Rail leaders should think again about shutting station ticket offices
Train travel on a ticket bought at a station is still important for many people’s work and leisure. Some apparently find that hard to believe in 2023., but it’s why there’s a growing demand for rail leaders to think again about shutting nearly all station ticket offices.
Research & Campaigns Team (5 minutes)
In a recent warm and friendly video the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) explained its plans for customer-focussed stations:
‘With our new style stations at Oxford and Bicester, the designers had in mind the new modern style customer, those that travel with their mobile devices in hand’.
It’s an understandable pitch in a world obsessed with digital innovation. But as the bosses must know a sizeable minority of their customers do not travel with mobile devices in hand. They may not even have mobile devices, or the skills or confidence to use them. They may be older, have a disability or simply be anxious about smart technology.
Consultation; how to have your say
A consultation managed by London Travel Watch ends on Wednesday 26 July (extended to Friday 1 September). You can read local rail company plans here for South Western Railway and here for Southern. Then email London Travel Watch (it’s not the most user-friendly process).
There is some awareness of potential problems. The video shows us happy staff released from ‘behind the window’ and helping happy passengers on their way. In the consultation we read ‘extra staff and guidance will be available in public areas of stations, to help show how to buy tickets using phones or self-service machines’.
But for all the comforting language (Companies are committed to smoothing the transition of moving staff closer to customers.) the RDG bases its case mainly on digital efficiency.
They point out that half of all ticket sales are now online with even more using ‘tap-in-tap-out’ options on smartcards or phones. They estimate 99% of all transactions at ticket offices in 2022 can be made at Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs) or online. And use of ticket offices has reduced in line with these developments: passengers now purchase just 12% of tickets at ticket offices.
We know a majority will appreciate increased speed and efficiency in arranging journeys. But it’s not hard to see why opposition has grown. On behalf of many of our clients and many others we hope the RDG will think again because:
- Number affected. The plans will disadvantage or at best inconvenience millions of citizens. In 2022 passengers took 1.4 billion journeys*. 12% (above) began with a visit to a ticket office, so 168 million journeys. While passengers will have been much lower due to ‘split ticketing’ the minority affected is a very large number of people.
- Reliance on cash. The plans include a commitment to retain all forms of payment. But closing ticket offices threatens another area of everyday life for people who rely on cash transactions**. However reliable, machines can never replace the security are of buying from a person.
- Peak chaos. Even if the 99% estimate above holds true, transferring millions of transactions from offices and trained staff to machines risks chaos at busy times.
A Sunday Times editorial*** says: ‘Groups representing the elderly and disabled are rightly concerned. Ticket offices guide passengers through….a labyrinthine system in a way only experienced staff can’. We agree.
* Passenger rail usage January to March 2023, Office of Rail and Road, 08/06/23
** Update on the future of Wholesale cash Distribution in the UK, BoE, December 2021. Over 5 million adults rely on cash in their day-to-day lives and cash remains the preferred payment method for 21% of the population.
*** Closing train ticket offices will cost more than it saves, (££) Sunday Times, 09/07/23