Posted 27th June 2023 | 3 Comments

Rumours grow of mass ticket office closures

The RMT has sounded a warning shot in response to growing speculation that the Department for Transport is preparing to announce the closure of most station ticket offices in England. If it happens, it could ignite a new industrial dispute on National Rail.

The reform includes moving staff from the offices to concourses and platforms, where they can help passengers, but the RMT is bitterly opposed to the idea because it fears that many jobs could be lost.

Closures are also being opposed on the grounds that less able people and the elderly in particular often rely on ticket offices to help them with their journeys. Because they are less likely to be users of smartphones or computers, some have no access to the internet.

The change would come at a time when increasing numbers of smartcards are being introduced. The latest operator to announce a pilot scheme with cards is c2c, although it has not announced any ticket office closures.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘There are rumours circulating online that the DfT plans to announce mass ticket office closures next week.

‘The train operating companies and the government must understand that we will vigorously oppose any moves to close ticket offices.

‘We will not meekly sit by and allow thousands of jobs to be sacrificed or see disabled and vulnerable passengers left unable to use the railways as a result.

‘RMT will bring into effect the full industrial force of the union to stop any plans to close ticket offices, including on our upcoming strike days of July 20, 22 and 29 in the national rail dispute.’

Although the DfT has not yet commented officially on claims that an announcement is imminent, the Guardian reported that one government source was accusing Mick Lynch of ‘trying to scaremonger’, saying: ‘We’ve made no secret about the fact that the railways need to reform in order to survive, but this should be in a way that works for passengers.’

The Rail Delivery Group said the industry had been ‘open and honest about the need for the railway to evolve’, but up until now negotiations had been continuing to ‘go round in circles’ on reforms such as moving staff from ticket offices to other parts of stations.

It continued: ‘While the industry is now looking at how to move forward, any changes would be subject to employee and public consultations.

‘Staff always remain front of mind so as you would expect from a responsible employer, if and when the time comes for proposals on ticket offices to be published, they will be the first to know.’

Any changes initiated by the DfT seem likely to affect only English stations. The nationalised domestic operators in Scotland and Wales manage most of the stations in those countries, and any reforms would be a matter for the devolved governments.

Station ticket offices are increasingly uncommon in other countries. Dutch Railways relies on the Netherlands national ‘chip and pin’ smartcard, and only maintains inquiry offices at about eight of its largest stations. Even then, these offices feature work stations where passengers are encouraged to make travel enquiries on line for themselves. Nederlandse Spoorwegen began to discourage the use of its ticket offices before moving ahead with closures, by charging passengers a small fee if they bought tickets at a window rather than using a machine.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Chris Jones-Bridger, Buckley Flintshire

    It's hardly unexpected that the future of ticket offices would become an issue as it was highlighted in the Williams review long before the final report was published. Since the availability web based ticketing change has been an inevitable consequence. However in the light of the Treasury induced financial squeeze on the DfT & in turn the contracted operators closures should not be seen as a blunt tool in cost reduction, ie head count reduction, to provide a smoke screen for the continued inertia in implementing the structural reforms required to drive out the underlying bloated cost of maintaining the dysfunctional industry structure. Front line jobs should not be sacrificed at the continued expense of maintaining a bloated backroom infrastructure that fails to add value to the customer experience.

    The Dutch example is interesting but perhaps NS has a head start by being part of an integrated ticketing system before the march of digitalisation.In the UK even in BR days there were regional variations. As an example in northern England each PTE area developed it's own scheme in isolation to those of it's neighbours. Also privatisation undid all the work Network South East did to create an integrated ticketing area much of it in collaboration with London Transport. The resulting free for all in the national rail operators has left a confused & complicated ticketing mess.

    Digitalisation can both open up access to our transport network and also act as a deterrent unless adequate provision is made to help those less confident in what for many is often a hostile environment. As an example a few years ago, not long after TfL had introduced contactless payment by bank card, as a long term Oyster card user I was explaining to some elderly American friends how easy it would be for them to access the TfL network using their bank cards as their permit to travel. Instant failure when they advised their cards were unable to make contactless payments. Fortunately my wife & I had the time to act as escorts and tour guides for their day. As contributor James notes - People work with People.

  • James, Hampshire

    If this is to be a success from the passenger's perspective:

    1. Ticket machines need to get a lot better. Touch screens that work like our phones, rather than ones you have to jab at repeatedly on a spot just to the right of the button you want.
    2. Websites, apps and machines should present the full range of tickets available. Ticket office clerks know the system inside out and can often come up with cheaper fares than the machines can, or just ticket types that the passenger might not have considered.
    3. A more intelligent use of existing resources is needed. Why can't I use either my National Rail app or my Railcard app to buy and store tickets? Why do I have to use the website, which is terrible on mobile?
    4. There should still be staff on the station, even if they're not sat behind a ticket office window. People work with people.

  • Robert Joseph Waller , CAMBERWELL, London

    If this is the case then not only the elderly and infirm are at risk but also the staff themselves as the only place most of us, I'm retired staff, can buy a reduced rate ticket is the ticket office, there is no facility on the station ticket machines, and online ticketing can only be got in advance, not direct from operators websites