Plans scrapped for rail ticket office closures across UK

Posted: 31 October 2023 | | No comments yet

The UK Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, has confirmed that proposals to close rail ticket offices will be withdrawn following the feedback collected through public consultations.

Plans scrapped for rail ticket office closures across UK

On 5 July 2023, rail operators across the UK published consultations on proposals to make changes to the responsibilities of rail station staff and to close ticket offices, with the consultations set to remain open for a total of 21 days.

Initial public responses to the proposals mainly cited accessibility concerns as the most significant factor to be considered, should ticket offices be closed and the number of rail station staff be decreased. As a result of the efforts of disability campaigners, the deadline for the consultations was extended to 1 September 2023. According to Transport for All, “In total, it’s estimated around three-quarters of a million people responded, making it the most responded-to public consultation of all time.”

Now, in an official statement released on 31 October 2023 by the Department for Transport (DfT), the UK Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, 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.

“We will continue our work to reform our railways with the expansion of contactless Pay As You Go ticketing, making stations more accessible through our Access for All programme and £350 million funding through our Network North plan to improve accessibility at up to 100 stations.”

Industry feedback

Transport Focus

Ahead of the release of the statement from the UK Transport Secretary, Anthony Smith, Chief Executive of Transport Focus, said: “Following analysis of the 750,000 responses to the consultation and in-depth discussions with train companies, Transport Focus is objecting to the proposals to close ticket offices.

“Significant amendments and changes have been secured by the watchdog – for example, reverting to existing times when staff will be on hand at many stations. Some train companies were closer than others in meeting our criteria.

“However, 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.”

Urban Transport Group

Jason Prince, Director of the Urban Transport Group, said: “The decision not to proceed with plans to close rail ticket offices is welcome.

“The objections from Transport Focus and others made it clear that the plans would have resulted in a less accessible rail network, and so it is good to see common sense prevail.

“Questions need to be asked as to why the plans were pushed forward so vigorously, especially given the overwhelming response to them.

“The Urban Transport Group, alongside its member transport authorities, remain committed to working with government and train operating companies to deliver the best outcomes for passengers in our local communities.”

Transport for All

Katie Pennick, Campaigns Manager at Transport for All, said: “Today represents the best possible outcome – but it’s not a step forward, instead we have resisted things getting worse. 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.

“It took multiple legal challenges, public uproar, cross party opposition and, ultimately, a watchdog decision for the Department for Transport to finally withdraw its support for the closures. Until the eleventh hour, the government were insisting that the plans would improve accessibility, despite unilateral calls from disabled people and our organisations saying otherwise.

“Though the government was eventually swayed, it is appalling that disabled people’s concerns were dismissed for so long. We can’t help but wonder what we could achieve if disabled people were listened to and accessibility was prioritised.”