Mayor joins accessibility campaigners on Ely station
‘See differently’ urges the UK’s major campaigning charity for blind and partially sighted people and that’s what Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Mayor Dr Nik Johnson did when he joined Royal National Institute for Blind People at Ely Railway Station to glimpse something of the challenge they face.
In the latest move by the Combined Authority to champion the cause of people who fear they will lose precious independence if railway ticket offices like Ely are closed, the Mayor met RNIB campaigners at the station to gain greater understanding of what inclusive public transport means for them.
He was given three sets of special glasses that simulate a range of sight-limiting eye conditions. With his vision restricted, he tried to navigate the station, and use the ticket machines.
The first glasses replicated total loss of peripheral vision, the second age-related macular degeneration, and the third, cataracts.
Wearing the glasses and assisting himself with a white stick, the Mayor had to negotiate his way through station doors, find available ticket machines and try to work them, getting a taste of what travel would mean for blind and poorly-sighted rail users without support from the ticket office staff who currently help them.
Cambridgeshire RNIB campaigners with varying levels of sight loss guided the Mayor’s progress and talked about the challenges they face.
Bernie Reddington, RNIB regional campaign officer for the East of England, has no sight at all. She lost all vision, including light perception, in her 20s.
“Making machines fully accessible will be a struggle because there are so many options when buying a ticket, which is why ticket offices are so essential.
“What concerns me about Ely is that it’s such a huge hub. They’re discussing the option of closing the ticket office in afternoons and at weekends, but if you need to change trains at Ely, which you’re likely to do in the afternoon, it’s scary to think that there won’t be any one to help. It’s my right to be able to travel spontaneously.
“Ticket offices are essential to people’s independence and confidence. There needs to be a combined effort to make the world more inclusive, she said.”
Warren, who is also severely sight impaired, with only some light perception, was concerned about security as well as the mechanics of getting a ticket from the machine.
“You cannot get a ticket from the station without a ticket office as the machines are not accessible. And if someone offers to help you buy a ticket, how do you know whether or not they’re a member of staff?”
The Mayor, himself a medical doctor with a keen interest in all aspects of public health, heard from the campaigners, who talked him through the eye conditions, their experiences, the difficulties they have to overcome, and how they want ticket offices to remain staffed.
Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, Dr Nik Johnson:
““I’m very grateful to the RNIB for the chance to experience what using train services is like for blind and partially sighted people. It was incredibly humbling, but also hugely motivating, and I’m determined to make sure public transport is there for everyone, including the campaign to keep properly staffed, fully accessible ticket offices open.”
The Mayor’s meeting with the RNIB campaigners comes just days after the Combined Authority voiced “deep concerns” over the proposed scrapping of railway ticket offices on behalf of station users, especially vulnerable travellers, and put in a robust response to the consultation, saying the proposed closures should not go ahead.
Earlier this year, the Mayor hosted a round table for accessible transport campaigners, with invitees including the RNIB, to dig into what is required from inclusive public transport.