Greg recently wrote to Southeastern regarding their ongoing ticket office closure consultation.
His response can be seen in full below.
Please accept this as a response to the consultation on moving staff from ticket offices to provide face-to-face support for customers.
Although I understand that stations in my constituency, including Paddock Wood Station, High Brooms Station and Tunbridge Wells Station, will be part of a second wave of consultations in the autumn, I am concerned that they were not included from the start of the process, especially where other train operators have decided to run the consultation in a single period.
This resulting delayed consultation, which is not expected to start until the end of autumn 2023, is causing unnecessary uncertainty to residents in my constituency.
I believe further clarity is required as to why it was felt necessary to phase the process – constituents will need time to prepare and adapt to changes resulting from the consultation and the choice not to include certain stations in the first wave of process will inevitably hamper this.
As I am sure you can appreciate, this proposal has caused concern for many of my constituents for whom ticket offices are vital to their travel experience. I set out below the key issues that the constituents who have contacted me would like taken into consideration during the consultation period.
- Access to staff
I firmly believe that the focus should be to ensure that individuals will continue to have access to staff and the services they provide, regardless of any other changes. Whilst it is good to hear that every station that will remain staffed, and provisions will be made to make previously unstaffed stations staffed, I am concerned that passengers will still struggle to find staff when they are in this ‘roving’ roll.
It is also important that clarification is made to customers over the ‘roving’ roll of station staff, to ensure that enough staff will be made available to those who will need support.
- Ticket machine concerns
The closure of ticket offices aims to make buying a ticket as easy as possible whether via an app, website or at a ticket vending machines (TVMs)
TVMs, in their current form, cannot offer the same support and advice that a ticket office staff member can, which is a particular point of concern for local residents. For example, several constituents have raised their concerns over this proposal, in particular relating to the TVMs, which many describe as busy, difficult to use, and a one sided process. They are also subject to ongoing vandalism in some areas.
In an email to me one constituent said the following “There are a range of products and services available at ticket offices which may not be available from a ticket vending machine (TVM), such as refunds, season ticket changes, group save, rail card services, season tickets over one month in length , rail card purchases plus many others.
“Using TVMs is a one sided process. There can be no discussion as to the best ticket or route . The TVM will not automatically offer passengers the cheapest ticket for their journey , or explain restrictions on certain fares.
“Many TVM do not take cash or permit a part cash, part payment only. The TVM may not work (Which is quite possible, sadly) People on lower incomes and older people are more likely to be disproportionately affected by ticket office closures, as they are less likely to be able to go online.”
- Vulnerable and elderly residents
It is essential that disabled people and other residents who may have difficulty commuting, need to have confidence in their travel arrangements.
The TVMs need to be accessible for everyone, however the current situation means that they cannot be read by those residents who are visually impaired, or people with specific learning difficulties and may find it hard to read, due to the lack of a ‘speak aloud’ function. Furthermore, many constituents have pointed out to me that guide dogs are trained to go to the ticket offices when entering the station. However, it would be impossible to now retrain a nation of guide dogs to recognise and find roaming concourse staff.
Clearly being visually impaired is not the only group of people who will be unfairly impacted, and if disabled people are to experience an uninterrupted travel experience then the need for advance booking of assistance should be minimised. Everyone else can turn up, get a ticket and get on a train, and that is what disabled people want.
A constituent contacted me to explain the difficulties he’d encountered when trying to apply his senior railcard to a ticket using a TVM “Despite all my efforts it would not sell me a ticket for less than £52.80, including a tube extension to St John’s Wood. It wouldn’t let me use my Senior Railcard either, although it should have done. So, with considerable reluctance I bought myself a £52.80 ticket.
“By chance I met a chum on the tube who had paid £13 something to catch the same train from Tonbridge, without the tube extension, but with his Senior Railcard.”
I would be grateful if Southeastern would consider these concerns raised by my constituents."