Independent passenger watchdog publishes response to train company ticket office proposals
31 October 2023
Transport Focus has today (31 October) published its responses to train company proposals to close ticket offices.
Under the terms of the Ticketing and Settlement Agreement, Transport Focus is required to review and either object or not to train company proposals to close ticket offices based on criteria relating to customer service, accessibility and cost effectiveness.
Transport Focus is objecting to all of the current proposals to close ticket offices. While many of the revised station proposals failed to meet the criteria set by Transport Focus, there were some, such as those proposed by GWR and TransPennine Express, which met the majority of our criteria. However, across all proposals, there are key issues, that are critical to maintaining accessibility for all to the national network that remain unresolved.
Together with London TravelWatch we received 750,000 responses from individuals and organisations to the consultation. Those responses contained powerful and passionate concerns about the potential changes. Transport Focus would like to thank all those who took the time to take part. The main themes that emerged from the responses included ticket machine capability, accessibility and how passenger assistance and information would be delivered in future.
During this process, Transport Focus’s discussions with train companies have led to significant amendments and revisions to original proposals, demonstrating the value of this independent review process. Many revised train company proposals re-instated existing staffing hours, identified new and innovative solutions, promised extra facilities to sell more tickets and all ticket types and cope with cash payments and refunds.
However, the detail around some of the proposals, particularly new customer support arrangements, are not yet well-developed. A lack of an overall delivery plan also raises concerns that closures may occur before new arrangements are in place.
Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog 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.”
Transport Focus is supportive of the principle of redeploying staff from ticket offices to improve the overall offer to the passenger. We also recognise the extreme financial pressure facing the railways and the need to find new, cost-effective ways of working. We will continue to work with the train companies to help them resolve the issues raised by passengers during this process.
Objections and recommendations
Transport Focus has objected to the overall proposals on the following grounds:
- ‘Welcome points’ proposals
Following concerns about the potential accessibility impact of proposals to move staff out of ticket offices and onto station platforms and concourses, train operators proposed to introduce new ‘welcome points’ at stations. A welcome point would be an initial focal point on entering a station that provides any customer who needs support and/or advice a place to start their journey and get help from staff. It would be a consistent and common location at stations to offer reassurance to those who need it; a clear and obvious place to get help and support.
While there is potentially merit in the concept of welcome points there is much that still needs to be developed in terms of how the arrangements would work in practice. As it stands there is lack of clarity and detail on this proposal.
Welcome points were not explained as part of the consultation, so passengers have not had the opportunity to comment on these plans or to highlight potential concerns. Further engagement is needed with the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee and with disabled people and representative groups on the concept, design, and implementation of welcome points.
The welcome point concept is a fundamental change for passengers, especially disabled passengers, so it is important that they work in practice and that passengers have confidence in them. These proposals must be piloted to establish what works best at different types of stations and how passengers react to them. Proposals on ticket offices would need to await the outcome of these pilots.
- New formal measurement to monitor and assess queuing times at ticket machines
The watchdog recommends train operators introduce a robust measurement and reporting regime for queuing times at ticket vending machines (based on the existing standards at ticket office windows). If queues exceed the targets then action would need to be taken (such as issuing staff with hand-held ticket devices so that they can ‘queue bust’ and/or installing extra ticket vending machines).
The introduction of a new measurement would ensure there is a formal mechanism to review the number of sales and, if projections were wrong, to increase retail capacity.
Queuing time targets, monitoring and reporting for ticket vending machines (based on that currently in use at ticket windows) must be implemented at all stations before any changes could take place.
- Future regulation – staffing protections and means for consultation
The public consultation feedback highlighted widespread concern that if ticket offices are closed and existing ‘schedule 17’ regulation for ticket offices no longer applies, there will be no ongoing requirement to consult on any future changes.
Many passengers fear that train companies will make further cuts to staff if existing regulations are removed. Transport Focus recommends an alternative mechanism is put in place for any future material changes in staffing at a station. This commitment needs be in place before changes ticket offices can go ahead.
The rail industry has suggested that the existing Accessible Travel Policy process, which is formally regulated and enforceable by the Office of Rail and Road as part of an operator’s licence, could provide an alternative.
The consultation process with West Midlands Trains is still ongoing as the operator notified Transport Focus of significant changes to its proposals in mid-October. Transport Focus will now publish its response to West Midlands Trains on 28 November.
Notes to editors
For more information on the consultation: transportfocus.org.uk/ticketoffices
Transport Focus response to individual train companies:
- Avanti West Coast
- Chiltern Railways
- East Midlands Railway
- Govia Thameslink Railway
- Greater Anglia
- Great Western Railway
- South Western Railway
- TransPennine Express.
The consultation ran between 5 July and 1 September 2023 (following an extension by train operators in July). Transport Focus and London TravelWatch received more than 750,000 responses. Transport Focus has assessed train operator proposals against its published criteria.
Press office contact
For further information please contact call the Transport Focus press office on 0300 123 2170