UK News

Watchdog will call for ticket office closures to be delayed for machine upgrades

A watchdog said it will recommend a planned widespread closure of railway station ticket offices in England is delayed at locations where machines need upgrading (Kirsty O'Connor/PA)
Neil Lancefield, PA Transport Correspondent

A watchdog said it will recommend a planned widespread closure of railway station ticket offices in England is delayed at locations where machines need upgrading.

Transport Focus chief executive Mark Smith said passengers risk being “disadvantaged” if that does not happen.

He told the Commons’ Transport Select Committee: “If it’s the case that the ticket office is either closing or the ticket office is being reduced in hours very significantly, I think the ticket vending machine has got to be able to replicate pretty much what the ticket office can do at the moment.

“So, I think we would argue that you would want to delay (changes) until you’ve got that capacity in place, otherwise people are being disadvantaged.

“There are certain types of ticket you can only get at the moment from a ticket office.

“You have to be able to get them from a ticket vending machine.”

Mr Smith said ticket machines are “great” for simple purchases but he “wouldn’t dream” of trying to use one for a complicated transaction.

Train operators are proposing to close the vast majority of station ticket offices in England, while Avanti West Coast is also planning to shut its office at Glasgow Central.

More than 680,000 responses were submitted to consultations on the plans.

Transport Focus and fellow watchdog London TravelWatch are analysing the proposals and responses, before revealing whether they support or oppose operators’ plans for each station by the end of October.

If the watchdogs object to plans to close certain station offices, the relevant operators can refer their proposals to Transport Secretary Mark Harper for a final decision.

Christopher Brooks, head of policy at charity Age UK, told the Transport Select Committee it is “extremely difficult” for people who do not use the internet to buy a train ticket from a machine “however intuitive some tech-savvy designer thinks it is”.

He added: “There’s a significant number of people, millions of pensioners, who will find it very, very difficult if we go down a more automated route.

“It will obviously have the impact that it will put some people off travelling altogether.”

Rail bosses have insisted that the proposed widespread closure of station ticket offices will benefit passengers by more staff being deployed on platforms and concourses.

Ticket office closures
Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union general secretary Mick Lynch says that the idea that ticket office staff will be ‘redeployed’ is ‘nonsense’ (Lucy North/PA)

Avanti West Coast managing director Andy Mellors was asked by the committee what the impact the company’s plan to close its office at Glasgow Central would have staffing.

He replied: “We have about 27 staff, I think it is, at the moment at Glasgow Central.

“These proposals would, if they were enacted in full as we proposed, reduce that number by about nine or 10.”

He stressed that the proportion of Avanti West Coast journeys made from Glasgow Central using a ticket bought from its office at the station is 1%.

It is Britain’s fourth busiest railway station outside London, with 15.3 million entries and exits recorded in the year to the end of March 2022.

Industrial strike
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union have held a number of protests outside Central train station in Glasgow over the planned ticket office closure (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, described the suggestion that ticket office staff will be redeployed as “nonsense”.

He told the committee: “A quarter of the jobs are going to be cut on stations, 2,300.

“The companies have notified us of that already under the statutory letter.

“So they’re not taking them out of the ticket office to work on the platforms, they’re taking them out of the ticket office to make cuts, to cut the jobs out of the system.”

He added that staff “will not be there” at off-peak periods, and people travelling then “will be left to fend for themselves”.

Simon Moorhead, chief information officer at the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, told MPs that closing station ticket offices is partly about cutting costs.

He said: “Cost is a part of it, but primarily we’re following the needs of our customers and the demands of our customers.

“This year, around 80% of the tickets that have been issued are either bought online through digital channels or they are with customers tapping in and tapping out from gate lines or machines on platforms.”