Members of the UK Parliament’s Transport Committee have warned that plans to close most of the ticket offices across England’s rail network are going “too far, too fast” in a letter to Rail Minister Huw Merriman.
Laying out the written and oral evidence collected by the committee, chairperson Iain Stewart MP said that the “radical” changes that had been proposed by rail operators risked excluding some passengers from the railway network.
The MP said that by not collecting information on non-ticket-related customer interactions with staff, the data used to inform the changes was ignoring important interactions that were “immensely valued by passengers”.
While admitting that many operators told the committee that the proposals seemed to be based on the behaviour of the majority of passengers, which has changed in recent years, Stewart said this ignored the legitimate worries of vulnerable members of the public.
Stewart said: “This is not necessarily, however, a sufficient approach for safeguarding the needs of a minority of passengers who have legitimate concerns about whether closing a ticket office would remove the support they need—whether with ticketing, information, safety or access assistance—to travel freely and reliably on the railway to the same extent as everyone else.”
The committee’s concerns echo those of many members of the wider rail industry, with RMT union General Secretary Mick Lynch previously describing the proposed mass closure of ticket offices as “social vandalism”.
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Stewart also highlighted the concerns of disability organisations such as the Royal National Institute of Blind People, which told the committee that the entire experience of rail travel needs to be overhauled to remove barriers for disabled people and the closure of ticket offices would only add new barriers.
The proposal has also seen enormous interest from the public, with the government’s extended consultation on the issue receiving over 680,000 responses and passenger watchdogs Transport Focus and London Travelwatch set to reveal whether they accept or reject suggestions made by rail companies by the end of October.
Stewart also mentioned this deadline in the letter to Merriman, saying that while the committee’s inquiry would continue in the coming months, it wanted to present reflections on the issue before the watchdogs issued their responses and called on the minister to reply to the committee by November 15.