Mick Lynch slams 'sham' consultation into shutting railway station ticket offices

Mick Lynch protests the plans to close ticket offices. Credit: PA

The consultation into plans to shut England's railway station ticket offices has been “a sham”, according to union boss Mick Lynch.

Mr Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, said the process was designed so the proposal could be "forced" through, despite strong opposition.

More than 680,000 responses were submitted to the consultation, which ended on September 1.

It came after industry body the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) unveiled plans to shut offices at hundreds of stations, meaning staff would be redeployed across the station onto platforms.

However, the plans have been met with widespread backlash with unions and disability groups expressing concerns for elderly people and those who are not digitally savvy.

Mr Lynch told the Commons’ Transport Select Committee on Wednesday: “We think the whole thing has been a sham designed to be rammed through while people were looking the other way.

“It all goes back to the Secretary of State (Mark Harper).

“The Secretary of State initiated these changes through the contracts he has with the TOCs (train operating companies).

Mick Lynch said the consultation was ‘designed so that they can force this through’ Credit: Lucy North/PA

“He directs everything they do these days, every letter that’s sent, he gets access to.

“Of course, if the watchdogs object (to the closures) on the limited basis they’re allowed to, the decision will end up with him as well.

“It’s a controlled show.

“The whole thing is designed so that they can force this through in a way that they want.”

Also speaking at the hearing, Katie Pennick, from charity Transport for All, said many people “have not had a fair opportunity” to comment on the proposals.

She said many operators did not make consultation documents available in accessible formats such as braille or British Sign Language.

Ms Pennick said: “Any consultation, but especially one on proposals that will disproportionately impact disabled people, is rendered useless if it’s not accessible to the very people who will be impacted.”

Mr Lynch described claims by operators that ticket office staff will be redeployed onto station concourses and platforms as “nonsense”.

He said: “They’re not taking them out of the ticket office to work on the platforms. They’re taking them out of the ticket office to make cuts, to cut the jobs out of the system.”

This is the case at Glasgow Central station, where rail operator Avanti West Coast is proposing to slash a third of its staff, from 27 to nine or 10, as part of the closures.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of watchdog Transport Focus, which is analysing the consultation responses, told the hearing his organisation is “not in any way opposed to the principle of redeploying staff out of ticket offices onto a more visible role onto stations”.

He said this could benefit many passengers “if done properly”, but warned “it’s got to pass quite a high hurdle”.

Christopher Brooks, head of policy at charity Age UK, told the committee there is a “lack of understanding” about how difficult it is for people who are not internet users to buy tickets from machines at stations.

He said: “It is extremely difficult to expect someone to use a TVM (ticket vending machine) and be able to use the interface, however intuitive some tech savvy designer thinks it is.

“It is very, very difficult, probably impossible, for many, many people who are offline.

“Over a fifth of over-65s are not internet users so to expect people to go into the station and do that is an extremely tall order.”

He added: “It will put some people off travelling altogether.”

Rishi Sunak promised to respect the outcome of the consultation earlier this week.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak holds a ‘huddle’ press conference Credit: Dan Kitwood/PA

Speaking on his trip to India the PM said, “The whole point about a consultation is that we don't pre-empt the conclusions of them.

“It's right that our railway network is modernised and is put on a sustainable footing. "That's the right thing for the British public and British taxpayers and recognises the fact that I think only one in 10 tickets are sold currently in ticket offices."

He added the move to close ticket offices was "about getting people out of ticket offices onto platforms and in stations where they can help people in different ways, which is where the help is required.”

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