Published on

31 August 2023

Rail bosses urged to rethink ticket office closures

The council has raised concerns over plans which could make train travel harder for some

Close up of a sign that says "Train tickets" at a station

Concerns have been raised over plans to close railway station ticket offices and reduce staffing hours in Wokingham Borough and beyond.

Responding to a consultation by the Rail Delivery Group, which represents Britain’s train operators, the council has warned that this could cause problems for many residents - especially groups like older people and those with physical impairments or learning disabilities.

The Rail Delivery Group says fewer people use ticket offices these days because of smartphone apps and contactless payments, so it would be better for staff to help in other places like on the platform.

But after listening to people’s views, and urging them to respond before the consultation ends tomorrow (Friday, 1 September), the council says this could leave some at an unfair disadvantage and goes against its goal of promoting public transport to improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions.

Less safe, less friendly and less accessible

The proposals affect Crowthorne, Earley, Reading, Twyford, Winnersh, Winnersh Triangle and Wokingham stations. Wargrave station, also located in the borough, is already unstaffed.

Wokingham would have several staff on hand at peak hours while some smaller stops would have only one at certain times. During unstaffed hours, passengers would need to use ticket machines or online options and the council fears some would struggle to use these without help.

It also believes that reduced staffing would make stations less safe and increase the risk of crime, particularly for women and others at higher risk.

It says station staff are best placed to help people choose the cheapest options, especially on complex routes, and that services like refunds, season ticket changes, group savings and many more aren't available through the machines.

Additionally, if the changes go ahead, some ticket types would only be sold at so-called “Category 1” stations. None of these are in the borough so residents would have to go further out of their way to get the train, reducing the benefits to them and the environment.

More impact on some than others

The council says the proposal has a bigger impact on those who rely on cash like young people, older people and residents on lower incomes. It also puts up barriers to access - a view shared nationally by many disability organisations.

In its official response, it says the closures would have “significant negative effects”, adding: “We urge the operators to reconsider and engage in more comprehensive consultation. It is essential to find a balance between modernisation and maintaining the highest standards of accessibility and support for all passengers.”

Cllr Paul Fishwick, executive member for active travel, transport and highways, said: “We're committed to ensuring that our local railway services are reliable, inclusive and safe for everyone - it is not only the right thing to do, but key to addressing the climate emergency.

“Our residents should be able to get around sustainably and affordably, whereas this proposal simply results in poorer service, greater confusion, longer queues and more difficulty getting value for money. We understand and support the desire to modernise in principle, but this is completely the wrong approach.”

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