Why We Need Our Ticket Offices

10 Jul 2023

After weeks of speculation, rail firms backed by the government, have announced plans to close almost 1000 ticket offices up and down the country. These closures represent yet another attempt to slash jobs on the railways in pursuit of ever greater profits.

Clearly the governments vision for the railways of the future will be one that is completely automated. No doubt ministers dream of days when everything from ticketing to the driving of the trains themselves can all be done by computers. The problem is that this dream is just that. As has been pointed out ad nauseum by the railway unions and industry experts, automating existing train services is impossible without extraordinary central government investment in infrastructure.

Even automating ticketing is not as easy as it seems. For many travellers, contactless or online booking has reduced their reliance on ticketing offices. But 1 in 8 are still paid for at ticket offices. Estimates suggest that over 110 million train journeys were made possible by train station ticket offices and the reasons why are varied. Station staff are essential when automatic ticket barriers fail, for travel advice when an expert opinion is required, to support elderly passengers who might otherwise be digitally excluded, supporting vulnerable passengers in need of protection, supporting young children who may have become separated from their parents - the list goes on and on.

Among the most callous aspects of closing these ticket offices would be the casual disregard for the needs of disabled passengers. Ticket offices are a vital first point of contact, staffed by people who can support a huge range of needs in the flexible and resourceful way that is natural to an experienced person, but impossible to an automated machine system. Ticket staff support disabled passengers in everything from buying tickets (23% of disabled passengers do not use the internet) to using station facilities and boarding or disembarking from a train.

The wide scope of disabled people who will suffer from the closure of ticket offices is perhaps most easily seen in the huge array of disability charities who are opposed to this move. Transport for All, which runs the #NotJustTheTicket campaign, is backed by over a dozen charities supporting deaf people, people with visual impairment or blindness and other disabled people in opposing these closures.

Rather than fixating on how many jobs the government can axe, ministers could turn their attention to other more pressing issues on the railways. They could spend their time ending 30 years of failed railway privatisation that has led to crumbling infrastructure, sky high fares subsidised by the taxpayer and repeated public bailouts. They could replace outdated infrastructure like ancient signalling systems, uncomfortable and poorly air-conditioned trains, achieve full railway electrification and refurbish stations to increase capacity and ensure wheelchair accessibility across the UK rail network. In my own constituency, a key railway station (Dalston Kingsland) with 3.5 million entries and exits in 2021-2022, has no step-free access, forcing disabled travellers to use alternative routes.

The government's attack on ticket offices is a double tragedy, cutting existing support while failing to build the railways Britain deserves. It's one we must resist.

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