Closure of Rail Ticket Offices in Enfield Southgate
After hearing from constituents, the strength of feeling in our local community is clear. The closure of local train station ticket offices will be bad for safety, bad for passengers, and bad for staff.
I have now responded to London Travelwatch’s consultation and you can read it in full below.
Sent via email – London Travelwatch
I am writing on behalf of my constituents in Enfield Southgate to object to the proposed closure of ticket offices at Great Northern, including ticket offices at Hadley Wood, Enfield Chase, Grange Park, Winchmore Hill and Palmers Green in my constituency.
From speaking to constituents about this issue, the strength of feeling in our local community is clear. The closure of these ticket offices will be bad for safety, passengers, and staff. I have set out the reasons for my objection in more detail below.
Impact on passengers
Everyone should have the right to travel with freedom and confidence. I am therefore deeply concerned that ticket office closures would cause a significant worsening of the facilities and support offered to vulnerable passengers, including disabled, Deaf and older people.
Already, disabled people face numerous barriers in accessing the rail network and are three times less likely to travel by rail than non-disabled people.
For example, research by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has found that only 3% of people with sight loss said they could use a ticket vending machine without problems and 58% said it was impossible. At the same time, 23% of disabled adults and 6% of non-disabled adults are unable to use the internet, and wheelchair user discounts can only be purchased at ticket offices.
Closing ticket offices will require all passengers to purchase tickets online or through Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs) at the station.
For many of my constituents, online ticketing is simply not an option and using TVMs is difficult and not an accessible alternative. Indeed, the ticket office is the only way for passengers to ensure that they get the appropriate and best value fare for their journey. I recently met with the Hadley Wood Rail Users Group and they highlighted how passengers are unable to book advance tickets at TVMs but can at ticket offices. As you know, advance tickets are often a fraction of the price and removing this option could therefore hit people already struggling with the cost of living crisis.
One of my constituents, who is in her seventies, also told me that the “closing of ticket offices is awful. I am 77 and so many folks I know who are older with worse problems than me” will be affected.
She urged me to “Please keep ticket offices open, as doing everything online is not always a safe option. It seems we are no longer able to communicate verbally which has a huge impact on mental health.”
The Enfield Over 50s Forum also shared with me their concern about the negative consequences of ticket office closures for their members.
They reported that “apart from being a mine of information and expert advice, it is a point of human contact and a presence in what can be an unmonitored space. This is especially important as, with increasing age, people often find travelling stressful. They may need to check the journey is viable, get information on options or about platforms, as limited mobility makes unnecessary moving up and down steps over-demanding.
“Clearly, fear of travelling will further fuel isolation when many families are now widely dispersed and visits to children and grandchildren, for example, should be as stress free as possible.”
For disabled passengers, the ticket office is about more than just tickets. At many stations ticket office staff are the only staff present, and their responsibilities often include assisting passengers on to trains, including with ramps where required and meeting them off the train.
They are the first point of contact when disabled passengers arrive at the station. Multifunctional staff who roam around the station are not an accessible alternative. For example, disabled people with mobility or energy impairments cannot travel through the station to try and find assistance, and blind and visually impaired passengers may struggle to identify a member of staff. Ticket offices are also the only designated point in the station with a hearing induction loop.
Another constituent wrote to me and shared her concerns about removing ticket offices for vulnerable passengers. She said: “I am concerned for the safety and security of vulnerable passengers and those with impaired sight who have difficulty using ticket machines or perhaps even negotiating the entry gates and stairs.”
A recent audit by the Office of Rail and Road found that only 51% of disabled passengers were able to successfully receive assistance using help points. A system that fails half its disabled users cannot be implemented.
For the reasons outlined, I am very concerned that people in my constituency will be unable to access the assistance they need as a result of these ticket office closures and I urge Great Northern to reconsider these proposals.
Impact on staff
Ticket office staff provide a valuable service to the community. I understand that the proposals from Great Northern mean staff who work in ticket offices will move to the concourse or a location in the station where they can provide additional support to passengers.
I have serious concerns about how this would work at stations in my constituency.
As one constituent, who contacted me recently, said: “I live within walking distance of Winchmore Hill station and my immediate thought was ‘How could the staff be redeployed within the station if the ticket office was permanently closed?’ I can understand how this could be done at a large station where there is a main concourse and multiple platforms, but I cannot see how this would work at a small station such as Winchmore Hill so I can only assume that the station would be permanently unmanned with the ticket office staff subsequently losing their jobs.”
I share these concerns. I am deeply worried about the job security of station staff in my constituency, and fear that these ticket office proposals are merely a prelude to job losses.
Recently, speaking in the House of Commons, the Rail Minister said: “In the event that there are some [staff] that don’t wish to make that transition, then of course the train operators will need to look to that [job losses].”
And I understand that Great Northern are currently running a staff consultation on the proposed changes.
I have not received any assurances about the job security of staff, and I think it is difficult to see how train operators would be able to demonstrate that their proposals would make cost savings, unless there is the intention to reduce staffing.
I am wholly opposed to any cuts to station staffing. I believe any supposed cost savings cannot be used to justify a policy that will worsen passenger service, accessibility, safety, security and access to the rail network and public transport.
Staffed ticket offices have an important role in supporting passenger safety and security. Ticket offices provide a place of safety for both staff and passengers. Requiring staff to undertake transactions out on the platform puts both passengers and themselves in a more vulnerable position.
Ticket office staff are trained and experienced in dealing with difficult incidents and the presence of staff deters abusive and anti-social behaviour.
Ticket office staff provide support and assistance to passengers during times of disruption or in response to emergencies and their role often includes carrying out safety and security checks at the station throughout the day.
As passenger watchdogs will be aware, there is a consistent theme emerging from research, which is that passengers like and value the presence of staff. I have shared evidence from constituents throughout this response that demonstrates this fact. Having staffed ticket offices supports passenger perceptions and feelings around safety, and closing ticket offices could lead to passengers no longer feeling safe when travelling.
As the Enfield Over 50s Forum said: “Empty stations, especially at night and off peak, are a gift to those with criminal intent, especially as travellers may well have money and cards to steal and be unable to defend themselves or run away. This is a major cause of anxiety.”
Closing ticket offices will therefore inevitably, in my view, discourage many from travelling on the rail network.
Length of consultation period
Finally, I was disappointed that the length of the consultations on such a consequential change to our rail networks has been limited to only 21 days.
Given the huge scale of public concern around this issue in my constituency, the fact that passengers and staff have had only three weeks to put forward their views is simply not good enough. They want their views to be heard and properly considered.
Ultimately, for the reasons outlined above, I believe London Travelwatch must reject the proposals from Great Northern to close ticket offices in my constituency at Hadley Wood, Enfield Chase, Grange Park, Winchmore Hill and Palmers Green.
Bambos Charalambous MP for Enfield Southgate