By John Wimperis, Local Democracy Reporters: Every railway ticket office in the Bath and West region will shut under controversial plans that have sparked outrage from political leaders and disability campaigners.
A three-week consultation has launched into the industry-wide proposals, which would see up to 1,000 ticket booths in England closed over the next few years.
Great Western Railway (GWR) says staff would move onto platforms and concourses where they would be better placed to help customers and provide travel advice, as well as continuing to sell tickets.
All of the operator’s stations that have ticket kiosks fall under the consultation process, which runs until July 26.
Labour metro mayor Dan Norris, the elected head of the West of England Combined Authority (Weca) which is responsible for strategic transport, has met with Rail Minister Huw Merriman to raise his opposition to the plans.
He told the Conservative MP that residents were “up in arms” and urged him to be “flexible and pragmatic”.
The affected stations include Bristol Temple Meads, Bristol Parkway, Filton Abbey Wood, Bath Spa, Yate, Oldfield Park and Keynsham, which sold a combined 600,000 paper tickets last year.
Mr Norris said the office closures would make life hard for everyone, especially disabled people and those who struggle to use the internet and book tickets online.
He said: “I told the minister just how concerned I am at the apparent railroading through of these proposals.
“Many people in the West of England value the advice provided by staff in ticket offices.
“It’s not always simple knowing what’s best value, or the difference between peak and off-peak times, or why an advance single or a super-off-peak may be the way to go for a particular journey – tickets are tricky.
“I told the minister it makes much more sense for the railway worker to use their discretion and sell tickets to passengers who would find that helpful, maybe because they find it challenging to buy a ticket from a machine or if there are issues with the machines or simply because there is a queue.
“We need to do everything we can to encourage people onto our railways, not put up barriers.”
Public transport and disabilities campaigner David Redgewell told South Gloucestershire Council cabinet on Monday, July 10, that all ticket offices were earmarked to shut across the region’s railway network from Taunton to Gloucester.
He said: “At Bristol Parkway there may be a desk like you see in a bank but with the levels of service greatly reduced.
“We don’t think this is in the interests of passengers, especially passengers with reduced mobility and in need of assistance.
“This is causing great concern to disabled groups and we ask the council to formally raise objections.”
Mr Redgewell said tickets such as half-price fares for wheelchair users were not available at ticket machines, which sold only a limited range.
Cabinet member for planning, regeneration and infrastructure Cllr Chris Willmore (Lib Dem, Yate North) told the meeting: “This proposal will mean there is no human being selling tickets for trains anywhere in South Gloucestershire.
“You will have to travel to Bristol Temple Meads or Bath in order to get a human being who can sell you a ticket.
“That’s a complete failure to understand small stations or the needs of elderly and vulnerable passengers.
“We will be responding strongly and, alongside Banes, have already urged Weca to do so.
“While the plan is to keep stations like Yate and Filton Abbey Wood staffed the same number of hours, this proposal will mean that the people working at the station will not be allowed to sell tickets – they will merely be able to assist you in using the machine.
“This completely misunderstands how often the machines at stations like Yate and Abbey Wood simply don’t work, so there’s no point in them being able to assist you to use the machine.
“It fails to understand the high level of cash sales – 26 per cent of the sales at Yate station ticket office are cash, and the machines don’t take cash sales.
“What they’re planning to do is pay people the same number of hours to be at the station but not allow them to sell tickets.
“That’s bonkers in anybody’s language and we will be campaigning strongly to stop this.”
Research by the Royal National Institute of Blind People found that only three per cent of people with sight loss said they could use a ticket vending machine without problems and 58 per cent said it was impossible.
A GWR spokesperson said transactions at its ticket offices had fallen below 15 per cent.
They said the plans would see ticket office staff working on platforms and concourses where they could be closer to customers and help them with a wider range of issues, while the kiosks could be phased out over a number of years.
The spokesperson said: “Digital tickets have made it easier and faster for customers to buy and manage tickets online, which means fewer people than ever are using ticket offices.
“With 85 per cent of ticket sales taking place outside a ticket office on the GWR network, we think it makes sense to put our people where they can be most help to customers.
“This consultation is designed to allow the public to test and examine our proposals, and make sure our plans are compliant with the safeguards put in place at privatisation so that the needs of customers will still be met.”
GWR’s passenger assist programme, which helps disabled and mobility-impaired customers navigate stations and board trains, will not be affected.
More information on how to take part in the consultation is at www.gwr.com/haveyoursay
The consultation deadline has been moved from midnight on Wednesday, July 26, until September 1
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