Ticket Office Closure Plans Look Set to Be Ditched

Chiswick and Brentford stations expected to keep their kiosks

Chiswick station likely to keep its ticket office. Picture: SWR


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October 31, 2023

Proposals for widespread closures of ticket offices across the rail network look set to be abandoned. This means that services at stations such as Chiswick and Brentford will no longer be cut.

Passenger watchdogs Transport Focus and London Travelwatch refused to support the plans after they had received 750,000 responses from individuals and organisations in a public consultation 99% of which were objections.

Concerns had been raised about ticket machine capability, accessibility and how passenger assistance and information and, although the watchdogs said that the train companies had made steps to address these issues, these were not sufficient.

In the end it was concluded that concerns about excessive queues at ticket machines, lack of evidence about value for money from the rail companies and no proper alternative arrangements for people with issues with accessibility made the proposals unviable.

Following this announcement this Tuesday (31 October) Transport Secretary Mark Harper said the government had asked train operators to withdraw their proposals and that they should not be referred to the Secretary of State for a decision. This was despite the Department of Transport having previously approved the plans which had been drawn up at its instigation as part of a drive to make rail companies reduce costs.

The Minister 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.”

As the proportion of tickets bought at kiosks had fallen to 12% the closures were seen as a way to support the finances of a rail network struggling with passenger numbers down since the pandemic.

Transport analyst Christian Wolmar says believes that the proposals will be completely abandoned because of the prospect of a general election.

South Western Railway was one of nine train operators that had announced plans to shut ticket offices in July. Nationwide 269 offices were slated for closure. For Chiswick this would also have meant that the station was unstaffed on Mondays although there would have been additional coverage on Saturdays. Brentford would have seen the station unstaffed on Fridays with cover being introduced on Sundays. For both stations the ticket kiosk is currently only open during the morning rush hour period.

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.”

The Rail Delivery Group, which represents the rail companies, said it would continue to look at other ways to "improve passenger experience while delivering value for the taxpayer" although its members are reported to be furious with the government for its withdrawal of backing for the plans.

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