Every day millions of journeys combine public transport and walking, wheeling and cycling. However, the latest proposal to close ticket offices is unjust and will stop many people from accessing our train network. This will cause job losses, reduce patronage and increase transport emissions as people switch to driving. Here, our Head of Policy, Tim Burns explains why we need to keep rail ticket offices open so that more people can choose healthier, greener ways to travel.
Every day millions of journeys combine public transport and walking, wheeling and cycling. A fairer and sustainable transport system is built around public transport and active travel.
Public transport services, however, have been struggling since the pandemic.
The Government should be doing more to rectify this, however, the latest proposal to close ticket offices is unjust and will stop many people from accessing our train network.
This will cause job losses, reduce patronage, increase transport emissions as people switch to driving, and ultimately create even more economic woes for our fragile economy.
Public transport and active travel go hand in hand
Public transport is vital for people to access their work, services and friends, especially for those who do not have access to a car.
It is also critical for the UK to achieve Net-Zero, joining up with active travel to replace car journeys and reduce emissions.
In Germany, 91% of public transport users walk to their public transport stop.
Similar figures are not available for the UK, but of the 6.5 billion journeys made by public transport each year in Great Britain, the vast majority depend on people being able to walk, wheel or cycle to or from the bus, train, tram or ferry.
Good public transport also encourages millions of walking, wheeling and cycling trips every single day as part of multi-modal journeys.
Active travel and public transport go hand in hand.
Better public transport encourages more active travel and improved active travel will facilitate greater public transport.
For this to work best, public transport must be affordable, inclusive, frequent, and reliable.
Stops and stations should be convenient, preferably within 400m of your doorstep, and getting to them should be accessible, safe and attractive for people walking, wheeling and cycling.
We need better integration across public transport operators and modes and with walking, wheeling and cycling infrastructure and micro-mobility.
Ultimately, if public transport services are poor or in decline, people will not use them and therefore not walk, wheel or cycle to them.
The impact of closing railway ticket offices across England
The UK Government is allowing train operating companies to consult on proposals to close ticket offices across England.
The Urban Transport Group found nine in ten ticket offices in city regions (outside London) are set to close under the controversial plans, including some of our largest train stations like Birmingham New Street and Manchester Piccadilly.
The Government suggests this will benefit passengers as ticket office staff could better serve the public in new roles on concourses and platforms, arguing that about only one in eight tickets are now bought at offices rather than machines or online.
However, evidence from the proposals of train operating companies suggests a very different picture.
Unstaffed train stations
Train stations will see an increase in the number of days during which there are no staff present.
This will seriously affect anyone who requires support or emergency assistance, as well as the safety of all people, especially women, people of colour and disabled people.
Many disabled people will be unable to buy tickets
Passengers will have to travel to a different station or third-party retail outlet to access certain ticketing options.
This contradicts the Equality Act, particularly affecting disabled passengers where machines are not fully accessible and some rail ticketing products that cannot be purchased online or at a machine.
Further declines in support for people to travel
It will be impossible for disabled people to access the support they need to travel by rail.
Current accessibility, staffing levels, and ticketing options are already insufficient.
For example, a third of booking requests for assistance getting to the wheelchair area were not fulfilled in 2021-22.
Closure of ticket offices, dispersal of staff, and adopting an almost entirely digital ticketing system will make the situation far worse.
Funding exists but we need to invest it better
The Government should be investing more in our railways, not rushing through changes that help Transport Operating Companies cut costs and make train stations less accessible and less safe.
Ultimately, current measures will put prevent and discourage people from travelling.
The Government is currently consulting on the third Roads Investment Strategy for England.
This will see billions of investment on new and wider roads, inducing demand and increasing transport emissions.
This will disproportionately benefit middle-class men.
Women, disabled people, people of colour, children, and older people are all less likely to own a car and are more reliant on public transport, walking, wheeling and cycling.
It would save billions every year, if we reviewed all major road schemes against their sustainability and their demand, whilst pausing those found to be unnecessary or negative for our health and environment.
These same billions could be reinvested in public transport and active travel.
The Welsh Government has just done exactly this, and people across the UK support this.
67% of residents want more investment in public transport while only 32% believe we should invest more in driving.
What can we do about it?
Sustrans has joined Transport for All and other organisations to write a letter of objection to the two passenger bodies who will ultimately make these decisions:
- Transport Focus
- and London Travelwatch.
You can respond to your local passenger body and get advice and support to respond through the Transport for All website.
Public consultations on rail ticket office closures are happening across the country. Download a template letter of objection from the Transport for All website and join us in our call for these unjust reforms to stop.