A retired transport worker shares their thoughts on the consultation on ticket office closures.
There are a lot of conclusions that have been drawn from Rail Delivery Group’s consultation on ticket office closures.
It’s laughably short. It’s woefully inaccessible. And it’s a half-hearted attempt to hide what they hope is already a done deal.
But the biggest takeaway is what you’re left with when you extract the first three letters of the word itself: con.
That’s because the consultation presumes. It alleges. It hides truth and it compounds deceit.
For one, the true number of tickets sold is being concealed. Rail firms have hitched their wagon to this ubiquitous 12% figure, referring to the amount of tickets that are now bought through ticket offices.
But what they neglect to mention is that this ‘small’ percentage works out as more than 120 million tickets every year. Even then, it doesn’t account for the fact that Family, Season and "Rover" (Multiple Regional Journey) tickets are counted as one transaction, regardless of the number of people in a group or journeys made.
How many more journeys are being ignored?
With the claim that no jobs will be lost under the closures comes more lies, as we know that some train operating companies have already issued Section 188 redundancy notices. What I cannot fathom is why this senseless plan is being kicked down the road when de-staffing the railway will not help anyone - quite literally.
Because we cannot forget that ticket offices do more than sell tickets. They are a beacon of safety to head to for information, signposting and reassurance. They guarantee a place where someone - a real-life human - is sure to be.
When I worked on the Underground, two things got worse when fewer staff were around: graffiti went up, and ticket fraud rose. Crime rises when staff aren't around - CCTV can only help detect crime, not prevent it. That’s assuming the technology is even working, which in my experience it often isn’t because it doesn’t make financial sense to run. Cutting staff actually leads to loss of revenue.
Claiming that people are more likely to use ticket vending machines (TVMs) is also subterfuge in the form of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Train companies are slowly shutting or reducing ticket offices in a bid to justify shepherding reluctant rail users over to these machines, so they can churn out fares that are more expensive and hide options that vulnerable and disabled passengers rely on.
Recent scenes from stations around the country have also shown how susceptible these machines are to breaking down. By contrast, attempts to find out how long it would take for new ‘roving staff’ between stations and platforms to be notified and make their way over to help have been met with crickets.
Not quite as deafening, though, as the public silence from Labour and other political parties on this issue. We need our opposing politicians to speak up and speak out - unless they want to be accused of acting in their financial interests and helping to rush a political imperative through before the coming General Election.
If there is an honest, valid reason to justify closing ticket offices, I have yet to hear it. Because all I see is a half-baked hatchet job on the human elements that make our railways affordable, enjoyable and accessible to all.