Rail operators are scrapping printed timetables as part of a multi million-pound cost cutting exercise, sparking claims that passengers’ personal safety is being put at risk.
Pocket and poster timetables are in the process of being withdrawn and replaced with QR codes, sparking fears that elderly people without smartphones could be forced off the railways or left stranded at stations.
The Department for Transport is under pressure to cut costs after spending more than £10bn to keep services running during the pandemic.
The Treasury has stressed that the DfT is not a “protected” department, meaning it could be on the receiving end of swingeing cuts as Rishi Sunak sets out his spending review this week.
Watch: Security concerns with QR codes
A White Paper, published alongside a Government review of the railways earlier this year, championed the need to “modernise” the network with staff on hand to help those who struggle with paperless tickets or looking up timetables online.
Jacqueline Starr, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents operators, said: “Over £20m is being invested across the railway to make it easier for people to get all the information they want, when and how they want it.
"Printed timetables cost around £2m a year and are used by 1pc of passengers, which is why we’re in discussions with the Government about redirecting this money to invest in better, real time information and prevent a significant amount of paper being used unnecessarily.”
But Emma Gibson, a director at commuter group London Travelwatch, said: ‘Many people still rely on printed timetable posters at the station and always keep a pocket timetable in their bag just in case they need it.
“People don’t always want to have to get their smartphone out to check a QR code, which can be a fiddly process, particularly if they have concerns about their personal security at an unstaffed station late at night. We have heard from rail users first-hand that there is great concern around these changes, particularly around how quickly they will happen.
“We’re concerned that someone turning up at a railway station for the first time in over a year who does not have a smartphone will not have access to information that they would expect as a matter of course and that this poor experience could put them off using rail in the future.”
Dennis Reed, director of older people's campaign group Silver Voices, said the Department of Transport's decision would lock out older people from society.
He said “It's scandalous. This decision will exclude older people from society.
“For economic reasons, public bodies and businesses are going online and to digital only services and it's excluding a large part of the population.
“I understand the imperative to reduce paper, but the savings we are talking about are actually very low. It's such a miniscule saving. It's not worth it for the exclusion it will bring into the public transport system.”
Robin Hewings, programme director at the Campaign to End Loneliness, said the decision could risk cutting people at risk of loneliness even further off from society.
He said: “Many people who are at high risk of loneliness do not have access to smart phones with data packages, which means it isn't always possible to download files when they are out and about.
“It is really important that public transport is as accessible as possible, especially for people who rely on it to keep in touch with friends and family.”
Ms Starr of the Rail Delivery Group said people who wanted a paper timetable would have the option of asking for a copy to be printed at some stations or could request a copy from the train operator.
A spokesman for the Government said: “Our railway must be accessible and open to everyone, which is why we’re working with operators to ensure they make access to timetables simpler and more convenient."
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