Transport watchdogs reject plan to close railway ticket offices

Delayed service: the ticket office at East Croydon, which the rail operators claimed is barely used and was under threat of closure

99% of consultation responses opposed the proposals, with East Croydon and Sanderstead among the stations to attract the largest number of objections

It is probably the first cancellation on the railways to be greeted with widespread public acclaim.

Plans by the privatised rail companies, backed by the Tory Government, to close hundreds of ticket offices across England are to be scrapped, after a four-month consultation process in which the public, transport lobby groups, disability rights campaigners and trades unions overwhelmingly rejected the proposals.

According to London TravelWatch, one of the bodies overseeing the consultation, 99% of the responses they received opposed the ticket office closure proposals.

East Croydon, with 217 objections and a petition, attracted one of the greatest volumes of opposition to the closure plans from a single station, although Sanderstead had a petition with 620 signatures.

The rail operators had argued that only 12% of tickets are now bought at station kiosks.

Opponents of the proposals argued that 100% of the railway service relies on having staff available on our stations.

Not triumphalist at all: the RMT union did much work to rally public opinion against the proposals

According to Transport Focus, another of the review bodies, while some companies revised their plans, “they all failed to meet the criteria set”.

Ticket offices are “critical to maintaining accessibility to the national network”, Transport Focus said, winning this week’s award for A Statement of the Bleedin’ Obvious.

London TravelWatch said: “We cannot say with confidence that these proposals would improve things for passengers.”

In July, nine train companies announced plans to close 269 station ticket offices across the London area.

Govia Thameslink, including Southern and Gatwick Express, operates the majority of services through the stations in Croydon, Purley, Coulsdon, Thornton Heath and Norwood. They wanted to close all ticket offices at 113 stations.

More than 750,000 responses from individuals and organisations were sent in during the nationwide consultation period, with about one-third of those sent to London TravelWatch.

“Train companies made real improvements in recent weeks to their plans, for example agreeing to stick to current staffing hours at stations,” London TravelWatch said.

“But we don’t think they have gone far enough. We cannot say with confidence that these proposals would improve things for passengers.”

Christian Wolmar, the leading transport journalist, tweeted: “As predicted here, Transport Focus recommends no ticket office closures because of accessibility and other issues.” Wolmar had had a tip-off ahead of the formal announcement from one of his battalion of contacts.

He added: “One in the eye for Rishi Sunak who said closures were ‘the right thing to do’.”

The RMT railway workers’ union, which did so much to spearhead the campaign against the proposed widescale automation of our rail stations, potentially by making thousands of their members redundant, was not in the slightest bit triumphalist this morning when they issued a pre-emptive tweet pointing out that the automated ticket sales systems of two privatised rail operators… weren’t working.

Michael Roberts, the chief executive of London TravelWatch, said this morning, “The way many passengers buy tickets is changing and so we understand the need to move with the times.

“The idea of closing ticket offices to locate staff nearer to the passengers may sound attractive, but it has proved highly controversial with the public. Together with Transport Focus, we received 750,000 responses from individuals and organisations to the consultation, many expressing powerful and passionate concerns about the plans.

“The three big issues for the public arising from the consultation were how to buy tickets in future, how to get travel advice and information at stations, and how disabled passengers can get assistance when they need it.

“London TravelWatch has heard these views loud and clear, and would like to thank all those who took the time to take part.

“As an evidence-led organisation, we have also looked carefully at the detailed plans presented by train companies. The key tests which the plans have to satisfy are whether the changes would genuinely improve the service to passengers or cost effectiveness, and whether passengers would continue to have easy access to today’s range of fares and tickets.

Detailed dismissal: Michael Roberts of London TravelWatch

“Despite improving on their original proposals, we don’t think the train companies have gone far enough to meet our concerns and those of the public. We cannot say with confidence that these proposals would improve things for passengers and that is why we have objected to all 269 ticket office closures.”

London TravelWatch considered proposals at each station against six factors.

Among the key concerns for London TravelWatch were:

  • the future staffing at nearly two-thirds of the stations in our area where closing the ticket office has been proposed. Despite significant revision of the original plans, many stations (including some of the busiest in London) would still see a reduction in staffing hours or numbers or expertise. We were not satisfied that these would deliver improved quality of service for passengers.
  • in some cases, future levels of access to the range of fares and tickets which can be bought today at a ticket office… we were not satisfied that there would be enough capacity at some stations in alternatives (typically ticket machines) for passengers to buy tickets without a risk of excessive queues.
  • in all cases, the impact of the proposals on accessibility. Many respondents to the consultations, especially disabled passengers, had concerns about how they would find staff for assistance at stations where a ticket office had been closed.

But most telling of all was the way that the transport watchdog criticised the Government-driven proposals: the Department for Transport and the private rail operators had not even bothered to make a proper financial case. London TravelWatch criticised “the lack of evidence about the cost-effectiveness of the proposals” in all cases.

They said: “Despite the emphasis placed by the rail industry and government on the scope for the plans to improve value for money, train companies were unable to provide details, for example, on the overall scale of net financial benefit, and so we could not conclude whether they represented an improvement in cost-effectiveness.”


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2 Responses to Transport watchdogs reject plan to close railway ticket offices

  1. Ian Kierans says:

    Ticket machines and online sales have a place and will be used more and more – but only if they are reliable and most people can use them fast and with ease.

    They do not and cannot replicate the service of a ticket office.

    The silly complexities of ticketing across the UK lends to overcharging and the Government would better serve the population by resolving that issue.
    It may be time to take back the railways and stop subsidising others with taxpayers money.

    If not by Nationalisation then on the basis of how LUL limited was operated as a pulic limited company but ploughed all earnings back into the system.

  2. Sarah Bird says:

    People power works. Well done to the trade unions who fought so hard for this and everyone who supported the Unions. The profits of the Train companies are huge. There was no justification at all with this wheeze.

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