Closed shop

I responded to Northern’s consultation on ticket office closures. I tried to be eloquent and articulate (if I let my true feelings out, it would have been too sweary).

I also signed the petition on the UK Parliament website, because it is this useless zombie government, which knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing, that is presiding over this situation. Managing decline on the railways just as it is doing everywhere else.

There are 13 separate consultations going on – Transport Focus has a list of the proposals and how to respond, so check to see if your local train operator is affected. Thankfully Merseyrail, operated by more enlightened management, is not affected.

My response is below. I am under no illusions that this is little more than a box-ticking exercise and the proposals will probably be waved through, but we have to try.

The consultation closes on 28th July (yes, they really gave us three weeks to respond on this massive sweeping change to the railway network!) so get your responses in soon.

Please find below my response to the proposals to close ticket offices at Northern stations.

Firstly, I must point out that the consultation documents published by Northern are fundamentally misleading, and I would go as far as to say they are dishonest.

The consultation states: “As part of our proposed changes to ticket offices, we will be removing all existing ticket office roles. Instead we will bring our ticket office colleagues into new Journey Maker roles to assist customers around the station. Journey Makers will be based at stations, although no longer within ticket offices. They’ll be available in other areas of the station to help customers face to face with a wide range of needs. This includes supporting people who need extra help travelling through stations and onto our trains.”

However, when looking into the detail of the proposals, the staffing hours of the “Journey Makers” are not remotely comparable to the ticket office hours.

For example: Edge Hill currently has a ticket office from 05:30 to 00:10 Mon-Sat. The ‘replacement’ Journey Maker will be available 09:30-11:30 Mon-Fri, and 12:30-14:30 Sat, just two hours per day. A similar situation applies at many other stations.

Additionally, the proposed Journey Maker staffing hours indicate that at many stations, Journey Makers will only be present for a couple of hours in the middle of the day, not during the morning or evening peaks when stations will be at their busiest. This makes a mockery of the suggestion that Journey Makers will be in any way an adequate replacement for ticket office staff.

My second comment relates specifically to stations in the Merseytravel area, on the “City Line” out of Liverpool Lime Street.

Northern ticket offices on Merseyside sell several products on behalf of Merseytravel, including the Trio multi-modal travel ticket and the Railpass zonal season ticket. These products cannot be purchased online, nor at ticket vending machines. If the ticket offices close down, this will leave people living in those areas without a convenient option to purchase these tickets – they would have to make a special journey to one of the few remaining open ticket offices, or to a Merseyrail Electrics station or a Merseytravel bus station. This inconvenience may dissuade them from using the train altogether.

Finally, I must urge the powers-that-be to look beyond the mere figures of ticket sales, and think about the benefits of a staff presence. The people publishing this proposal seem to think that ticket office staff do is push a few buttons and that job can be easily replaced. They are the first point of contact for these people at the beginning of their train journey, and act as ambassadors for the railway. More than merely selling tickets, they provide information and assistance, especially when things go wrong. Additionally, their presence acts as a deterrent to vandalism and anti-social behaviour.

Look at neighbouring train operator, Merseyrail, where nearly all stations are staffed from start to end of service, and consistently scores highly in customer satisfaction.

The ticketing structure of the railway is not simple, and many passengers are worried about inadvertently purchasing the “wrong” ticket. Ticket offices can provide explanation and guidance and reassurance to these passengers. If ticket offices are closed, these people may not switch to using TVMs or mobile tickets – it is possible they may abandon the railway altogether.

I urge Northern and the DfT to look again at these drastic and short-sighted proposals.

Robert Hampton

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