Deceit over ticket office closures is taking all of us for a ride

Any claim that the closure of ticket offices on our railways will somehow improve passenger service is intended to mislead, says ANDREW FISHER

Ticket to ride: East Croydon is among at least 18 stations in and around Croydon set to lose its ticket office

Yesterday’s announcement by the privatised rail industry of the plans to close almost 1,000 ticket offices across England exploits a loophole opened only recently by the Conservative Government.

Until last year, there was a threshold in place where ticket offices that averaged more than 12 transactions an hour would not normally be permitted to close.

But then the Government removed this threshold, which means that any ticket office can now be closed, regardless of its usage. Hence yesterday’s announcement.

The impact of the closures will be particularly harsh for disabled and elderly passengers and those requiring additional support.

Defending the moves, the Rail Delivery Group (the body representing the train companies) has said that only 12per cent of tickets are sold at station kiosks on average, compared with 85per cent of ticket sales in 1995.

In the last year (2022-2023), 1.25billion train journeys were undertaken in Britain. So 12per cent would equate to 150 million journeys that take place with tickets purchased from ticket offices.

What the RDG is less forthcoming in saying is that the number of staff at kiosks has also been much reduced since 1995. Although their spokesperson claimed that they “don’t have the figures for the number of staff based in station kiosks now compared with 1995”.

The train companies are probably not too keen to talk about staffing, since for months the rail companies and government ministers have been claiming that this was about getting staff out from behind desks and on to the station to help more passengers.

But this myth-making has been exposed for what it is, as to coincide with this ticket office consultation, rail companies have started issuing compulsory redundancy notices to ticket office staff.

The perpetually dire Southern Railways continues to claim on their consultation page that they are “moving colleagues out from behind traditional ticket offices windows, which would close, onto station concourses where customers need them most, making them more visible and accessible”.

Even their excuses are running late.

Deceit over ticket office closures is nothing new.

Warning signs: posters like these went up across the railway network yesterday

When running to be London Mayor, Boris Johnson pledged on the Tube network to ensure there is “always a manned ticket office at every station”. Once in office, Johnson proceeded to close 250 ticket offices on the London Underground. That said, London Underground did agree a no compulsory redundancies deal with the unions – something the Rail Delivery Group has failed to commit to.

The extra incentive for rail companies to get rid of ticket office staff is because their numbers until now have been regulated – requiring companies to consult on ticket office closures.

Once staff are out of ticket offices, there is no legal requirement to consult, as the regulations do not apply to gateline or platform staff, whose numbers can be reduced without public consultation.

Ticket office closures are not about improving or reforming the delivery of services for passengers, but about cutting jobs and reducing staffing, so that fat cat bosses and the shareholders of the privately owned rail operators can get an even larger share of the spoils.

The private rail companies make in excess of £500million in profits annually, and many rail bosses take home at least £1million in pay every year. Meanwhile, since privatisation, rail fares have risen above the rate of inflation.

The RMT union, which represents the majority of ticket office staff, says, “closing ticket offices will make the railway less safe, secure and accessible and this is part of the Government and rail companies’ plans to de-staff the railway”.

The RMT points out that ticket offices don’t just sell tickets. Passengers value the mere presence of staff in ticket offices, importantly knowing that it is a place where they can find staff, for advice, assistance, accessibility and, if needed, a place of safety.

I know from my own personal experience that ticket office staff are a wealth of information, experience and skill that cannot be translated into vending machines and apps.

Last summer when taking a trip from East Croydon to visit family on the south coast I attempted to purchase our tickets from the machines. The price had increased so, I cancelled and – as I had time – queued up at the very well-used ticket offic.

As luck would have it, the staff found me a cheaper ticket, and told me there was also a temporary discount, which had not been programmed into the machine. I must have saved around £20 by spending a few minutes in that ticket office queue.

Without ticket office staff it will be harder for passengers to claim discounts or refunds in-station, which might be beneficial to companies, but not for passengers.

The campaign group Transport for All, which campaigns for accessible transport systems, is fighting the Government-driven proposals, saying they will have “profound impacts on disabled people”.

They point out that many ticket machines at stations are not accessible for disabled people and are calling “for these disastrous proposals to be binned now”.

Transport for All has launched its own campaign – Not Just the Ticket – to highlight that, for disabled people especially, ticket offices are a vital source of information and assistance.

The TSSA union, which represents some booking office staff, said: “We urge people to take part in the forthcoming consultation in unprecedented numbers so that these daft proposals can be halted without delay, and that we retain a safe and fully accessible railway”.

The National Federation of the Blind of the UK has also said it will fiercely oppose the closure plans.

The stations in Croydon that could be affected include East Croydon, South Croydon, Coulsdon South, Coulsdon Town, Selhurst, Thornton Heath, Norbury, Purley, Purley Oaks, Waddon, Riddlesdown and Kenley. Norwood Junction is run by London Overground, part of Transport for London, and no ticket office closures are currently proposed.

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16 Responses to Deceit over ticket office closures is taking all of us for a ride

  1. Simon Squires says:

    From the Independent yesterday:

    Will the train operators’ profits rise if the plan goes ahead?
    Not according to Mark Smith. He writes: “The proposals appear to be driven by the government (DfT) as a cost-cutting exercise, rather than the train operators.

    “The DfT now pays all the railway’s costs including the cost of ticket offices, DfT gives the train operators 2 per cent on top as their management fee – so paradoxically, if offices close, operators will lose the 2 per cent they’re paid on those ticket office costs.

    “Closing ticket offices actually cuts their profits, which some people may not have entirely grasped.”

    • Ian Kierans says:

      You are on the right track Simon. The change last year was all about removing the cost to the Government this year. And watch out for more of the sam

  2. The Tories are pursuing a scorched earth policy, destroying what they can before they get turfed out at the next elections.

    • MatthewP says:

      And then when, not if, Labour cannot possibly clean up the social, political and economic messes left by the Tories, the Tories will campaign to the public that they need to return to power as Labour is “not up to the job”. We could see the Tories back in power in 2028/29.

  3. Peter says:

    What a surprise it would be if the closed ticket offices were then converted for commercial uses (e.g. coffee bars and newsagents) to further boost rental income for the private rail operators.

    • Ian Kierans says:

      Yes and no – All sations are owned by Network rail large ones are even managed by them the rest are managed by the operators. Tental income goes to Network Rail mostly if not all. I do not think that has changed much since I left.

  4. John says:

    I think the staff could have a roaming job profile to help people with buying tickets be it from a machine or with staff support. Multi tasking instead of sitting offices waiting for customers.

    • Ian Terry says:

      Many are being issued with redundancy notices, so if you believe this is about improving service then I have a bridge to sell you

    • Ian Kierans says:

      They already have that on stations. They are at the barrier line mostly and on platforms or in the Information booths

  5. Nick Davies says:

    A couple of times ticket office staff have let on that they make an effort to find the best fare because they don’t want to let their employer rook me for any more than they already get away with.

    • Ian Kierans says:

      You might find as I did today that certain Train operating compnaies are deliberately restricting what type of ticket is avaialble for sale, forcing you to buy a more expensive ticket if not on their actual operating area.
      Again this makes ticketing very complex supposedly what those machines are supposed to reduce. Does anyone smell a rat here.
      Seems like a minister says something and lo and behold suddenly that problem referred to miraculouusly appears where it did not exist prior.

  6. DaveP says:

    The closures will occur as low public opposition. At barrier gated stations you have gate line staff who are unable to sell tickets, but with a ticket office that’s just stupid, restrictive practices? Look at Purley Oaks & Riddlesdown no barriers and with ticket offices, youngsters know these stations offer free travel to another non barrier station. This is getting ready for the major ticket fare upheaval next year, currently trialling on LNER and a Northern(?), simp-licit only single one way much lower fares.
    EG only a fool buys a ticket office paper ticket from ECR to Gatwick for £12+ whereas contactless is £5.

  7. Lewis White says:

    As usual, politics is about desperation to get changes in and make an impact–in this case on costs (the passengers don’t really count). How ever shortsighted and flawed. A variation on the do it, knowing it is a bad move, and fix it later if there is enough outcry from the long suffering and ever more docile public who have lower and lower expectations in post Austerity UK plc.

    Some people have commented above that there is no point in having ticket ofices with staff behind the glass, if no-one is buying tickets. Yes, that makes sense, in stations where very few tickets are sold now. But……

    Others, that the staff are there ready to help people find out about things, order a season ticket, get a ticket for travel etc etc etc. Yes, that also makes sense. For example, Coulsdon South, a very busy station, is hugely popular with tourists and locals who use the ticket office. I am sure that Purley also is. No doubt, several others too. It seems totally bonkers to even consider closing these.

    It is clear that a staff member sitting in an office many metres away from the gate can’t be helping someone to buy the right ticket, while staffing the gate. Nor could a gate person sell a ticket, needing access to a computer and machine. Not nowadays, with the ridiculous number of tickets and train companies.

    If one was designing a new station, assuming it had just one entrance, it would not be impossible to have an office right next to the gates, to enable one staff member to sell or help at the window, while at the same time, keeping an eye on the gates, particularly in the busy moments when a train arrives or departs.

    The trouble is that most of our stations are Victorian or early 20th Century, and would need major investment to achieve this. Tickets offices are normally set apart from the entrances to the platforms, so as to not impede passengers as they rush to get the train. In those days, not only ticket clerks and gate staff, but station masters and porters.

    Whilst some stations would warrant a ticket office in our own days — the days of cash and then cash / cards, but before contactless payment came in, maybe the latter has so reduced physical sales that it is no longer possible to justify having a full time ticket office? But what about part time? The offices on the Tattenham line from Woodmansterne onwards are or were staffed at the morning only. That allows or allowed locals to pop in to get advice or a ticket.

    As with so many things about our national life in England, we are a nation in decline when it comes to having real people to interract with in the public realm, whether on the council, or on the railways… and we have the wipe out of physical branches of all the banks and many building societies. We are all in our lonely bubble, no wonder shares in anit-depressant manufacturing drug companies are a good bet.

    One thing about gate staff needs to be mentioned. About their work place.
    They are expected to work in freezing, joyless and sunless conditions at all times of year. I think that it absolutely wrong that they are subjected to infra-red heaters that broil their faces, possibly with a risk of skin caner, as well as discomfort, while their feet freeze.

    They are also vulnerable to any malevolent person who comes along–whether irate male commuter venting rage them when a train is cancelled, drunkard or druggie, or just plain nasty.

    Being a gate person at a small station in our area, working alone, static, and cold, for a whole shift in one spot, is very different from doing the same role at London Bridge, where one can move from gate to gate and warm up.

    The people in charge of station management and design, and refurbishment, working in nicely heated offices, really need to be forced to work on the gate for a few weeks in mid winter, and see what it feels like. My guess is that after a short pause, we would be seeing centrally heated sentry boxes being installed at every gate line.

    That also goes for the people at the Department of Transport, who make design decisions affecting the railways. Thameslink trains without tables and without coffee cup holders (because they would have added a few thousand to the cost of a carriage, are indicative of the lack of any real care for basic needs of travelling public.

    The welfare of staff –it is so often said– is indicative of the values and culture of an organisation. And, its success. Or maybe that doesn’t include the railway gate staff.

    • Dave Russell says:

      “it would not be impossible to have an office right next to the gates, to enable one staff member to sell or help at the window, while at the same time, keeping an eye on the gates”.
      That’s similar to what was provided on the Wimbledon & Sutton when it opened in 1930, and at many UndergrounD stations. It was known as a Passimeter office.

  8. Sarah Bird says:

    Has any thought been given by the well paid managers to the disabled ie blind , dementia ,Autistic to say the least of the physically disabled ,who need (as I do,)
    to know which stations I can even access? The advice given by the ticket office is invaluable to me ,as a physically disabled passenger – stroke . What about passengers in wheel chairs ? How are they supposed to buy a ticket as often the ticket machines are quite high? What happens if someone is taken ill or attacked in the station ticket area? How exactly does the Ticket machine assist? The railway companies make millions of pounds each year in profit . There is no reason the station ticket offices cannot be kept open.

    • It’s not the “well paid managers” who are being thoughtless about the needs of passengers with disabilities. It’s the heartless vindictive greedy Tories, the same ones who are all smiles when they want your vote

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