Following consultations with passenger bodies, Transport Secretary Mark Harper has this morning rejected plans to close hundreds of ticket stations across the country within the next three years.
He 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.
“We will continue our work to reform our railways with the expansion of contactless Pay As You Go ticketing, making stations more accessible through our Access for All programme and £350 million funding through our Network North plan to improve accessibility at up to 100 stations.”
Rail Minister Huw Merriman met with accessibility groups on two separate occasions throughout the course of the consultation.
Of the plans, 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.
“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.
“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.”
The Department for Transport now expects train operators to withdraw the proposals and does not expect any proposals to be referred to the Secretary of State for a decision.
The news has been meet with dismay among some industry leaders. A senior source told the BBC that rail operators “have been made to sell these plans, defend them, and change them to try and get them over the line. All in the face of the inevitable onslaught of criticism.”
They went on to say: “All of these plans were approved by officials and ministers at the DfT. To say they fell short of their expectations is totally disingenuous.”
Image credit: London TravelWatch