The National Pensioners’ Convention welcomes the decision by travel watchdogs Transport Focus and London TravelWatch to object to the closure of hundreds of UK rail ticket offices.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper has announced that he will ask the rail companies to withdraw their plans. But NPC hopes ‘common sense prevails’ and results in a better understanding of passenger needs and how these can be met.
Government asks train companies to withdraw plans
The transport watchdogs received 750,000, mainly critical responses to their consultation this summer on train company proposals to close ticket offices and change staffing levels at stations. Indeed, 99% of responses sent to London TravelWatch were objections.
NPC General Secretary Jan Shortt said: “NPC welcomes London TravelWatch and Transport Focus objections to the closures of ticket offices and changes to station staff. We thank them for listening to the detailed concerns expressed by us, and so many, many other individuals and organisations who would be badly impacted by the plans.
It is now time for a passenger-led focus on the best delivery of rail services not a government-led dictat to rail companies.
Concerns around access for older passengers and those with a variety of disabilities were at the heart of our objections to the rail company plans.
Jan added: “Although rail companies may appeal the decision, we hope that common sense prevails and results in a better understanding of passenger needs and how these can be met.
NPC welcomes news that watchdogs object to mass ticket office closures
“Equality of access has to be at the heart of any programme of change, and clearly this was not the case with these plans.
“We need to move forward now with a consensus from passengers, dedicated staff and rail providers, that will make rail travel an experience to be enjoyed rather than a stressful search for ticket options, digital exclusion and lack of accessibility.”
After nine rail companies announced their closure plans in July, Transport Focus and London TravelWatch conducted a review and public consultation, which closed on 1st September. The main concerns of the individuals and organisations like NPC were around accessibility, safety, how passenger assistance might work in the future, and the capability of ticket vending machines as most ticket purchases were pushed online.
Conversations in recent weeks between Transport Focus London TravelWatch and the train companies did lead to ‘significant improvements to the original plans.’ But both watchdogs, who were required to review the closure plans to assess their cost effectiveness, customer service and accessibility, still felt that not all of the issues raised were fully addressed. They have now written to each rail company to formally object to their proposals.
In a 4,000-word submission to a public consultation, the NPC listed the devastating threats posed to travellers’ safety, security and ease of access.
The NPC contends that the closure of ticket offices discriminates against older and disabled people, and breaches both the Equality Act 2010, and article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Compiled by our Transport Working Party of retired industry experts, the submission also challenged the percentage figure being used to justify the closures. The Working Party argues that it is misleading to cite the Office of Road and Rail figure of ‘only 12%’ of tickets being bought at station ticket offices with the rest being purchased online. But 12% is still up to 180 million transactions – and these actually represent considerably more journeys, as many purchases are for multiple tickets and groups of travellers.
The NPC submission stresses that we ‘do not oppose transport modernisation - we just require that it be compatible with our rights.’ The suggestion that ticket offices be replaced by ticket vending machines (TVMs), and in many cases roving railway staff whose duties will include selling tickets, is completely unsuitable for those struggling with mobility problems, or unable to access and adapt to digital only ticket transactions.
Download the NPC press release
Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: “Following analysis of the 750,000 responses to the consultation and in-depth discussions with train companies Transport Focus is objecting to the proposals to close ticket offices.
“Significant amendments and changes have been secured by the watchdog – for example, reverting to existing times when staff will be on hand at many stations. Some train companies were closer than others in meeting our criteria.
“However, serious overall concerns remain about how potentially useful innovations, such as ‘welcome points’ would work in practice. We also have questions about how the impact of these changes would be measured and how future consultation on staffing levels will work.
“Some train companies were unable to convince us about their ability to sell a full range of tickets, handle cash payments and avoid excessive queues at ticket machines.
“Passengers must be confident they can get help when needed and buy the right ticket in time for the right train.”
Transport Focus report
Michael Roberts, Chief Executive of London TravelWatch, said: “The way many passengers buy tickets is changing and so we understand the need to move with the times. The idea of closing ticket offices to locate staff nearer to the passengers may sound attractive, but it has proved highly controversial with the public. Together with Transport Focus, we received 750,000 responses from individuals and organisations to the consultation, many expressing powerful and passionate concerns about the plans.
The three big issues for the public arising from the consultation were how to buy tickets in future, how to get travel advice and information at stations, and how Disabled passengers can get assistance when they need it.
London TravelWatch has heard these views loud and clear, and would like to thank all those who took the time to take part.
As an evidence-led organisation, we have also looked carefully at the detailed plans presented by train companies. The key tests which the plans have to satisfy are whether the changes would genuinely improve the service to passengers and/or cost effectiveness, and whether passengers would continue to have easy access to today’s range of fares and tickets.
Despite improving on their original proposals, we don’t think the train companies have gone far enough to meet our concerns and those of the public. We cannot say with confidence that these proposals would improve things for passengers and that is why we have objected to all 269 ticket office closures (in the London area – part of the wider programme in England).
London TravelWatch report