Plans to close railway station ticket offices hit the buffers
The planned widespread closure of railway station ticket offices in England has been scrapped.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said the Government has asked train operators to withdraw their proposals, which were brought forward due to pressure from ministers to cut costs.
This is in response to watchdogs Transport Focus and London TravelWatch announcing they opposed every single planned closure due to issues such as the impact on accessibility.
Mr Harper said: “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.”
Plans to close the vast majority of station ticket offices in England, plus Avanti West Coast’s ticket office at Glasgow Central, were brought forward by train operators and their representative body, the Rail Delivery Group (RDG).
This followed pressure from the UK Government to save money amid the drop in revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
A train operator source told the PA news agency: “There is quiet fury in the rail industry about where we’ve got to.
The plan was signed off by civil servants and ministers. They’ve U-turned.”
In September, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak suggested closing ticket offices was “the right thing for the British public and British taxpayers” as “only one in 10 tickets are sold currently in ticket offices”.
Transport Focus and London TravelWatch were required to review each proposal to close a ticket office based on criteria relating to customer service, accessibility and cost-effectiveness, before deciding whether or not to object.
Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, said “significant amendments” to the plans were secured, such as reverting to existing staffing times at many stations.
But he added that “serious overall concerns remain” over issues including how so-called welcome points would work, how operators would sell a “full range” of tickets, and how excessive queues at ticket machines would be avoided.
RDG chief executive Jacqueline Starr said the proposals were about adapting the railway to the changing needs of customers “in the smartphone era”, balanced with the “significant financial challenge faced by the industry”.
She continued: “While these plans won’t now be taken forward, we will continue to look at other ways to improve passenger experience while delivering value for the taxpayer.”
Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said: “These shambolic plans have fallen apart under scrutiny.
“The Government failed to come clean on the impact of these proposals for accessibility and job security and now have been forced into a humiliating climbdown, disowning the very proposals ministers championed from the start.”
Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union general secretary Mick Lynch said that it was a “resounding victory” for the campaign against the closures.
He added: “We are now calling for an urgent summit with the Government, train operating companies, disabled and community organisations, and passenger groups to agree on a different route for the rail network that guarantees the future of our ticket offices and station staff jobs, to deliver a safe, secure and accessible service that puts passengers before profit.”
Katie Pennick, campaigns manager at accessibility charity Transport for All, said: “While we are proud of the incredible tenacity of disabled people and our community for securing this major campaign victory, the outcome is bittersweet.
“The disastrous and discriminatory proposals should never have been put forward.”