Train station ticket office closures will benefit passengers, claims rail minister

Plan ‘a travesty for disabled and elderly people who want to travel on the rail network,’ says Mick Lynch

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 18 January 2023 12:45 GMT
<p>Machine learning: Most rail tickets are sold from machines or online</p>

Machine learning: Most rail tickets are sold from machines or online

Passengers will get a better service on the railways if ticket offices are closed, the rail minister has claimed.

Huw Merriman told MPs on the Transport Select Committee: “We want the ticket office staff to come from behind the ticket office and interact with passengers, customers, on the platform, where they can be of more assistance.

“I hope that actually helps those who have mobility issues who may struggle to get on to the train and also want more information on where the train is.

“Hopefully it’s a more rewarding job for staff as well.”

The minister said only 12 per cent of ticket sales are made through the just under 1,000 ticket offices in Britain.

“The number of ticket offices is largely the same as it was 30 years back.

“Our intention is essentially to align the ticket office staff with where they would see the passengers. Because most passengers book either online or they’ll go and use the machines.”

The Labour MP, Ruth Cadbury, said: “The 12 per cent of passengers who are currently using ticket offices are more likely to be occasional travellers and tourists, more likely to have disabilities, more likely to be cash buyers, more likely to have children in tow. That’s why they need that human contact.

“So if you’re insisting on ticket office closures across the board, will you expect to guarantee that there’s at least the same level of staffing provision, and hours of operation, of that human contact at those stations?”

Mr Merriman said: “Our starting point is that we’ll look to replicate what’s there in place already, and then what staffing is actually needed.

“I’m not saying that all staff will still be there, because the whole idea of multi-tasking is that one person might be able to do the roles that two used to do in terms of selling the ticket and helping people through the barrier.

“The provision will be the same but it will be done in a different way.”

He predicted there would be fewer staff, but said there were no plans to make compulsory redundancies.

Last month Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT union, said: “The plan to close ticket and booking offices would be a travesty for disabled and elderly people who want to travel on the rail network.

“Our members are experts in knowing the needs of passengers and they know this ticket office closure programme will be a disaster for the travelling public.

“There has been opposition expressed from across the political spectrum and the government should see sense and scrap these damaging proposals.”

Another Labour member of the Transport Select Committee, Grahame Morris, said: “Sometimes, if you buy your ticket from one of the automated ticket machines, you don’t get the cheapest tickets. You don’t get your senior citizens’ discount sometimes, I’ve discovered.

“Whereas when you go into the ticket office, the staff have got the expertise to give you the best fare.”

Mr Merriman said: “There are far too many fares. The machines need to give you the same deal that you would get from someone in the ticket office.

“We need to ensure our machines are updated to ensure you can buy any ticket from the machine that you could buy from a person.”

The government says that at some ticket offices the average sales are less than one ticket per hour.

Ministers also want more “pay as you go” opportunities, where the appropriate fare is calculated automatically. London already has such a scheme.

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