Response to South West Trains proposal to cut ticket office opening hours

Copied to Passenger Focus, London TravelWatch, South West Trains
We object to the South West Trains proposal to cut ticket office opening hours at 24 stations in London and 1 the South East. Travelling by train needs to be a good alternative to driving if we are to reduce carbon emissions from transport and tackle rising traffic levels. That means passengers’ priorities must come first. Passengers value ticket offices and the staff presence that goes with them; reducing ticket office hours would cause severe inconvenience to passengers. Reports have been received suggesting that a number of stations have not been fully staffed, which means that South West Trains ticket sales data could be inaccurate. We request that passenger groups investigate this issue to ensure that accurate information is made available before the proposal is assessed. Irrespective of the level of ticket sales, our position is that the proposed South West Trains cuts should not go ahead because:

1) Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs) cannot replace the service South West Trains passengers get from ticket offices
• South West Trains argues that over 50% of tickets are issued by TVMs – this does not show that passengers want to use TVMs more, as there is often no alternative. And almost a fifth of 2 passengers don’t want to use ticket machines. Older passengers in particular may be alienated by 3 TVMs. South West Trains refers to the improvements it has made to its website, but this is irrelevant because many of the journeys in the area are short commuter journeys. Many people want to buy their ticket at the station. TVMs provide a limited range of tickets, so passengers can’t always buy the ticket they need. Machines cannot provide seat reservations, tickets valid from another station, railcards, promotional tickets, certain season tickets and tickets for future travel (excluding next-day tickets). Machines cannot deal with damaged or wrongly purchased tickets. When machines aren’t working, passengers have no way of buying tickets. Oyster ticket purchase mistakes sometimes need to be resolved at ticket offices.

Passengers often don’t trust TVMs, whereas they have confidence that ticket office staff will sell the cheapest and most appropriate ticket. Being sure of getting the best deal is particularly important because the ticketing system is so complicated. Passengers travelling in groups, particularly families with children, need advice on how to buy the cheapest tickets available. Passengers value the advice that staff give them when buying their ticket, for example about alternative routes or engineering work. If staff are not there to advise, passengers may choose the wrong ticket and risk paying too much or being charged a penalty fare. South West Trains has said that the existing penalty fares scheme will continue to apply, because there will not be any full closures of ticket offices. This is unfair, given that some passengers will have difficulty buying the appropriate ticket for their journey without staff help. The proposals would cause problems for disabled passengers - for example, the majority of blind and partially sighted passengers cannot purchase tickets from a TVM. An equality impact assessment should be made - and the results made public - before any decision. Only 67% of South West Trains passengers are satisfied with their ticket buying facilities. This suggests that improvements are needed, not cuts: longer ticket office opening hours are required.


Passengers value the staff presence and improved facilities that are offered when ticket offices are open
• Passengers say consistently that they want to see staff at stations, and not only for advice about ticket purchase and trains. Staff make passengers feel safer, provide access to toilets and waiting rooms, help out with bikes, pushchairs and wheelchairs and can ensure that maintenance work is carried out (cleaning, removing rubbish, stocking TVMs). Only 55% of passengers are satisfied with the current availability of staff at South West Trains 5 stations. Reduced ticket office opening hours would mean passengers suffer in terms of personal safety perceptions, accessibility and facilities. Waiting rooms and toilets may be closed. Only 62% of passengers say they are satisfied with their personal security while using South West 6 Trains stations. Evidence suggests that staff presence is key to making passengers feel safer when 7 8 taking the train. Passengers also say more staff are needed to reduce anti-social behaviour. South West Trains’ suggestion that its ‘security and crime prevention department’ and help points can replace staff presence is misguided. South West Trains suggests that reduced staff presence will not cause problems for disabled passengers because they will be able to use help points and can pre-book assistance using a helpline. However, we feel that this is inadequate and implies that disabled people do not have the right to travel spontaneously, without planning in advance. The proposal would mean reduced accessibility for disabled people. Only 47% of passengers are currently satisfied with the facilities and services at South West Trains 9 stations, and 63% are satisfied with the cleanliness and overall environment. These satisfaction ratings all suggest that further improvement is needed through a greater staff presence, not further cuts.


The proposal is likely to lead to longer queues

Train operators are obliged to make ‘reasonable endeavours’ to ensure that passengers queue no longer than five minutes for a ticket at peak times and three minutes at off peak times, but passengers often wait 10 much longer than this to buy a ticket. Time spent queuing is one of the key areas where passengers want to see improvements. This proposal would make the situation worse. The proposal may cause longer queues, directly through the loss of ticket office hours and indirectly, as passengers will need to make complex purchases using TVMs without help or advice, which is likely to take longer. We urge London TravelWatch and Passenger Focus to oppose this proposal. We urge South West Trains to abandon it. Yours faithfully, Campaign for Better Transport ASLEF Bus Users UK The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association Living Streets National Pensioners Convention RMT RNIB SERA TSSA
11 See also letter from South West Trains to Passenger Focus ‘Proposed changes to ticket office hours on South West Trains’, 24 February 2010 2 ‘Buying a ticket at the station’, Passenger Focus, October 2008 3 Ibid. 4 National Passenger Survey, South West Trains results, Passenger Focus, Autumn 2009 5 Ibid. 6 Ibid. 7 Passenger perceptions of personal security on the railways, Passenger Focus, March 2009 8 Anti-social behaviour report, Passenger Focus, February 2010 9 National Passenger Survey, South West Trains results, Passenger Focus, Autumn 2009 10 Ticket queuing times at major rail stations, Passenger Focus, May 2008 11 Passengers’ priorities for improvements in rail services, Passenger Focus, July 2007


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