Devon’s leading sight loss charity has celebrated the government's station ticket office closure U-turn.

The government announced this week that there would be a U-turn in the proposal to close many rail ticket offices around the country. 

When the government announced in July that they were looking to close 974 railway station ticket offices, Devon in Sight took an active role in the consultation encouraging all of their stakeholders to voice their concerns to local Councillors, Members of Parliament, London Travel Watch, Watchdog Transport Focus and the Thomas Pocklington Trust.

The ensuing campaign snowballed with Honiton MP Richard Foord raising the issue in Parliament during Transport Minister’s Questions and on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Any Questions’.

Devon in Sight’s CEO Grahame Flynn said, “It was such a thrill to have Devon in Sight cited during a debate in the House of Commons! There are a huge proportion of the population who do not have smart phones or use computers to purchase tickets. Furthermore, many of our clients with sight loss learn to navigate to a specific place such as a ticket office. How is a person with a visual impairment going to find railway staff on a busy platform?

We know that since the Covid pandemic, many passengers are anxious about using public and community transport. It was somewhat ironic that for the best part of a year the team at Devon in Sight have been working on the Department of Transport funded ‘Tackling Loneliness with Transport Scheme’ aimed at getting more people using public transport!”

Mr Flynn wrote personally to the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Secretary of State for Transport Mark Harper MP and Rail Minister, Huw Merriman MP on behalf of all the people living with little or no sight in Devon, to express their concerns. Mr Merriman wrote back on behalf of the Prime Minister.

Grahame said, “His letter offered some reassurances and gave us the opportunity to hold the Government to account."

In a statement, Mr Harper said, “The consultation on ticket offices has now ended, with the Government making clear to the rail industry throughout the process that any resulting proposals must meet a high threshold of serving passengers. We have engaged with accessibility groups throughout this process and listened carefully to passengers as well as my colleagues in Parliament. The proposals that have resulted from this process do not meet the high thresholds set by ministers, and so the Government has asked train operators to withdraw their proposals.”

Grahame Flynn said, “This decision could only have been reached because of the high level of protests that were made. A definite victory for common sense! For our clients with sight loss, we are delighted. So many travel using the railways. This allows them to remain independent which reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness. Callers to our recent telephone support (Chit Chat) Call spoke of the relief they felt on hearing the news. We are sure this was the same for anyone with a disability too.

Devon in Sight would like to thank everyone who took the time to engage with the consultation. We will be monitoring future proposals closely to ensure that the voices of people living with little or no sight are heard.”