Leeds trains: Relief for residents as planned closure of ticket offices in England axed after government U-turn
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Transport Secretary Mark Harper said the government has asked train operators to withdraw their proposals. The move was made in response to watchdogs Transport Focus and London TravelWatch announcing they opposed every single planned closure due to issues such as the impact on accessibility.
Cross Gates station in Leeds was among 1,000 ticket offices said to be at risk of closure earlier this year and as councillors across West Yorkshire slammed the proposed closures, saying the idea would discriminate against elderly and disabled passengers, reduce cheaper ticket options and pose a safety risk to female passengers at unmanned stations.
Speaking in July, Matthew McLaughlin, a Labour councillor in Kirklees said: “Not only is it outrageous, but it’s typical of the government to just see people as numbers. They haven’t measured, because they can’t be bothered to measure, the safety aspect of this. How many crimes and assaults didn’t happen because there were staff there?
“When a train’s delayed or cancelled, passengers go to the person in uniform to find out what’s going on. It’s a totally inhuman way of looking at the system.”
Plans to close the vast majority of station ticket offices in England, plus Avanti West Coast’s ticket office at Glasgow Central, were brought forward by train operators and their representative body, the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), following pressure from the Government to save money amid the drop in revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The RMT union said the plans would mean people were forced to rely on apps and remote mobile teams and would be “catastrophic” for elderly, disabled and vulnerable passengers trying to access the rail network.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “The consultation on ticket offices has now ended, with the Government making clear to the rail industry throughout the process that any resulting proposals must meet a high threshold of serving passengers.
“We have engaged with accessibility groups throughout this process and listened carefully to passengers as well as my colleagues in Parliament. The proposals that have resulted from this process do not meet the high thresholds set by ministers, and so the Government has asked train operators to withdraw their proposals.”
A train operator source told the PA news agency that there is “quiet fury” in the rail industry following the U-turn. In September, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak suggested closing ticket offices was “the right thing for the British public and British taxpayers.”
Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, has hailed the decision as “a victory for rail passengers across the country.”
Mayor Brabin said: “Today is a victory for rail passengers across the country. I’m glad the government have listened to mayors and the public, calling a U-turn on plans to shut down ticket offices.
“If we want our railways to be accessible and safe for everyone, station staff are essential.”
Transport Focus and London TravelWatch were required to review each proposal to close a ticket office based on criteria relating to customer service, accessibility and cost-effectiveness, before deciding whether or not to object.
Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, said: “Following analysis of the 750,000 responses to the consultation and in-depth discussions with train companies, Transport Focus is objecting to the proposals to close ticket offices.”