Posted 5th July 2023 | No Comments

Axe hangs over ticket offices as consultations are launched

Most station ticket offices in England are set to be axed, it has been confirmed.

Consultations into proposals to close the offices at all but the largest stations have been launched. They will run for 21 days.

The government has been accused of ‘ducking and diving’ from scrutiny.

The Rail Delivery Group said: ‘The proposals would help bring station retailing up to date from the mid 90s, when the rules on how to sell tickets were set and before the invention of the smartphone. Back then, 82 per cent of all tickets were sold at ticket offices, compared to just 12 per cent on average today, a downward trend which accelerated during the pandemic.’

Industrial tensions over pay and conditions are continuing. ASLEF is staging an overtime ban at most English train operators this week, and the RMT has called three 24-hour walkouts later this month.

The Rail Delivery Group added that the proposals were ‘being launched against the backdrop of long-running industrial action by rail unions RMT and ASLEF over changes necessary to bring the railway up to date and make it sustainable in the long term, with revenue continuing to languish at 30 per cent below pre-pandemic levels. As RMT talks stalled due to their refusal to put a pay and jobs guarantee offer to its membership, train companies must now move ahead with essential reforms to bring the industry in line with the modern retailing, while maintaining valuable staff contact for customers.’

Ministers say they want to make station staff ‘more visible and accessible’, but Labour shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said: ‘Despite the concerns of vulnerable passengers, Conservative ministers are ducking and diving from scrutiny.

‘They refuse to say how many stations have alternatives to ticket offices, what the impact will be on jobs, or how it will hit vulnerable rail users.

‘The Conservatives should come clean, and give passengers the answers they deserve.

‘Railroading this decision in just three weeks, without proper consideration for staff and vulnerable passengers, only risks exacerbating the managed decline of the rail network.’

Passenger watchdogs Transport Focus and London TravelWatch are inviting responses to the plan, saying: ‘We will use this feedback to formally respond to the rail industry about the proposals.’

Transport Focus chief executive Anthony Smith said: ‘It’s important for people to have their say. We urge passengers to look at the proposals and tell us what the ticket office changes might mean for them. Transport Focus will make sure passengers’ views are heard.

‘It is a regulatory requirement as part of this process that Transport Focus and passengers are consulted. Transport Focus will review the impact of the proposed changes and passenger comments received before responding to train operator proposals.’ 

The proposals will technically come from individual train operators, but the government has been collecting revenue and paying operators’ costs since the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rail minister Huw Merriman told the Commons on 29 June that ‘together with the industry we want to modernise the passenger experience by moving staff out from ticket offices to more visible and accessible roles around the station. Staff will be better placed to assist passengers who need additional support and to provide face-to-face help in customer focused roles. To propose any changes to the opening hours, or the closure of ticket offices, train operating companies must follow the process set out in the Ticketing and Settlement Agreement.’