Rail companies have announced plans to close ticket offices at nearly every station in England over the next three years, prompting concerns from unions and disability groups.
Speaking to the BBC, Jacqueline Starr, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) said, “The ways our customers buy tickets has changed and it’s time for the railway to change with them.”
She added that only 12% of tickets bought last year were sold through ticket offices, and that passengers would be able to buy tickets online, through machines at stations or en-route.
Unions representing rail workers have criticised the closure plans, which they believe will result in redundancies despite promises that all staff will be redeployed.
RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch called the plans a “savage attack on railway workers, their families and the travelling public”, and condemned them as part of a “thinly veiled plan to gut our railways of station staff”, by a government and rail operators who “do not care one jot about passenger safety, or a well-staffed and friendly railway open to all to use.”
The RMT Union has pledged to fight the closures as part of its ongoing dispute with the government and rail companies.
Peter Pendle of the Transport Salaried Staff Association told Sky News: “We are clear the government will face strong opposition from this union on the totally unnecessary mass closure of ticket offices” and that “ministers will soon realise that the public have no desire to see their rail network diminished in this way.”
Concern for disability groups
Disability groups have also expressed concerns. Vivienne Francis from the Royal National Institute of Blind People told the BBC that closures would be “detrimental” to blind and partially sighted people, only 3% of whom, she said, are able to use the type of ticket machines currently available.
Green Party Transport spokesperson Matt Edwards said that ticket machines were often unreliable and did not automatically direct passengers to the cheapest deals available and that the closures “will make travelling by train more difficult for thousands of passengers – especially passengers with disabilities, those with limited mobility and parents travelling with children.”
He also said: “Any decision to close station ticket offices would be another short-sighted decision by a government that does not care about people who use public transport to get around”.
The government’s need to modernise
Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh told the Guardian: “Railroading this decision in just three weeks, without proper consideration for staff and vulnerable passengers, only risks exacerbating the managed decline of the rail network.”
Also speaking to the Guardian, a spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: “We have been consistently honest about the need for our railways to modernise if they are going to survive. Reviewing the role of ticket offices – with the least busy selling only one ticket an hour – is a crucial part of this.”
A 21-day consultation on the closure plans has been launched to collect the views of passengers.