Posted 5th July 2023 | 7 Comments

Ticket office axe: staff may be offered voluntary severance

 Most station ticket offices in England are set to be axed
► Union claims redundancy notices have been issued
► Government accused of ‘ducking and diving’ from scrutiny

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

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.’

It continued 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.’

Industrial unrest began more than a year ago. 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.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘The decision to close up to 1,000 ticket offices and to issue hundreds of redundancy notices to staff is a savage attack on railway workers, their families and the travelling public.

‘Travellers will be forced to rely on apps and remote mobile teams to be available to assist them rather than having trained staff on stations. This is catastrophic for elderly, disabled and vulnerable passengers.

‘The arrangements for ticket office opening hours, set out in Schedule 17 of the Ticketing and Settlement Agreement, are the only statutory regulation of station staffing.

‘It is crystal clear that the government and train companies want to tear up this agreement and pave the way for a massive de-staffing of the rail network.

‘Some of the train operators issuing our members with statutory redundancy notices today are cutting two thirds of their workforce.’

The But uncertainty remains over job security, and a union leader has accused the Rail Delivery Group of ‘reneging’ on a deal which was agreed earlier this year.

Speaking on BBC Radio Surrey on 6 July, TSSA interim general secretary Peter Pendle said he had received ‘half a dozen communications from the various train operating companies, South Western Trains and GWR included, issuing Section 188 notices which is the notice you have to give as a first stage to consult on redundancies’.

He also said he was concerned about the prospects for the displaced staff in a few years from now, when consultations about further changes would not be required: ‘They can just do what they want two or three years down the line. Our belief is they’ll just come along and remove those people.

‘At the beginning of the year we were taking industrial action to oppose the closure of ticket offices. We reached an agreement with the Rail Delivery Group and the train operating companies. We said we oppose the changes, but are pragmatic enough to know there are going to be changes so we won’t continue to take industrial action and we will engage with you on how we introduce those changes.

‘That was a deal; that was an agreement we reached. Yesterday I got called into a meeting with the Rail Delivery Group who said: “Sorry, we’re going to renege on this agreement. We’re going to chuck it out of the window, and we’re going to go ahead and make the changes.”

‘How can we trust the Rail Delivery Group and the train operating companies if they can just turn round and renege on an agreement like that overnight, with no notice? Two or three years down the line, you’re going to see those people on stations gone.’

Railnews asked the Rail Delivery Group to respond. It said: ‘The agreement reached with the TSSA in February 2023 were a set of agreed national principles to update the railway for how passengers use it today. However, unfortunately, due to the nature of collective bargaining, the agreement reached with TSSA can’t be progressed for just the TSSA.

‘The RMT leadership has not only refused to put a pay deal to its members which would give all staff a pay rise as well as giving job security guarantees, but they are also holding up pay rises and job security guarantees for hundreds of TSSA members. Our offer remains on the table should the RMT wish to continue national discussions so we can secure a thriving long-term future for the railways.’

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.

‘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.’

Which ticket offices might stay open?

Avanti West Coast said its offices at some larger stations would be kept ‘short-term’ for passengers with complicated ticket queries which cannot be resolved on line or at a ticket machine. It said these stations are those managed by Network Rail at London Euston, Manchester Piccadilly, Birmingham New Street and Glasgow Central, where AWC runs the ticket offices, and also Preston and Carlisle.

c2c All 25 offices are ‘at risk of closure’ except London Fenchurch Street, Benfleet, Basildon, Grays and Southend Central. These offices continue, but opening hours will change.

Chiltern Railways plans to close all its ticket offices. 

East Midlands Railway will close its offices at Alfreton, Beeston, Boston, Burton-on-Trent, Chesterfield, Corby, East Midlands Parkway, Hinckley, Kettering, Kidsgrove, Long Eaton, Loughborough, Mansfield, Market Harborough, Melton Mowbray, Narborough, Newark Castle, Oakham, Skegness, Sleaford, Spalding, Stamford (Lincs) and Wellingborough. Ticket offices will continue to be provided at Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, London St Pancras International, Nottingham and Sheffield.

Govia Thameslink Railway (Great Northern, Southern and Thameslink) plans to close all ticket offices apart from Gatwick Airport.

Greater Anglia plans to open Customer Information Centres at London Liverpool Street, Chelmsford, Colchester, Ipswich, Norwich, Stansted Airport and Cambridge. Of the remaining 47 stations, some would have changes to staffing hours, but no presently staffed station will become unstaffed.

Great Western Railway is proposing to close all its ticket offices by the end of next year, including London Paddington. It has already closed summer-only ticket windows at Looe, Newquay and St Ives.

LNER said it proposed to maintain ticket offices at Edinburgh, Newcastle, York, Doncaster, Peterborough and London King’s Cross, ‘which will continue to offer the same range of products and opening times’.

Northern is proposing to close 131 ticket offices and change the opening hours at 18. It also operates a further 318 stations which do not have ticket offices. Stations which would retain ticket offices are Barrow-in-Furness, Blackburn, Blackpool North, Bolton, Bradford Interchange, Glossop, Harrogate, Hartlepool, Leeds, Liverpool Lime Street, Manchester Oxford Road, Manchester Victoria, Rochdale, St Helens Central, Salford Crescent, Skipton, Warrington Central and Wigan Wallgate. Exceptionally, Hartlepool is presently closed on Sundays, but would open under the new proposals. The opening hours at the other 17 offices will mostly be reduced.  

Southeastern said it serves 180 stations, and runs 142 ticket offices. It is proposing to open Travel Centres at its 14 busiest stations (Ashford International, Bromley South, Canterbury West, Dartford, Dover Priory, Hastings, London Bridge, London Charing Cross, London St Pancras International, London Victoria, Margate, Rochester, Sevenoaks and Tonbridge). All other offices will close, but staff will return to 14 stations which are currently unstaffed because of vacancies.

South Western Railway is planning to close all its ticket offices.

TransPennine Express plans to close the ticket offices at 14 of the 16 staffed stations it operates. Ticket offices will remain open at Huddersfield and Manchester Airport.

West Midlands Trains (London NorthWestern and West Midlands Railway) said ‘all ticket offices in their current form would close over the next three years’ but that it would introduce a number of ‘hub stations’ offering ‘enhanced retail facilities and customer support’. The ‘hubs’ are proposed at Birmingham Snow Hill, Milton Keynes Central, Northampton, Nuneaton, Sutton Coldfield, University, Walsall, Watford Junction, Wolverhampton and Worcester Foregate Street.

Note: CrossCountry and the open access operators Grand Central, Hull Trains and not manage any stations.

Reader Comments:

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

  • Greg T, London

    Quote: "‘The Conservatives should come clean, and give passengers the answers they deserve."
    That would be a first, ever, on any subject, certainly since a certain Mr Johnson became PM!

    As usual, what happens when the perfectly legal-&-valid ticket that you want is unavailable from the machine?
    Has already happened to me, & the member of platform staff was unable to help me, either ....
    { Boundary Zone 6 to $_Destination + railcard, as it happens }

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    I am an 'elderly' person (74) and do have difficulty both walking and understanding the latest apps. I do appreciate some help from staff, even though I try to keep up to date. It is why I shop in Waitrose, - simply because although the prices might be higher there is always a friendly staff member to help. Elderly people usually have the money and time to travel. They want 'Customer focus' from all firms they deal with.

  • Chris Jones-Bridger, Buckley Flintshire

    Put simply this is a cost cutting exercise that will be achieved by reducing the headcount in station retailing. What's missing is an honest assessment of the financial & personnel savings expected from these proposals.

    It cannot be disputed that in the digital age ticket office sales have declined. However the statistics presented should be rigorously challenged. Using percentages between 1995 & now is disingenuous given the overall growth in rail journeys until the pandemic intervened. The industry is also still in recovery mode not having had a stable financial year making comparisons unreliable. Bear in mind six decades after Beeching published his report arguments still rage that closures were pursued based on worst case interpretation of revenue & use.

    The Transport Secretary & his ministers have been quite vocal on their desire to see staff out of ticket offices performing a roving customer service role. Now that it's clear thar closures are being steamrollered through let's see that backed up with a commitment to mandate staffing availability during station opening where offices are closed. Both TfL & Merseyrail already do this.

    As others have pointed out there remains a significant proportion of the population where digital retailing is inappropriate. Their needs shouldn't be marginalised. Unfortunately though the consultation appears little more than a sham. The direction of travel is already set and cost cutting will prevail.

  • James Hutton, Oxford

    How will one buy CIV tickets to link to Eurostar? Will all stations have good mobile access - perhaps not essential but will be necessary sometimes.

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    My Ticket Office has been very useful over the pass many years getting me the best deal. Only last week they spent ages trying to get me an important journey route on a strike day. Apart from the safety anlel, closing the Ticket Office at Tilehurst also means the Toilets and Waiting Rooms go as well. They are only unlocked and available when someone is on duty in the Ticket Office.

  • John Porter, Kettering

    I am happy with the idea of REDUCING ticket office hours, as long as passengers can board a train and have railcard reductions on fares, rather than risking full fares potentially with a fixed surcharge. A single shift opening would be sufficient if adequately publicised.

  • Steve Alston, Crewe

    I accept the DfT's claim that apps and online purchases make up a substantial amount of purchases, mostly for younger and middle aged people who are able bodied. But not the elderly. Whilst I've every sympathy for disabled customers who will end abandoned on deserted stations, I have absolutely no sympathy for those elderly customers who desperately won't use apps for tickets or train information - but still voted Tory and still religiously believe the Mail and Express. A key indicator of the need for ticket office staff are two urban networks... Manchester v Liverpool
    In Manchester, Metrolink. No ticket offices, 100 stations Metrolink, deserted stations, staff maybe visiting once a day. Robberies, assaults, hate crimes, racist antisemitic islamophobic, pensioners robbed and beaten up by druggies, they've even had murders, human trafficking. Not a nice place to wait.... "but there's CCTV" - err okay. In Liverpool, Merseyrail. 66 stations, all with FULL TIME ticket offices. Safer waiting environment, staff nearby, still some antisocial behaviour being a big urban city but absolutely nothing like Manchester's mess.
    [Not sure your comparison is valid. Metrolink doesn't have 'stations' it has stops. We don't staff bus stops, either. One important difference is that stations are more enclosed and many have platform areas beyond their ticket gates. Tram (and bus) stops are in the open street.--Ed.]