Press Release 2nd July 2023

Ticket Office closures - Penny wise, Pound foolish?

A botched implementation will cost the taxpayer – and passengers

Railfuture has serious concerns that the much speculated ticket office closure programme expected from the Government will be bad for passengers, the taxpayer – and rail staff.

“As taxpayers, we are naturally keen on value for money, and rail staff with the single role of selling an occasional rail ticket isn’t the best use of their time or our money.  But, its an emotive subject, and we can see why.”  said Railfuture director Neil Middleton, who leads on fares and tickets. “It’s emotive because there are only vague words along the lines of ‘It’ll be alright on the night’. There needs to be a proper commitment to the new world which guarantees staff at stations for at least as long as at present, for the continued ability to buy tickets from rail staff as is currently available.  In one sense, the ‘ticket office’ is a side show – the important issue is the people inside them – making the best possible use of their skills and energy to help passengers, with the training and resources they will need to do this.

“Yes, many travellers prefer to buy their tickets online – indeed it’s my own preference – and I personally prefer e-tickets.  But that’s not for everyone – many rail travellers don’t have the option to buy online and may well not own a smartphone, so it’s essential that in-person purchase remains an option.

“Yes, encourage more self-service – but don’t force it.  If this change drives passengers off the trains, then we’ll all be worse off – even though there may be a cost saving (penny wise), if fewer passengers are on the trains it is very easy to see that income will reduce (pound foolish).  Yes, it may be more expensive to sell to the 12% of travellers who buy in-person – but is it really a good idea to give up all of the fare of a traveller who decides not to travel by train in order to save some of the cost?”

Chris Page, chair of Railfuture went on to say “We know in-person ticket purchase is the expensive option for the rail industry.  Whilst for some travellers it will remain the only choice, for others, they buy in-person because rail ticketing is so complex  - the Independent Rail Retailers Association recently reported that there are 2,822 ticket types on National Rail, with 901 names and 665 restriction codes (note 1). Faced with that complexity, regular cries for help are inevitable. The glacial pace of ticketing reform needs to pick up speed considerably.”

Neil went on to comment “We don't oppose change, but it must result in services that are more appealing to passengers. Ticket office staff relocated to the platform can help passengers in so many ways – providing information and helping passengers on to trains – and selling tickets of course.”

“The alternatives to in-person ticket sales need to be made much better – why can’t products like ChatGPT be used to interpret natural language requests from passengers – ‘I want to go from Stevenage to Leeds next Wednesday, arriving by 10am; I want to come back sometime early evening’.  A proper fares engine, that covers every fare, including split tickets could come back to the passenger with a choice of journey times and fares for the morning and offer a choice of fares specific to each train and a flexible fare as well”.

Railfuture is developing its tests for the consultation.  The proposal can “be good” if it includes promises that:
1. Passengers can still buy tickets from a staff member all the times they can now – and that this right is protected in the same way that ticket office hours are now.
2. There is an increase in staffed hours at stations.
3. There is better passenger assistance because there will now be more staff on the platform or gateline.
4. There is significant investment to improve self-service – above all to build confidence for online passengers and the convenience of use of e-tickets.
5. That every type of ticket is available online and on TVMs – and barriers are removed – eg some TVMs insist on times being chosen for flexible tickets.
6. Evidence that ticket simplification is, at last, recognised as an important way to increase confidence in self-service.

Notes to editors:

When there is an announcement, Railfuture’s initial comments will be available on our social media channels including https://twitter.com/railfuture and  https://www.facebook.com/Railfuture/

Website article on ticket offices: https://railfuture.org.uk/article1898-More-on-Ticket-Offices
Website article on fares reform: https://railfuture.org.uk/article1884-Fares-after-Covid

Note 1 Modern Railways Expo, 23 November 2022, Milton Keynes

Railfuture is the UK's leading independent organisation campaigning for better rail services for both passengers and freight.

Railfuture's website can be found at: www.railfuture.org.uk

Follow Railfuture on Twitter: twitter.com/Railfuture

For further information and comment please contact:

Bruce Williamson, media spokesman~~
Tel: 0117 927 2954 Mobile: 07759 557389

Neil Middleton, Director:
Mobile 07887 628367