31 October 2023

Transport watchdog London TravelWatch has today (Tuesday 31 October) published its objections to train company proposals to close ticket offices.

  • Nine train companies announced plans to close station ticket offices in July
  • 269 stations consulted on in the London TravelWatch area (part of wider planned closures across England)
  • More than 750,000 responses from individuals and organisations sent to London TravelWatch and Transport Focus combined during consultation period
  • 99% of responses sent to London TravelWatch were objections
  • London TravelWatch informed train companies of its initial concerns about the proposals in September

Train companies made significant improvements in recent weeks to the original plans to close ticket offices, for example, by agreeing to stick to current staffing hours at stations. However, we do not feel that all of the issues raised have been fully addressed and have written today to each company formally objecting to their proposals.

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.

London TravelWatch considered proposals at each station against six factors. Some of our concerns were specific to individual stations, others were common across all the proposals.

Among the key concerns for London TravelWatch were:

  • the future staffing at nearly two-thirds of the stations in our area where closing the ticket office has been proposed. Despite significant revision of the original plans, many stations (including some of the busiest in London) would still see a reduction in staffing hours and/or numbers and/or expertise.  We were not satisfied that these would deliver improved quality of service for passengers
  • in some cases, future levels of access to the range of fares and tickets which can be bought today at a ticket office.  For example, although the revised plans for the most part committed to retain ticket office and handheld equipment to sell tickets, we were not satisfied that there would be enough capacity at some stations in alternatives (typically ticket machines) for passengers to buy tickets without a risk of excessive queues
  • in all cases, the impact of the proposals on accessibility.  Many respondents to the consultations, especially Disabled passengers, had concerns about how they would find staff for assistance at stations where a ticket office had been closed.  Companies have since come forward with a proposal to introduce “Welcome Points” at stations, but these were not explained as part of the consultation.  We believe there needs to be further engagement in particular with Disabled people and representative groups on the concept, design and implementation of this idea
  • in all cases, the lack of evidence about the cost effectiveness of the proposals.  Despite the emphasis placed by the rail industry and government on the scope for the plans to improve value for money, train companies were unable to provide details, for example, on the overall scale of net financial benefit, and so we could not conclude whether they represented an improvement in cost effectiveness.

Train companies now have the option to reconsider their proposals or to appeal London TravelWatch objections to the Secretary of State for Transport.

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