Many constituents have been writing to me, expressing concerns over The Rail Delivery Group’s plans to close virtually all 1,000 of our ticket offices nationally. There seems to be a real worry that in quiet, rural stations -such as Pewsey - a staff presence is vital to the safety and usability of the railway, particularly by both young and older people, those with disabilities and tourists. Many feel far too many services, both public and private, are relying on websites and impersonal means of communication, causing frustration and confusion, and they argue that numerous conversations about tickets, routes and options simply cannot happen online.
Last week I was in touch with GWR. Under section 17 of the Ticketing & Settlement Agreement, train firms are legally obliged to give notice of the intention to close a ticket office and invite responses. The Public Consultation with Transport Focus closed on September 1st and all comments and questions are currently being assessed. The Secretary of State for Transport will be the final arbiter.
GWR confirmed it is proposing to close the ticket office at Pewsey but that there are no changes proposed to the times Pewsey is staffed, or access to waiting rooms. Bedwyn has long lost its ticket office and staff; this isn’t what we want for Pewsey as well. The idea is, that by creating a new multi-skilled role, staff will move out of ticket offices and develop a more visible and accessible, face to face, presence on ticket concourses and station platforms. Although, in Pewsey, we are lucky enough to have the legendary Simon as stationmaster, and he effectively already does that.
Following what it describes as a major decline in the use of ticket offices and in line with current trends, GWR expects its customers to continue to switch to buying tickets digitally, through apps or online. I am reassured, for customers who prefer to buy tickets in person, GWR remains committed to maintaining appropriate facilities to allow customers to do so at the station – and staff will be trained to help customers buy tickets from self-service machines or on their phones.
I am grateful to GWR for its communications so far and while I understand the value of “getting out from behind the glass” and the need to respond to the next generational shift in customer behaviour, I – along with others - am equally concerned that this so called “modernisation” is not just a smokescreen providing a chance to alter the regulations and enable the start of further de-staffing of stations and trains. More practically, I worry that removing staff from a visible, designated point will increase safety and security concerns, especially for disabled passengers.
I look forward to the response of the consultation and will continue to keep a close eye on this matter.