is complicated and that is a separate issue. Machines and tech is a way of the world now and I’m afraid you will have to get used to it.

          • Broadstairs resident, that’s not strictly true. I used to think that, then I discovered that trainline often find them cheaper via split ticketing.

          • Broadstairs resident, apologies for misjudging your intentions. I’d thought you might have been working in conjunction with Ms Pink, whose intentions are just to irritate everybody.

            I can see that tech is becoming a way of the world, but only if we allow it to control every aspect of our lives. It’s not too late to resist it; after all, we are CUSTOMERS not servants.

          • Ms Pink, I don’t have a problem with you not using social media, and that’s why I pasted the official statement from Trainline into my comment. But you have conveniently ignored the content of their statement. They have revealed that machines will never be a substitute for helpful humans. The timing of their system crash was perfect – right in the middle of a consultation on widespread sackings of customer-facing staff.

          • If “helpful humans” were better than machines, then disabled people would still be pushed around in wheelchairs!

  2. I wouldn’t trust what the ticket office told me without doing my own research. Had problems being overcharged by two ticket officers on the train.

    • If you were on the train without a ticket, then you would most likely have been charged the full walk-on single fare.
      It’s an offence against the byelaws to begin you journey without a ticket or permit to travel.

      • No… as long as you find the guard and explain things, in my experience they always issue the tickets requested.

        • How do you find the guard in a wheelchair? But of course you won’t be able to get on without a ramp so you won’t be on the train anyhow….

          • Again, you book it in advance. My disabled mother does it OK (and she’s not a tech-savvy journalist who ran her own newspaper!).

          • Mrs Tongue – What do you not understand about train journey bookings? You can book in advance for assistance boarding a train and discharging from train. Some people want everything on a plate – why be so negative. My wife and I do not bleet on every time we face a problem regarding her mobility. We work around the problem and in majority of situations, a solution can be found. We are very patient and tolerant and accept some access problems in life have no solution.

          • FedupB – She only hears (or reads) what she wants. I’ve tried helping her many times on here, to no avail.

          • FedupB – we are very lucky to have people like Christine in our community. She is forever raising awareness of the consequences of cost cutting exercises and short-termism. 

            If you are a paid employee then I can understand why you take pride in working around problems, but we are paying CUSTOMERS not employees. If all of us simply accepted the ruthless decisions made by railway and supermarket bosses without any form of resistance then there would be no customer service at all. Just robots and counter-intuitive online systems.

          • Ian Shacklock – I am not a paid employee being 76 and retired. Therefore a CUSTOMER. However, we face up to problems and always try to find a way around them. We, unfortunately, receive no benefits having been brought up to save and then try to fend for ourselves. All my wife’s disabled aids are purchased by us We expect nothing free on a plate.

        • Yes. .. that’s the law.
          However, if (for whatever reason) you don’t have a ticket, and as soon as you are on the train, seek out the guard and explain the circumstances. In these circumstances I do my best to see which door the guard pokes his or head out of when the train stops at the platform, then I head for that door.

    • I’m never going to get used to “machines and tech”. I think the increasing use of AI will produce a dystopia.

      • How do you write and post your contributions to this website? Pen and paper, then envelopes and stamps?

        I use “machines and tech”.

        • Nice try, Ms Pink, but there’s a huge difference between posting comments in a forum and relying on a website to conduct financial transactions. Also, there’s a huge difference between choosing to use tech and being forced to use it.

  3. We need easier pricing and machines that are easier to use, these little tv screens either sun shining on them are useless. All you need is a simple destination and button

    • But it’s not that simple.
      There are hundreds of destinations, too many to show on the screen, so there has to be some way of whittling down the list; there are single and return tickets; Anytime and Off Peak tickets; tickets via HS1 or not…. and all these things have to be accommodated on the little screen

      • And if you have a railcard, you need to remember to press the right buttons before committing to buy. The machines won’t prompt you to do this – unlike the helpful ticket office staff who invariably ask you before they quote a price.

        • “Invariably ask you”? Not in my experience at Ramsgate and Margate ticket offices! You really do need to get out more.

          • Ms Pink, it doesn’t surprise me that you get a less helpful experience than normal people can expect at ticket offices. If you are as irritating in real life as you appear to be in the online environment then the staff would have every right to pull the shutter down as soon as you reach the front of the queue.

  4. Christine, there’s a flippant comment from Ms Pink about humans pushing wheelchairs, presumably aimed at mobility scooter users.

    I’d like to put it on record that there are two types of machines – the ones we CHOOSE to use versus the ones we are FORCED to use. The former are labour saving devices that add to our quality of life. The latter are hostile devices imposed on us by the likes of supermarket and railway bosses. There is nothing inconsistent about using a mobility scooter while campaigning against enforced use of ticket machines.

    • Again, you are not “Enforced” to use ticket machines. You can order in advance, and either have them on your phone or (for luddites like me) print them out.

      How do you order your plane tickets when you’re jet-setting to the far east? I’m guessing you don’t queue up at a ticket office.

  5. What I propose is a chart of margate to London for example . It could be divided into mileage zones , choose your zone pay the price

  6. I had a bizarre experience yesterday.
    I tried to log in to the Premium Bond web site, to check if I had £10, £15 or £20.
    It had been years since I’d logged in, but I managed to remember by username/password. But then the thing said it wanted to send a one time code to my phone – and the one registered was years out of date.
    A phone number was offered, so I could phone up and register my new number.
    I phoned.
    “Hello, my name’s George. How can I help you?”
    So I outlined my problem
    “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that.
    My name I George. How may I help you?”

    This happened a couple of times.
    Then “George” revealed that “he” was an AI chatbot. Because “he” couldn’t understand my request, “he” would connect me with someone who could.
    I.e a real human being, who got my new phone registered in seconds.

        • George could not possibly be friendly. It is a mindless machine.
          And friendly or not, it was hopelessly unable to resolve my problem.

        • Ms Pink it can’t be good for you stalking me and being consistently hostile and rude. Your life must be otherwise empty to find such tiny targets! I’m a small-scale local disability campaigner not a mass murderer or hated putician. Have a go at Suella Braverman or Putin if you want to spend your time more productively!

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