Ticket booth closure plan derailed
By Simon Hacker | 31st October 2023
Some might call it a U-turn, but the government has signalled this morning that its hotly contested ambition to close almost all of England's 1,007 rail ticket offices has hit the buffers.
A shock disclosure from Transport Minister and Forest of Dean MP Mark Harper in an interview with Sky News has confirmed a retreat from the controversial plan.
As reported in July by Punchline-Gloucester.com, the huge raft of closures were anticipated to be signed off after a public consultation had been completed by National Rail's Rail Delivery Group (RDG).
The RDG indicated earlier in the year that only the busiest UK stations would be likely to retain the retail point for users, but amid a huge public backlash to the cost-cutting proposals, it was found that the reaction within the public consultation garnered some 750,000 responses, of which just 1% of respondents said they thought the move made sense.
Rail watchdogs Transport Focus and London TravelWatch also threw their full weight behind calls to scrap the plan.
But speaking in support of the consultation at its launch, National Rail's Rail Delivery Group said the way that customers bought tickets, in the wake of the Pandemic and increasing access to digital technology, had changed.
Jacqueline Starr, RDG chief executive said: "With just 12% of tickets being sold from ticket offices last year, and 99% of those transactions being available on TVMs or online, our proposals would mean more staff on hand on to give face to face help with a much wider range of support, from journey planning, to finding the right ticket and helping those with accessibility needs.
"Our commitment is that we will always treat our staff, who are hugely valued and integral to the experience our customers have on the railway, fairly, with support and extra training to move into new more engaging roles. We also understand that our customers have differing needs, which is why the industry widely sought the views of accessibility and passenger groups when creating these proposals, and will continue to through the consultation."
However, rail workers and their union, the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) immediately slammed the plan, which triggered a series of walkouts over the summer.
Mick Lynch, RMT general secretary, said: "We will not meekly sit by and allow thousands of jobs to be sacrificed or see disabled and vulnerable passengers left unable to use the railways as a result."
The RMT stance was in solidarity with the Royal National Institute of Blind People, which said that only 3% of people with sight loss could navigate the challenge of automated ticketing, leaving their travel plans paralysed.
Vivienne Francis, social change officer, said: "A mass closure of rail ticket offices would have a hugely detrimental impact on blind and partially sighted people's ability to buy tickets, arrange assistance and, critically, travel independently."
In a brief statement today to Sky News, Mr Harper said he had asked train operators to "withdraw their proposals".
In immediate reaction, the RMT stated: "RMT Union welcomed the government's complete withdrawal of its ticket office closure plans in light of passenger watchdog objections as a complete victory."
Mr Lynch added in a subsequent statement: "We are now calling for an urgent summit with the government, train operating companies, disabled and community organisations and passenger groups to agree a different route for the rail network that guarantees the future of our ticket offices and stations staff jobs to delivers a safe, secure and accessible service that puts passengers before profit."
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