Sunday, 3 Jul 2022

‘Explosive’ closure of England’s train ticket offices to save £500m may spark more strikes

Andy Burnham slams comments Tory MP on railway

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The move would see the closure of all 980 railway station ticket offices, and its suggestion has further stoked tensions between railway unions, industry bosses and the Government. The rail industry has drawn up a confidential strategy to close or “repurpose” all ticket offices in England, in which around 12 percent of railway tickets are still sold. The closure programme would commence in September, with a union boss warning that it could lead to more worker support for strikes, the Sunday Times reports.

Online ticket-buying and mobile apps enable travellers to purchase rail tickets remotely and forego the need to print out a physical copy, with a Department of Transport spokesman saying physical ticket sales had seen a “significant decline”.

Union leaders are reportedly seeking urgent talks over the plan, with the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) describing the report as “explosive”.

The union is currently balloting hundreds of its members for industrial action over pay and jobs, and warned that closing ticket offices would increase the likelihood of strikes.

Manuel Cortes, TSSA general secretary, said: “Trust has hit rock bottom between rail workers and bosses in both the industry and government.

“We’ve been asking for clarity on rumours about ticket office closures for months but no proposals have been shared with us or the staff who work day in day out serving passengers.

“This Government has no respect for rail staff or passengers if they think this is the way to run our public transport services.

“The Government has badly miscalculated the reaction this will have from staff and passengers who rely on and value station staff. This will simply make more members vote for strike action.”

The plans were revealed ahead of what is set to be the biggest UK rail strike in 30 years, with the first of three 24-hour walkouts by 40,000 RMT members, including signallers, maintenance and train staff, beginning just after midnight on Tuesday morning.

Only one in five services are set to run on the strike days and services will be halted altogether in much of northern and south-west England, Wales and Scotland.

The move to close ticket offices was also announced just days after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said rail industry reforms including the closure of ticket offices were required if staff in the sector wanted pay rises.

Mr Shapps said: “Nowadays, just one in eight tickets is sold over the counter, yet we still have roughly the same number of ticket offices as in the days when we all queued up at stations to buy our tickets. The quietest office sold just 17 tickets in three months. That’s one ticket every five and a half days.

“Any sensible plan would move staff away from where they are not needed, like ticket offices, and increase shifts where they are needed, like weekends.”

He added: “Rail pay rises can only be afforded in the long term alongside reform.”

The Government has already announced plans in November for the £360m rollout of contactless tap-in and tap-out ticketing barriers at 700 stations across the North and Midlands over the next three years.

Concerns have been raised over the impact of ticket office closures on older travellers.

Caroline Abrahams of Age UK said: “Many lack an up-to-date smartphone or tablet, or live in a place with unreliable broadband.

“These people have relied on buying tickets face-to-face or over the phone and then collecting them from a station machine. What are they expected to do if everything goes online?”

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A Department for Transport spokesperson said today: “While no final decision has been taken on ticket offices, they have seen a significant decline in passenger use over the last decade yet numbers have not substantially changed since then.

“Staff will always provide face-to-face services on the railways, which can be crucial for those who need additional support and cannot, or do not want to, use contactless or mobile tickets.”

A Rail Delivery Group spokesperson said: “While no decisions have been taken over ticket offices, with the acceleration of changing travel patterns and more passengers migrating to digital technology, many jobs will need to change to become more passenger-centric.

“Train companies want to work with unions on how to address those changes while making sure the industry takes no more than its fair share from the taxpayer.”

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