U turn over closure of railway station ticket offices


U-turn over closure of railway station ticket offices

The Government has announced a U-turn over plans to close the vast majority of railway station ticket offices in England.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said train operators have been asked to withdraw the proposals as they “do not meet the high thresholds set by ministers”.

This is in response to watchdogs Transport Focus and London TravelWatch announcing they opposed every single planned closure due to issues such as the impact on accessibility.

The plans were brought forward by train operators in July with support from the Government, which has put pressure on the sector to cut costs.

In September, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak suggested closing ticket offices was “the right thing for the British public and British taxpayers” as “only one in 10 tickets are sold currently in ticket offices”.

No figure has been published showing how much money would have been saved with the proposals.

A train operator source told the PA news agency: “There is quiet fury in the rail industry about where we’ve got to.

“The plan was signed off by civil servants and ministers. They’ve U-turned.”

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said: “These shambolic plans have fallen apart under scrutiny.

“The Government failed to come clean on the impact of these proposals for accessibility and job security and now have been forced into a humiliating climbdown, disowning the very proposals ministers championed from the start.”

Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union general secretary Mick Lynch said the announcement was a “resounding victory” for the campaign against the closures.

He called for “an urgent summit with the Government” to agree “a different route for the rail network that guarantees the future of our ticket offices and station staff jobs”.

Katie Pennick, campaigns manager at accessibility charity Transport for All, said: “While we are proud of the incredible tenacity of disabled people and our community for securing this major campaign victory, the outcome is bittersweet.

“The disastrous and discriminatory proposals should never have been put forward.”

Mr Harper said: “The consultation on ticket offices has now ended, with the Government making clear to the rail industry throughout the process that any resulting proposals must meet a high threshold of serving passengers.

“We have engaged with accessibility groups throughout this process and listened carefully to passengers as well as my colleagues in Parliament.

“The proposals that have resulted from this process do not meet the high thresholds set by ministers, and so the Government has asked train operators to withdraw their proposals.”

Transport Focus and London TravelWatch were required to review each proposal to close a ticket office based on criteria relating to customer service, accessibility and cost-effectiveness, before deciding whether or not to object.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, said there were “serious overall concerns” over issues including how so-called welcome points would work, how operators would sell a “full range” of tickets, and how excessive queues at ticket machines would be avoided.

RDG chief executive Jacqueline Starr said the proposals were about adapting the railway to the changing needs of customers “in the smartphone era”, balanced with the “significant financial challenge faced by the industry”.

She continued: “While these plans won’t now be taken forward, we will continue to look at other ways to improve passenger experience while delivering value for the taxpayer.”

Published: by Radio NewsHub

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