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Fury over closure of rail ticket offices - September 2023

The government announced yet another blow to older, disabled or vulnerable people in their instruction to rail companies to close ticket offices. In London it is proposed to close up to 150 ticket offices leaving only ones at main line terminals and at some busy suburban stations such as East Croydon and Finsbury Park. Even many of these will operate for restricted hours and it is the long term aim to close them all.

The rationale for this drastic change is that more and more tickets are now being purchased on line or from vending machines. Last year, according to the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), only 12 per cent of tickets were bought at ticket offices although 12 per cent amounts to over a billion pounds a year collected from 168 million passengers. That ticket offices are regarded as important can be seen by the queues which normally form at the larger stations.

Activists have described the closures as ‘catastrophic’, ‘disgraceful’ and ‘horrendous’ and say they will have a huge impact on disabled passengers and their right to use the railway. A coalition of organisations, representing 14.6 million disabled people, has written a strong letter of protest to Transport Focus and London TravelWatch who are coordinating protests. Doug Paulley, a wheelchair user, and Sarah Leadbetter, who is registered blind, are taking legal action and claim that the consultation is unlawful and discriminates against disabled people.

The RDG said the changes will involve moving staff ‘from ticket offices and into stations, offering more face-to-face support for customers across the network as a whole’, although ‘ticket office facilities will remain open at the busiest stations and interchanges, selling the full range of tickets while the transition takes place’.

Although the RDG said that ‘An estimated 99 per cent of all transactions made at ticket offices last year can be made at ticket vending machines (TVMs) or online’ the ticketing system is so complicated that it remains difficult for passengers to be sure they are getting the appropriate ticket for their journey and in many cases machines are not equipped to issue some tickets and sometimes fail to work at all. The RDG says ‘TVMs across the network will be improved and upgraded’.

The RDG adds: ‘Following these changes, if a customer is unable to buy a specific ticket before boarding the train because it was unavailable at the station, they would be able to buy one during their journey, at a ticket office en-route, or at their destination’.

Although the intention is to move staff from ticket offices to ticket concourses and on platforms, the unions fear that the intention is to reduce staff. Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT union, said: ‘The decision to close up to 1,000 ticket offices and issue hundreds of redundancy notices is a savage attack on railway workers, their families and the travelling public’. The RDG, however, says that no redundancy notices have been issued although they also say that ‘train operators have issued a letter to trade unions which opens consultation on managing the transition in a way that minimises the impact of the changes - examples include moving to a new multi skilled role and comprehensive re-training and re-skilling, staff moving to other roles and the potential for a voluntary severance scheme’.

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