Ticket Office Closures

August 31, 2023

Transport Focus is managing the national consultation on the proposed railway ticket office closures, on behalf of the Rail Delivery Group and the UK Government. This consultation closes on Friday September 1st.

We believe that this works against a just transition to a zero carbon economy, and is discriminatory in its impacts. You can read our submission here.

Just Transition Wakefield submission to Transport Focus.

Just Transition Wakefield is a local environmental and climate campaign group, whose focus is encouraging and supporting a Just Transition to a zero carbon economy that engages and benefits ordinary people.

Thus we have a legitimate interest in the future of public transport including rail travel.

The importance of rail travel in tackling the climate and ecological emergencies is well established.  Transport is typically responsible for around 40% of national emissions, and more than this in West Yorkshire.  Modal shift from car use to rail travel is essential to reducing energy use in the transport sector and therefore emissions, but also in reducing air pollution.  In truth, modal shift is also critical for the future prosperity of our rail system as we should expect passenger numbers to rise considerably over the years to 2030 and 2035 which are the government’s milestone years enshrined in the Climate Change Act.

Closure of the ticket offices will have a major repressive effect on modal shift.  People will need support to make this shift from cars to trains: they will be unfamiliar with routes, they will be unfamiliar with systems and stations, and they will need support with ticketing – a clear case for ticket offices to remain open.

Because of the rising costs (economic and ecological) of car ownership and car use, a reliable and regular public transport system is critical to allow people in all communities to engage in the emerging zero carbon economy, as well as being a structural pillar of this transforming economy.  Public transport jobs are climate jobs.

We believe that the proposal to close ticket offices is in breach of the 2010 Equalities Act, and that it actively works against a Just Transition.  There are cohorts of the population (elderly, disabled, young people, those without bank accounts, those for whom English is not their first language) who will be particularly affected.  Many of these groups cannot use internet ticketing, many of these groups cannot use station forecourt ticket machines, and many are excluded from both.  With so many groups excluded from rail travel, this impact of ticket office closures is discriminatory and exclusionary.  The ticket office closures also instantly cut the potential passenger base through this exclusion, and so becomes self-defeating for the industry.

Furthermore, ticket offices are used proportionately more for booking complex journeys, for group travel, for booking assistance on the journey for the elderly and disabled, and for securing a cycle booking.   This adds to the discrimination.   Ticket machines on the concourse do not actually offer the full range of fares available, even if you can fathom how to use them, so they are not fit for purpose

We note that the literature associated with the proposals says that ticket office staff will be deployed to the platforms and concourse.  However, we know that staff have already received redundancy notices indicating at best that the rail companies have not been honest and open with the travelling public.  How do redundancies in a climate critical industry support the transition to a zero carbon economy?  They do not.

 Even if staff are redeployed to the station concourse, people needing help have to first find these staff.  Anyone who is blind, in a wheelchair or socially disabled, for example, will be further disadvantaged, as will anyone who needs to pay cash.  If those staff are on the platform dealing with an issue, they are explicitly unavailable to help those without tickets who are barred from passing through ticket barriers to access the platform.  Passengers will miss trains; frustrations will rise and passenger numbers will continue to fall.

We also note that the closure of the ticket offices coincides with the changing role of the guard.  It is no longer possible to buy tickets on the train, but we know that station ticket machines are unreliable and frequently break down.   We have heard evidence from regular rail users that it is often not possible to collect a “Promise to Pay” or “Permit to Travel”, meaning that people are unable to travel for work, to visit family, to go on holiday or for leisure.  Without any ticket offices, this will actively prevent people travelling on the rail network leading to increased car use, increased air pollution, increased climate emissions, increased costs for people, increased congestion and reduced productivity across the economy as a result.  If we wanted to create a policy to quietly close the railway network, this would be it.  We believe that it will be self-defeating, preventing passenger numbers and therefore revenues from rising.

In order to shift transport choices from cars to rail, people need to feel safe and to be safe.  This requires station staff and a place (ticket office) where travellers know they can find help and support.  Ticket office staff are not just knowledgeable and helpful salespeople, they are key to ensuring the safety and security of the station and the travelling public, along with their platform-side colleagues.  Often they are the only staff on their side of the ticket barrier and their loss will be a significant public harm.  It is fair to say that we share the same concerns expressed by the wider public that reductions in station staff will lead to more dangers for passengers, particularly women, disabled people, people of colour – anyone likely to experience abuse or threats.  We believe that all stations should be staffed for public safety, whether they have a ticket office or not.

Wakefield is already the only ticket office in the district, and once this has gone, we confidently expect to see an instant reduction in rail use.  This pattern is likely to be repeated across the country.

Finally, our members have supported town centre stalls talking to the public about these plans.  Never in 30 years of campaigning have we had such an overwhelming response from shoppers and passers-by.  The public opposition to ticket office closures is almost universal in our district.   Anecdotal evidence suggests this experience is widespread, and the majority of the public want to see the ticket offices expanded not shut down.  This is not a resistance to change, but for soundly argued reasons including a care for others in the community.

In summary, this policy is unpopular, wrong-headed, counter-productive, against the public interest and will contribute to accelerating climate and ecological breakdown.  This policy needs to be reversed and replaced with a policy of actively supporting modal shift from cars to rail and selling the multiple benefits of rail travel over car commuting.

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