Industry bodies voice opinion on ticket station modernisation plans

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The Transport industry has responded to the announcement by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) that train companies are consulting passengers on plans to ‘modernise customer service across the rail network’. The move is expected to see the closure of hundreds of ticket offices and the reallocation of staff to other roles.

The RDG said that, where adopted, the proposals would see ticket office staff transitioning to multi-skilled ‘customer help’ roles where they would be “better able to give advice about the best and cheapest fares, advise on journey planning and support customers with accessibility needs.”

Defending the move, train operating companies (TOCs) have outlined the new environment in which they operate and the changing behaviours of passengers. Today, just 12% of tickets are sold at ticket offices, compared to 82% in the mid-1990s.

“We need to evolve with our customers, as well as creating a more sustainable railway that’s fit for the future,” said Ian McConnell, managing director of London Northwestern Railway. “Our proposals would mean staff being more visible and available where customers most need them; on concourses and platforms to help with journey planning, finding the right ticket and supporting passengers with accessibility needs.

However, regional transport bodies have urged caution. Jason Prince, director of the Urban Transport Group, the UK’s network of city region transport authorities, said: “While we are not opposed in principle to changes to the way that customer service is provided at stations, we would ask for TOCs to fully consult with our member transport authorities, and provide assurances that the plans will not lead to de-staffing of stations that undermine access to the railway for people with disabilities and increase actual and perceived fears for personal safety on and around the railway.”

A spokesperson for Transport for the North commented: “We understand that the way people buy tickets is changing and that there needs to be reform. However, this should be done in a holistic way, considering the needs of all station users and local communities.

“We are concerned that the focus on ticket office staffing in isolation of wider investment (for example pay as you go ticketing) could lead to disadvantaging certain passengers and communities. We will be working with our partners on a robust response to the consultation using local evidence and knowledge.
“Done correctly, we can ensure that reform supports growth and the needs of all passengers. But it must not be to the disadvantage of any station users, especially in regards to accessibility and safety.”

Transport unions have been the most vocal critics of the plans. The TSSA has called on the public to oppose the mass closure of ticket offices and accused rail bosses of trying to bring in redundancies by stealth.

“We will continue to oppose ticket office closures which make no sense when it comes to running a railway for all and building up services in the post-Covid era,” said the TSSA’s interim general secretary, Peter Pendle.

“Ticket office staff are hugely valued by the travelling public, and we urge commuters to resist these foolish plans by sending the government a crystal-clear message that they are on the wrong track.
“What we are seeing today from the train companies – no doubt pushed by the government – is widespread plans for redundancies by the back door. This amounts to the shredding of the settlement we reached which ended our involvement in the national rail dispute and has left members furious.”

TOCs have been quick to allay concerns that the plans will result in mass lay-offs.

“Our people will be crucial to the success of our plans, and that is why it is so important to empower our teams to respond to customer needs as we attract more people to rail – the most sustainable way to travel,” said David Horne, Managing Director at LNER.

Andy Mellors, managing director of Avanti West Coast, added: “Our commitment is that we will always treat our people fairly, with support and extra training to move in to new and varied roles with a number of responsibilities without compromising on the safety of them or our customers.”

Image credit: istockphoto.com

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