Government U-turns on ticket office closure plans

The Government has dropped plans to close hundreds of ticket offices in England following a consultation process led by Transport Focus (TF) and London TravelWatch (LTW) which secured three quarters of a million responses.

Proposals by train operators – who were ‘mandated’ by the Government to development could have seen some operators close all ticket offices including at stations such as London Waterloo/Paddington/Euston, Manchester Piccadilly, and Bristol Temple Meads.

The passenger watchdogs objected to all of the proposals to close ticket offices: revisions made failed to meet all of its criteria, although TF says those of Great Western Railway and TransPennine Express met most of them. Concerns raised by TF and LTW included the ‘Welcome Points’ proposals, the lack of queuing time targets at ticket machines, and fears that if ticket offices are closed there will be no ongoing requirement to consult on future changes to staffing levels at stations. 

Consultation with West Midlands Trains on its proposals are still ongoing as the operator notified TF of significant changes in mid-October: a response will be published on 28 November.

In a statement, Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: the Government had made it clear to the industry throughout the process that any resulting proposals must ‘meet a high threshold of serving passengers’ although it is unclear what those thresholds were.

‘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,’ he said.

Train operators are expected to withdraw proposals, with none expected to be referred to Mr Harper for a decision.

He added that the Government will expand Pay as You Go ticketing, continue the Access for All programme, and that a draft National Rail Accessibility Strategy will be consulted on in 2024.

In response to the consultation, TF Chief Executive Anthony Smith said: ‘Serious overall concerns remain about how potentially useful innovations, such as ‘welcome points’ would work in practice. We also have questions about how the impact of these changes would be measured and how future consultation on staffing levels will work.

‘Some train companies were unable to convince us about their ability to sell a full range of tickets, handle cash payments and avoid excessive queues at ticket machines.

‘Passengers must be confident they can get help when needed and buy the right ticket in time for the right train.’

His counterpart at LTW, Michael Roberts, said: ‘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

‘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.’