Any claim that the closure of ticket offices on our railways will somehow improve passenger service is intended to mislead, says ANDREW FISHER
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.
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.
What can you do?
- Respond to the consultation opposing the plans by July 26 https://www.londontravelwatch.org.uk/southern-ticket-office-consultation/
- Sign the petition against ticket office closures https://www.megaphone.org.uk/petitions/cut-their-profits-not-our-ticket-offices and sign up for campaign updates.
- You can also write to your MP to oppose ticket office closures https://actionnetwork.org/letters/write-to-your-mp-save-ticket-offices/
- And share your experiences online using the hashtag #SaveTicketOffices
- The RMT is taking strike action on July 20, 22 and 29. Find your nearest picket line and support rail workers defending jobs and services to passengers.
- From 2015 to 2019, Andrew Fisher, pictured right, worked as the Labour Party’s Director of Policy under Jeremy Corbyn. He is a former chair of the Croydon Central Constituency Labour Party. Fisher is also the author of The Failed Experiment – and how to build an economy that works, and now writes regular columns for InsideCroydon
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