Ticket office decision was ‘Halloween nightmare’ for Tories

Hailing yesterday’s decision to reject Department for Transport plans to close railway station ticket offices, one local campaigner has described the outcome as a “Halloween nightmare for the Government”.

Strong opposition: 600 passengers who use Sanderstead station signed a petition opposing ticket office closures

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 ticket offices at 113 stations.

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

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.

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

Last night, Transport Secretary Mark Harper was forced to back-track significantly, after having supported the move previously.

“We now expect train operators to withdraw these proposals. We do not expect any proposals to be referred to the Secretary of State for a decision,” Harper said.

In private messages to Conservative MPs, the transport secretary said that he “would like to recognise colleagues’ advocacy on behalf of their constituents” during the consultation. By which he meant that, having thrown Tory MPs representing constituencies in the commuter belt under a metaphorical bus with the ticket office proposals, Harper has twigged that maybe it was not such a good idea after all.

Among the Tory MPs clamouring to claim that they had had a role in opposing ticket office closures was Croydon South’s Chris Philp. “I’m glad that ticket offices will be protected,” Philp told Inside Croydon last night, apparently claiming that he and the RMT union leader Mick Lynch – who led the opposition campaign – were in total agreement.

“This was something I personally campaigned for quite hard, with ministers and rail operators,” Philp said.

Politicians from other parties were also keen to claim some of the credit for putting the interests of passengers before those of the multi-national, privately owned rail operators.

“Londoners will be reassured that ticket offices, with their expert staff, will be saved and stations will continue to be safe and welcoming,” said Elly Baker, Labour’s London Assembly transport spokesperson.

“The 750,000 responses showed that closures would have resulted in worse access for disabled people, worse service at stations and people buying more expensive tickets. The Government should never have tried to push these plans in the first place.”

People power: Green AM Sian Berry

Sian Berry, the Green Party Assembly member, said: “It is outrageous that train operating companies and Government ever thought large-scale closures of London’s ticket offices were even worth considering.

“With 99 per cent of responses in opposition to the proposal, any efforts to close and reduce hours of ticket offices must now be withdrawn.

“This is a victory for people power.”

And with the public response, including things such as the 600 signatures collected at one suburban station, Sanderstead, it was community groups such as the East Surrey Transport Committee which did much of the hard graft to co-ordinate opposition to the proposals.

Charlie King, the chair of the ESTC, confirmed that all ticket offices in our area will stay open, saying that yesterday’s announcement was, “Very appropriate: Government nightmare on Halloween.”

King challenged transport secretary Harper’s and the Tories’ rapid rewriting of recent history, saying, “It seems a little strange in that earlier in the year the Government scrapped ‘Section 17’, which guaranteed booking office opening hours providing they sold sufficient numbers of tickets.

Campaign champion: Transport committee’s Charlie King

“Then instructing the train operating companies via the Rail Delivery Group in record time of less than three moths for proposals to close all tickets offices, bar a few such as East Croydon, which would be reduced to an information office.

“The proposals brought forward by the train operating companies failed to meet the needs of people with disabilities, those that are unable to use the ticket machines, those that don’t have access to smartphones, bankcards or modern technology, or the need to pay with cash and those that simply don’t understand the complex ticketing system.

“The Government now says the proposals “failed to meet high passenger standards”, and somehow seem surprised.

“This is welcome news to East Surrey Transport Committee.

“However, we need to be vigilant as Section 17 no longer applies. A number of stations have unfilled vacancies in ticket offices.”

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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