The threatened closure of railway ticket offices is going “too far, too fast”, MPs have warned.
Rail Minister Huw Merriman has been told proposals to close more than a thousand ticket offices in England could lead to a “situation that risks excluding some passengers from the railway”.
Unions and campaigners say will lead to job losses and difficulties for passengers
The proposals have been met by a storm of protest from passengers and rail unions who say the plan is simply a way of cutting staff and reducing costs. and will cause difficulty for groups such as the elderly and disabled in paying for travel and finding information.
More than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling for the plan to be halted to help maintain stadards of convenience, health and safety and customer information.
MPs on the Commons Transport Select Committee have written to ministers criticising “unacceptable” levels of detail from rail operators about the plans. The letter also criticises the Transport Department and the rail industry umbrella body, the Rail Delivery Group.
They say the lack of detailed information about how ticketing arrangements will be handled led the committee to conclude the proposals “go too far, too fast, towards a situation that risks excluding some passengers from the railway”.
Train operators claim only 12 per cent of tickets are now bought from manned station ticket offices, down from 85 per cent in the 90s. They say they want to redeploy current staff to station platforms where they are still able to sell tickets but also offer better assistance to more travellers.
“At a minimum, changes this radical should be carefully piloted in limited areas and evaluated for their effect on all passengers before being rolled out. This would allow for the alternative proposals, which at present are too vague, to be properly understood,” Iain Stewart, Transport Committee chair wrote.
The letter says that while it is acceptable for train operators to adapt to changing passenger behaviour, many passengers have “legitimate concerns about whether closing a ticket office would remove the support they need”.
They also criticised the Government’s public consultation, warning it was “not adequate” for such an enormous network-wide issue and failed to reflect how people travelled now. The consultation process had been used previously for shutting single stations, and never before for such a major change.
MPs found that alternative consultation documents for the blind, the deaf and other disabilities were often not made available by the train operators, and more accessible formats only became available after they were threatened with legal action by disabled campaigners.
They found the Rail Delivery Group did not advise operators before the consultation launch on a need for multiple alternative formats of the proposals. Neither did the RDG instruct the train companies to make some formats available until very late in the consultation period, the MPs said.
“Given that the timing of this consultation was entirely in the gift of the operators, and that the proposals had clearly been in preparation for some time, the inconsistency and inaccessibility of the consultation materials was unacceptable,” the MPs found.
“More consideration should have been given in advance to whether a more appropriate mechanism could have been agreed upon.”
The Department of Transport said the ticket office plans wtre being considered by the independent passenger bodies, Transport Focus and London TravelWatch, together with train operators on the basis of the consultation responses received.
It said train operators were “expected to work collaboratively with passenger bodies in the coming weeks to listen to the concerns raised and to refine their proposals accordingly.”