Posted 23rd October 2023 | 1 Comment

Ticket office closure deadline approaches

Reports are claiming that at least some station ticket offices in England will be spared the nationwide cull which was proposed during the summer, as the deadline for making recommendations about the closures approaches.

The House of Commons Transport Committee has written to rail minister Huw Merriman to express its concerns about the proposed closures and their effect on disabled travellers and people with special access needs. 

The letter voices the Committee's concerns that these proposals go ‘too far and too fast’, and risk excluding some passengers from the railway altogether. At a minimum, the letter argues, any proposed changes should be ‘carefully piloted’ so that the effects can be assessed before closures are imposed more widely. 

The Committee says evidence from operators suggested that ‘the justification for these changes was based on the behaviour of the majority of passengers’. The letter recognises that it is reasonable to an extent that operators should adapt to changes in how passengers buy tickets but argues that this is ‘not a sufficient approach to safeguarding the needs of disabled passengers’.

The cross-party committee of MPs says ‘there are many legitimate concerns about whether ticket office closures would reduce the assistance these passengers need to travel freely and reliably on the railway like anyone else’. The letter calls for clarity about alternative staffing and the arrangements for people with different kinds of disabilities.

The letter has followed an evidence session held in September on the proposed closures as part of a wider inquiry into the legal obligations of Accessible Transport.

If the proposals set out in August went ahead in full even some of the largest stations, including London Waterloo, Birmingham New Street and Glasgow Central, would lose their ticket windows, in a bid to reduce railway costs.

Transport ministers say the displaced staff would be moved on to open areas of their stations, such as concourses and platforms, where they would give face-to-face assistance to passengers. They argue that ticket offices are no longer essential, because 88 per cent of journeys now involve purchases from ticket machine or bookings on line.

Critics say arranging help on concourses would be difficult to manage, and that without the discipline of queues at ticket office windows the staff could risk being overwhelmed at busy times.

The RMT is also concerned that thousands of jobs could be lost.

The watchdogs Transport Focus and London TravelWatch have reported that they had received 680,000 responses to the consultation by the time that it closed on 1 September, but the RMT has claimed that the total was more like 750,000, with 98 per cent of respondents opposing the closures.

Although any official comments are unlikely before the end of this month, when the watchdogs are due to announce their recommendations, the Daily Mirror has quoted an industry source as saying: ‘I’m sure the train companies thought this would be a done deal. But the sheer weight of opposition has made them have a major rethink.’

If savings are made by closing at least some offices the operators will not benefit, because they now run trains as contractors on behalf of the Department for Transport, which collects the revenue and pays the costs.

The Rail Delivery Group says: ‘If accepted, the proposed changes would be phased in gradually. Ticket office facilities will remain open at the busiest stations and interchanges, selling the full range of tickets.’

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch, who is opposing closures, said: ‘Do we want a stripped-down app-based society, where people who are not necessarily attuned to modern technology feel a bit left out?’

Reader Comments:

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  • Julian Gallop, Didcot

    This sums it the problem well. "these proposals go ‘too far and too fast’, and risk excluding some passengers from the railway altogether". People with disabilities will have problems. Even without a disability there will, in a high minority of cases, be a complex requirement. Ticket machines do not yet have sufficient capability for complex cases.