This Is Why Closing Ticket Offices Will TEAR THE HEART Out Of The Railways

This is the response that I have sent to the official consultation to close ticket offices.

To whom this may concern,

Although I am writing to this address due to my nearest station being Hockley in Essex, my thoughts really apply to the national network as a whole. I’m not going to dance around the issue here – the proposed cuts (not ‘changes’ if we’re being honest) will tear the heart out of the UK’s railways in a way not seen since the days of Dr Richard Beeching.

Decades later, he is still looked upon with a great deal of anger and disgust, and if these proposals go ahead then those in charge can expect the same highly toxic legacy in the future.

Using Hockley as an example, calling it a ‘ticket office’ is almost insulting as the staff there have a pivotal role in the community far beyond ticket sales, and I hear the same applies in many other villages and small to medium-sized towns in the UK. Tickets aside, they also:

– use local Facebook groups to keep residents informed about timetable changes, engineering works, industrial action and more. When you look at comparable social media activity at the Train Operating Company HQ level, it’s clear that pound for pound, this sort of Facebook community activity is actually reaching more people.

– also use local Facebook groups to reunite individual items of lost property with their owners. Nothing vanishes into the lost property abyss at our local station.

– give out special ‘toy’ tickets for small children if they are upset about not getting a real one because they’re travelling for free. This is an actual lifesaver and I’m not even exaggerating.

– painstakingly figure out the best value tickets for every travelling party.

– take a great deal of pride in decorating the ticket hall area ahead of special occasions or just for the hell of it. That is a rare thing these days.

I could go on and on for the above section, and I can already hear the ‘naysayers’ coming back with ‘but there will still be staff on the platform.’ No. No. No.

For Hockley and other similarly-sized sites across the board, they are not simply placing ticket office staff into communal areas on a ‘like for like’ basis. At Hockley, not a single member of staff will be present from 13.30 onwards on weekdays.

At the moment, the ticket office closes at 19.30. The posters can try and soften the blow and be disingenuous with the language until the cows come home, but the reality is that on weekdays a total of 6.5 hours of customer-facing staff time will be removed when you include proposals for the morning.

Slashing 32.5 hours of customer-facing staff time before you even get to the weekend sounds pretty horrendous, doesn’t it? The weekends are being similarly cut as well, and the fact remains that passengers who need ticket office services don’t just vanish into thin air in the early afternoon.

Now, I can hear the ‘naysayers’ coming back with ‘just use the ticket machines.’ No. No. No.

At Hockley and many other stations across the UK, the existing ticket machines go wonky and malfunction more often than Johnny Five after he got struck by lightning. Has anyone in power ever actually tried using one? You tap one part of the screen, and it chooses something three inches to the right. I press ‘Shenfield,’ and it thinks I want to go to ‘Southend Airport.’

If I dare feed a tenner in that hasn’t been ironed by one of the finest laundries in the land, it gets ceremoniously spat out like I’ve tried shoving a Snickers wrapper in there.

I’m a social media and IT professional, and sometimes the machines leave me pulling my hair out (what’s left of it anyway), so I dread to think what those who are not quite as tech savvy must feel. What are people with accessibility needs supposed to do at Hockley at 13.32 on a weekday?

Actually while considering accessibility needs, what on Earth are those who need extra support getting on and off trains supposed to do when there are no staff available?

Have a look around social media and you’ll see people booking assistance and then being met by absolutely nobody now, let alone after these proposed cuts. Bring uneven platforms and large gaps into the equation, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

The image below sums it up really – go to the what now?

Now, I can hear the ‘naysayers’ coming back with ‘just use the app or go online.’ No. No. No.

Ticketing apps are a wonderful thing, but again the powers that be are making the huge assumption that every single traveller will be able to use them.

There is a growing market for mobile phones that simply have the ability to make calls and send and receive text messages because the user simply doesn’t want or can’t fathom anything more advanced, and bloody good luck to them. It’s all too easy to mock those who can’t use so-called ‘simple apps’ but it’s a valid choice.

There are apps for parking, apps for shopping, apps for banking, apps for planning bowel movements … for some people it is literally too much.

And even if you get into ticketing apps, it’s often unclear how to get the best value ticket because you have to know where to look in the first place. A trained member of staff can answer that question in seconds, over and over again while they are on site.

I’m not even going to get started on the issue of human contact as well, and why a member of station staff could be the only human interaction that a passenger has all day long.

And what about the staff as well? Let’s face it – this is 2023 Britain and no matter what time of the day it may be, there are times when staff are extremely thankful for a thick pane of glass between them and the public.

All things considered, is it really worth leaving whatever staff are left completely exposed to those in society who wouldn’t think twice about taking their verbal anger a little bit further?

Late and cancelled trains for whatever reason have absolutely nothing to do with the people working on stations, and yet they are about to have the last bit of protection taken away from them? Make it make sense, please.

Don’t get me wrong – to an extent I am a realist. I understand that cost savings need to be made, but these proposals aren’t just extreme.

They are off the scale, and surely there is a compromise available somewhere in the form of less severe cuts, or even dare I say a smaller emphasis placed on shareholder dividends and rocketing executive salaries in order to keep more offices open.

If our government want people to get out of their cars and onto the railways, the last thing they should be considering is making the railways completely inaccessible for such a huge number of people.

It’s like encouraging people to drink more milk and then making it illegal to be a cow. It’s just preposterous.

Many thanks for your time,

Simon Harris