Thursday, July 25, 2024

Plans announced to shut most rail ticket offices

A MAJOR closure of rail ticket office closures could be about to happen after rail firm bosses have announced plans for a public consultation their closure over the next three years.

The nationwide move by rail firms, to be formally announced today (Wednesday, 5 July) has sparked large scale criticism and could lead to further strikes in an already beleaguered industry by rail unions who are opposed to the plans.

The move to begin a consultation on the future offices has been made by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents train companies, after talks with the RMT union failed to reach an agreement.

The industry body has said only 12% of tickets are currently sold at station kiosks on average, compared with 85% in 1995, with passengers now buying more tickets online or at machines.

It argues that its changes will enable staff to come out from behind the glass of station offices and be free to help more passengers. Few details have been given of how the consultations will take place.

c2c, which runs rail services in Thurrock last consulted on its ticketed offices in 2019 and the process resulted in a reduction of hours at many of the stations through the borough, while others, including Grays and Purfleet, introduced touch and go ticket pads whereby travellers could use railcards or credit and debit cards to travel, with fares calculated automatically.

Last year the idea of closing ticket offices was again mooted by rail chiefs, prompting London TravelWatch – which covers c2c stations up to Grays going east from Fenchurch Street, to say through its CEO Emma Gibson: “Our research shows that visible staffing at stations is key to making women feel safe to travel on the train.

“And it’s also critical for making the train network accessible for disabled people. Not everyone can use a ticket machine, and machines don’t currently sell every type of ticket available, including rail cards. When fewer staff are on duty, toilets are also more likely to be closed, which can disproportionately affect some disabled people.”

An RDG spokesperson said: “The industry has always been open and honest about the need for the railway to evolve with its customers so it can better meet their needs, and secure a thriving long-term future for an economically vital service.”

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the UK’s largest rail union, the RMT, has previously said his union would not “meekly sit by and allow thousands of jobs to be sacrificed or see disabled and vulnerable passengers left unable to use the railways as a result”.

Peter Pendle, interim general secretary of the TSSA rail union, said the government would “soon realise that the public have no desire to see their rail network diminished in this way”.

Stewart Palmer is director of Rail Future, which represents passengers and campaigns for better rail services, and he told the BBC the consultation was “putting the cart before the horse”.

“One of the root causes of this issue is that the present ticketing system on the rail network in Britain is mind-bogglingly complicated,” he said.

“People want versatile, knowledgeable staff, not necessarily behind a glass screen, but they also want to be knowing they’re buying the right product at the right price.”

The issue is the latest flashpoint between train companies and unions, who have been in a long-running dispute over pay, jobs and working conditions, which has resulted in many strikes and service disruption in recent times.

The rail industry is under pressure from the government to cut costs after being supported heavily during the Covid pandemic.

The Department for Transport has declined to comment on the consultation.


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