Regional mayors set to take legal action over rail ticket office closures

Andy Burnham says "It's a campaign we must win". Credit: PA Images

Five regional mayors are joining forces to challenge plans to close rail ticket offices.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram are among three other mayors preparing to take legal action against train operators in an effort to stop the closure of just under 1,000 ticket offices.

Industry body Rail Delivery Group drew up plans to close the offices across the country and will move onto station concourses to assist passengers there.

This includes offices at some of the UK's busiest stations, such as Manchester Piccadilly, London Waterloo, London Euston, and Birmingham New Street.

There are plans to close the ticket office at Manchester Piccadilly station. Credit: PA Images

Mr Burnham said: "For the good of the country, it's a campaign we must win.

"It is just not the case that this is about redeploying staff, this will be a serious reduction in the level of support available to people when they are travelling and further erode what is left of the trust when using our trains"

The group of mayors include Mr Burnham, the mayor of Liverpool City-Region Steve Rotheram, the mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin, the mayor of South Yorkshire Oliver Coppard and the mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Dr Nik Johnson.

Mr Burnham said the office closures will make it more difficult for people with disabilities and elderly people to travel by train.

Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor for the Liverpool City Region said: "The Government's supposed consultation isn't just inadequate it is potentially illegal, they and the rail delivery group have shown a reckless disregard for passengers and staff alike and we are prepared as Mayors across the North to challenge this in court if that is what it will take."

Last week in the House of Commons, transport minister Huw Merriman faced stiff warnings over closing the offices but said: "99% of all tickets can be purchased over a ticket machine or online.

"Then in terms of the 1% that we then need to work on, as part of this process, I have charged the industry and officials to speed up the process so that more can be purchased in that particular manner, and changing ticket machines so that can occur."

There are plans to close just under 1,000 ticket offices. Credit: PA Images

He said the approach has taken into account passengers with "protected characteristics".

Mr Merriman added: "Crucially, no currently staffed stations will be unstaffed as a result of this reform.

"Staff will still be there to provide assistance and additional support to those who need and want it."

Mr Burnham said a 21-day consultation on the plans were not long enough to consider the full implication of the closures.

He said: "When I look at how our railways are run, it seems to me that those in charge are on a mission to run them down and turn passengers away so they can just focus on the most profitable parts.

"The rail operators may be fronting up these plans but make no mistake - the Government is standing behind them and handing over the axe."

According to the Mirror, the group of mayors will take legal action against Thameslink, Northern, LNER,  TransPennine Express, Greater Anglia, Avanti and EMR.

A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group, said: "All train operators are complying with the consultation process as set out in the Ticketing and Settlement Agreement. They include proposals which, across the network as a whole, would see more staff on concourses and ticket halls to help passengers than there are today, helping with a whole range of needs, from buying tickets to journey planning and helping with accessibility needs.

"We encourage anyone who wants to find out more to contact their local train company, or submit their views to independent passenger watchdogs Transport Focus or London Travel Watch."

Tricia Williams, chief operating officer at Northern, said: "Across all business sectors the way people consume, access and purchase products and services has changed. Rail is no different - only 1 in 6 journeys on Northern services are purchased through a ticket office, this compares to almost half of all journeys in 2018. We need to modernise to meet the changing needs of our customers and we are seeking views from the public on these proposals.

"Along with the rest of the rail industry, Northern is sharing proposals on how we plan to change how we support customers at our stations. These proposals include the creation of a new, more visible customer facing role that will offer a wider range of support across our stations. This new role will mean that the traditional ticket office is no longer required at most staffed Northern stations, except for 18 at hub locations, that will have amended ticket office opening hours.'

Chris Jackson, Interim Managing Director at TransPennine Express, said: "The use of ticket offices at our stations has significantly reduced over the past decade, and we are now consulting on proposed changes that will modernise the way we sell tickets and provide customer service at our staffed stations.

"We want our colleagues  to be more accessible to customers during the hours our stations are staffed. Part of our plans involve ensuring that colleagues have a greater presence at stations, are more visible and can deliver an even better service to all our customers, whether that is in buying tickets, offering travel information or assistance throughout the station."

Chris added: "During the past year, an average of just eight per cent of transactions for journeys at TPE staffed stations were made at our ticket offices. More and more customers have made the shift to digital and our proposals recognise this and are designed to deliver improved customer service outside of the ticket office.

"Our customers will still be able to access the same products and services they do today, either at the station or through other channels, including our website, mobile app or customer contact centre.

"We will also continue to meet all our commitments on providing accessibility assistance for our customers, including those with reduced mobility and people requiring in-person assistance."

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