Published On: 11th August 2023Categories: General

Photography: RMT/Twitter

On 5 July the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents train companies, announced proposals for the closure of almost all 1,007 ticket offices – excluding some of those at the busiest stations – within three years.

The move to shut ticket offices – and potentially cut hundreds of jobs in the process – comes after months of tension between striking rail workers, stubborn network bosses and the Department of Transport, in bitter disputes over pay, pensions and job cuts.

Closing vast numbers of ticket offices seems illogical, though the RDG claims that ticket sales from offices have dropped from 82% in 1995 to just 12% today. Yet for so many of us this will be a disaster: disabled people, elderly people, women, parents, and tourists. Research from Transport for All found that a third of disabled people use ticket offices to buy tickets – nearly twice the number that use ticket vending machines – with 40% of disabled people reporting that ticket office closures were a barrier to them purchasing tickets. 

Anyone who ever needs cheaper tickets, advice on train routes and timetables, or assistance when travelling alone will be affected by the planned closures. In the wake of the RDG’s announcement there has been widespread public support of ticket office staff, with the public reporting numerous occasions when ticket office staff stepped in to aid travellers.

Passengers are not the only group who will be negatively impacted by the proposed closures. According to the RMT, hundreds of railway workers have already been issued with statutory redundancy notices.

In spite of this, RDG are pushing ahead with their plans – presumably as a way to increase shareholder profits while seemingly punishing rail workers for daring to exercise their democratic right to strike. The RDG have undertaken a public consultation – originally due to close on 26 July, this has now been extended until early September – with the added complication that each train operator is also undertaking their own separate consultation.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of DPAC says:

“It is obvious to everyone that the government and train operating companies are blatantly ignoring the Equality Act 2010 yet EHRC continue to fail to act and implement their enforcement powers.

“The impact on being able to travel by rail will seriously deteriorate for disabled, older people and lone women travellers and all of these groups need face-to-face assistance located in one accessible place.

“Help points in many stations which disabled people are being told they could use to get assistance are too high for wheelchair users to reach, not accessible to deaf or blind people and often on platforms which without help disabled people cannot reach. They are not a viable alternative to a staffed ticket office.

“We believe EHRC should call for these proposals, particularly as the outcomes of the flawed consultation will occur during the parliamentary recess period, to be recalled given the obvious breaches in equality legislation.”

Transport for All say:

“Ticket office staff are an absolutely essential accessibility feature for disabled people. Not only do they sell tickets (including disabled people’s discounts that cannot be bought elsewhere), they are the first point of contact for people needing assistance: they guide people through the station, organise ramps, help plan journeys, and unlock station facilities. If these closures go ahead, millions of disabled people will be prevented from travelling by rail. 

“The line we keep hearing from government and industry is that “no station that is currently staffed will become unstaffed as a result of these proposals”. But if you actually look at the details of the proposals, around a hundred will become completely unstaffed apart from unscheduled “visits” from mobile teams. Others will become unstaffed on particular days of the week, with staff hours on other days dramatically reduced. The full extent of this destaffing is not yet clear. 

“These details however are buried in consultation materials that are completely inaccessible. Many train operators do not have alternative formats of these materials available, meaning that disabled people are being prevented from reading let alone responding to this consultation. 

“Both the policy itself, and the way it is being rolled out, are an affront to our community. If the plans go ahead, years of progress to make transport more accessible will be reversed.”

Photography: RMT/Twitter

Emily Yates, co-founder of the Association of British Commuters says:

“We believe there are major equality and consumer rights breaches throughout these proposals, and have been calling for the urgent intervention of the Office of Rail and Road and Equality Human Rights Commission.

“The consultation process itself presents a huge threat to the future of rail accessibility and should never have gone forward in the first place. It is taking place under an out-of-date industry agreement on ticket retail that has never been used simultaneously outside a single operator before. This is one reason why the information is so fragmented, and there are no national or regional overviews, nor evidence presented on the economic and equality impacts of the plans. Obviously, all these things should have been fundamental to a consultation on national policy.

“Worst of all, the only current requirement for staff presence is tied to ticket office opening hours, so when the consultations are over, there will be no more transparency of staffing numbers and locations, and no more requirement to consult on future staffing changes. Any promises made by the Rail Delivery Group to retain staff are meaningless, as they have no regulatory or contractual basis.

“It’s vital to remember that ticket office closures mean deregulation, as well as destaffing and the withdrawal of vital retail services. Neither the proposals nor the consultation process have any credibility whatsoever, and we expect to see these issues go to judicial review.”

RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said in a press release: 

“The decision to close up to 1,000 ticket offices and to issue hundreds of redundancy notices to staff is a savage attack on railway workers, their families and the travelling public.

“Travellers will be forced to rely on apps and remote mobile teams to be available to assist them rather than having trained staff on stations.

“This is catastrophic for elderly, disabled and vulnerable passengers trying to access the rail network.”

We urge everyone to take part in the public consultation and strongly object to the proposed closures of around 1,000 ticket offices and the loss of hundreds of jobs in the process – and the worsening overall quality of our privatised railways.

To respond to the consultations launched by individual train companies, travellers should contact the independent transport user watchdog Transport Focus or London TravelWatch before 1 September 2023.

Writing Luisa Le Voguer Couyet