Putney Station ticket office. Picture: SWR
November 3, 2023
There has been a widespread welcome for an announcement by the government that seems to signal the scrapping of plans that would have seen the closure of ticket offices at local stations.
South Western Railway was one of nine train operators that had announced plans in July to withdraw manned kiosk services. This would have affected Putney, Wandsworth Town, Clapham Junction, Balham, Battersea Park, Wandsworth Common and Earlsfield but these proposals have effectively been abandoned.
Passenger watchdogs Transport Focus and London Travelwatch refused to support the plans which would have seen 269 offices closed nationwide after they had received 750,000 responses from individuals and organisations in a public consultation 99% of which were objections.
Concerns had been raised about ticket machine capability, accessibility and how passenger assistance and information and, although the watchdogs said that the train companies had made steps to address these issues, these were not sufficient.
In the end it was concluded that concerns about excessive queues at ticket machines, lack of evidence about value for money from the rail companies and no proper alternative arrangements for people with issues with accessibility made the proposals unviable.
Following this announcement this Tuesday (31 October) Transport Secretary Mark Harper said the government had asked train operators to withdraw their proposals and that they should not be referred to the Secretary of State for a decision. This was despite the Department of Transport having previously approved the plans which had been drawn up at its instigation as part of a drive to make rail companies reduce costs.
The Minister said, “The consultation on ticket offices has now ended, with the Government making clear to the rail industry throughout the process that any resulting proposals must meet a high threshold of serving passengers.
“We have engaged with accessibility groups throughout this process and listened carefully to passengers as well as my colleagues in Parliament. The proposals that have resulted from this process do not meet the high thresholds set by Ministers, and so the Government has asked train operators to withdraw their proposals.”
As the proportion of tickets bought at kiosks had fallen to 12% the closures were seen as a way to support the finances of a rail network struggling with passenger numbers down since the pandemic.
Putney Fleur Anderson MP, who had campaigned against the closures said, “I am extremely relieved that the Government has seen sense on this issue and scrapped their plans to close ticket offices in Putney and across the country. After a concerted effort from both local campaigners, healthcare and disability groups and political lobbying, we have convinced the Government of the need to keep our ticket offices open at our train stations.
"I wrote to Secretary of State Mark Harper raising concerns on what the impact would have been on those with disabilities, mobility needs, and visual impairments, as well as on other purposes ticket offices serve – a place for lost children to go, or those who need support in finding the cheapest fare. I’m delighted that our campaign has been successful.”
At the beginning of September, Wandsworth Council had said it “strongly” opposed plans backed by the Government that would have resulted in the loss of virtually all the borough’s railway ticket offices.
Cabinet Member for Transport Jenny Yates Jenny Yates said, “I’m relieved that ministers and the rail companies have listened to the concerns we and so many others expressed.
“These ill-thought out plans had caused enormous anxiety amongst the travelling public who value the presence of staff at railway stations. They would have introduced barriers to travel for many people, especially older residents and those with disabilities who may find it harder to use ticket machines or need additional help and advice purchasing their tickets.
“We are strongly opposed to any plans that introduce new barriers to those wishing to access public transport.”
Michael Roberts, Chief Executive of London TravelWatch, said, “The way many passengers buy tickets is changing and so we understand the need to move with the times. The idea of closing ticket offices to locate staff nearer to the passengers may sound attractive, but it has proved highly controversial with the public. Together with Transport Focus, we received 750,000 responses from individuals and organisations to the consultation, many expressing powerful and passionate concerns about the plans.
“The three big issues for the public arising from the consultation were how to buy tickets in future, how to get travel advice and information at stations, and how Disabled passengers can get assistance when they need it. London TravelWatch has heard these views loud and clear, and would like to thank all those who took the time to take part.
“As an evidence-led organisation, we have also looked carefully at the detailed plans presented by train companies. The key tests which the plans have to satisfy are whether the changes would genuinely improve the service to passengers and/or cost effectiveness, and whether passengers would continue to have easy access to today’s range of fares and tickets.
“Despite improving on their original proposals, we don’t think the train companies have gone far enough to meet our concerns and those of the public. We cannot say with confidence that these proposals would improve things for passengers and that is why we have objected to all 269 ticket office closures.”
The Rail Delivery Group, which represents the rail companies, said it would continue to look at other ways to "improve passenger experience while delivering value for the taxpayer" although its members are reported to be furious with the government for its withdrawal of backing for the plans.
Like Reading Articles Like This? Help Us Produce More
This site remains committed to providing local community news and public interest journalism.
Articles such as the one above are integral to what we do. We aim to feature as much as possible on local societies, charities based in the area, fundraising efforts by residents, community-based initiatives and even helping people find missing pets.
We've always done that and won't be changing, in fact we'd like to do more.
However, the readership that these stories generates is often below that needed to cover the cost of producing them. Our financial resources are limited and the local media environment is intensely competitive so there is a constraint on what we can do.
We are therefore asking our readers to consider offering financial support to these efforts. Any money given will help support community and public interest news and the expansion of our coverage in this area.
A suggested monthly payment is £8 but we would be grateful for any amount for instance if you think this site offers the equivalent value of a subscription to a daily printed newspaper you may wish to consider £20 per month. If neither of these amounts is suitable for you then contact firstname.lastname@example.org and we can set up an alternative. All payments are made through a secure web site.
One-off donations are also appreciated. Choose The Amount You Wish To Contribute.
If you do support us in this way we'd be interested to hear what kind of articles you would like to see more of on the site – send your suggestions to the editor.
For businesses we offer the chance to be a corporate sponsor of community content on the site. For £30 plus VAT per month you will be the designated sponsor of at least one article a month with your logo appearing if supplied. If there is a specific community group or initiative you'd like to support we can make sure your sponsorship is featured on related content for a one off payment of £50 plus VAT. All payments are made through a secure web site.