Featured in the Future Transport London Newsletter September 2023
Many people have written their own criticisms of the proposal to close ticket offices. Here are two from FTL members:
Andrew Bosi writes:
The scheme is extremely ill-thought out, leading many to suspect that TOCs have been pushed into it by the government. It would have been far better to introduce ticket machines that a) work and b) offer the same comprehensive range of tickets, before embarking on this exercise. No thought appears to have been given to the option of expanding the purpose of ticket offices to sell refreshments or other goods that travellers might wish to buy, if it is the case that staff there have time on their hands, as Merseyrail is trialling in Liverpool,.
My local station is Essex Road. While it would be nice to see more staff, indeed any staff, on the platforms, this is no substitute for a presence at ground level. This station has no ticket machines of any description, and precious little space upstairs to accommodate one or accommodate a member of staff to greet passengers and tend to their needs in the way suggested in some of the blurb promoting these closures.
On many stations, ticket machines are open to the elements. At Canonbury for example, it is difficult to use the machine in bright morning sunlight. People are not going to use the train in preference to their car or staying at home if it means being drenched while purchasing a ticket.
The machines at Marylebone have been heralded as selling tickets from anywhere on the network to anywhere else. However, the time taken to use them is excessive, particularly for people prone to typing mistakes, and some of the machines do not respond to touch as they should or else respond with the neighbouring letter/destination. No doubt they will improve with time, but in the meantime most people will rely on staff and will want them in a fixed place where they can be readily located. A purpose-built ticket office is the obvious such place.
A disabled FTL member adds their comments.
Ticket office staff provide advice on a wider range of ticket options than do machines, many of which options are cheaper: split ticketing for example, or the 50 per cent discount for wheelchair users who do not transfer to a seat (the latter is only available from ticket offices, not even on line). Ticket office staff are required to offer the cheapest option. The proposal is unfair and inflationary and may well deter travellers from using trains.
Many people are unable or unwilling to buy tickets on line or from machines: for example the digitally excluded, visually impaired people (VIPs), wheelchair users who cannot access many ticket machines, some older or neurodivergent people who find ticket machines confusing or even panic-inducing. They will be excluded from travelling at all.
Ticket office staff provide other support such as advice on train times and routeing. They are invaluable for visitors, including foreign tourists, who are unfamiliar with the ticketing system and/or the network and services. Some of this advice is sought by travellers planning a future journey, maybe trying to make a modal choice. Without advice on the possibilities by rail, it would be easier to drive.
They also offer a security focal point for people on the station.
They are the focal point for disabled people requesting assistance. Train Operating Companies (TOCs) in the UK are legally required to provide assistance on a Turn Up And Go (TUAG) basis, with no requirement to book in advance. As a minimum, if ticket office staff are replaced by staff floating on the station, there needs to be a Help Point at the station entrance or former ticket office location for disabled passengers to use to call for assistance.
The proposals include reducing staffing times at some stations. Outside these hours there will be no security, no passenger assistance even pre-booked (for example ramps or a guiding arm for VIPs), no TUAG, and probably no access to toilets. Disabled passengers will be excluded from being able to travel.
At the extreme, there could be mobile teams covering more than one station for short periods. This would avoid stations being classified as ‘unstaffed’ but is a cynical move and provides no meaningful service to travellers.
It is understood that there is actually no requirement for stations to be staffed at all if there is no ticket office!