I submitted the below response to the South Western and Southern rail consultations on the proposed closure of ticket offices on Thursday 3rd August. I am pleased to see that since my submission, the consultation period was lengthened, closing on 1st September 2023.
To Railwatch consultation, South Western Rail and Southern Rail
To whom it my concern,
Re: Proposed Closure of Rail Ticket Offices in England
I am writing to you, my local Train Operating Company, in regard to the proposed closure of almost 1,000 rail ticket offices in England of Putney, which will affect over 150 million passenger journeys a year.
Proposed South Western Railway station ticket office closures locally include Putney, Wandsworth Town, Barnes, Wimbledon, Raynes Park, Richmond, Brentford, Chiswick, Clapham Junction, Earlsfield, and London Waterloo. The Southern Rail stations proposed for closure include Wandsworth Common and Battersea Park.
Now that the plans to close the vast majority of rail ticket offices in England have been officially confirmed, and consultations have begun, I am writing to again express my deep concerns around the process.
Those concerns include:
The Length of the Consultation Period
I was shocked to see that the length of the consultations on such a consequential change to our rail networks has been limited to only 21 days.st September.
Given the huge scale of public concern around this issue in my constituency, the fact that passengers and staff will have only three weeks to put forward their views was simply not good enough.
My constituents do not want a rubber stamp consultation for decisions that have already been made. They want their views to be heard and properly considered.
The Impact on Accessibility
I also have serious concerns about the impact on accessibility of the rail network. The current machines are not accessible for people with visual impairments.
My disabled and elderly constituents already face numerous barriers to use of our rail network and that appears set to worsen under these proposals. 23% of disabled adults and 6% of non-disabled adults are unable to use the internet. Wheelchair user discounts can only be purchased at ticket offices .
What guarantees will you offer elderly and disabled rail users in my constituency that they will not be disadvantaged by these proposals? And have you conducted a publicly available Equality Impact Assessment around these proposals?
Impact on Job Security
I am also deeply concerned about the job security of staff in stations in my constituency.
Recently, speaking in the House of Commons, your Rail Minister said the following in response to an Urgent Question on rail ticket office closures from the Shadow Secretary of State for Transport:
“She does talk about job losses though, Mr Speaker. And in the event that there are some that don’t wish to make that transition, then of course the train operators will need to look to that.”
Do these comments not confirm that these proposals are merely a prelude to job losses in rail stations? And, if not, what guarantees can you provide to rail workers in my constituency that their future job security will be protected following these consultations?
Slow Rollout of Digital Ticketing Technology
Lastly, I am concerned that you are simply not doing enough to ensure that easy-to-use digital alternatives are available in time for the closure of these offices.
How will passengers across your rail network be able to smoothly transition away from physical ticket offices when 83% of stations in England do not have contactless ticketing technology enabled?
Can you therefore confirm what you will be doing to accelerate the shift towards accessible, easy-to-use digital technologies across the local rail network?
It is clear that there are far too many outstanding questions as to how these proposals can be implemented without serious consequences for accessibility of our rail network and job security of staff.
I am therefore asking if you will use your position to urge Ministers to halt this sham consultation, and come clean on the damage these closures will do?
The alternative, railroading this botched plan through in just 21 days without consideration for staff and disabled passengers, only risks exacerbating the managed decline of the rail network.
I look forward to your response.
Fleur Anderson MP
Member of Parliament for Southfields, Roehampton, Putney and Wandsworth Town
Shadow Paymaster General