Most readers will have travelled through Farnham station at one point or another and experienced the excellent and friendly service that the team there offers. So, I was horrified to hear that South Western trains are now planning to remove ticket offices and reduce staff hours at this vital transport hub.
I am sure we have all struggled with the self-service ticket machines. They do offer an impressive but baffling variety of options. But they don’t and can’t do everything. I believe there are three really important reasons why all of us should oppose removing ticket offices.
Firstly, there’s no legislation in place to compel operators to make sure their ticket machines automatically offer the cheapest ticket for your journey or explain their limits. There’s a definite risk that we will lose easy access to the full range of products and the cheapest fares.
I say ‘full’ range because ticket machines also can’t do things like refunds, change season tickets or advise about bus connections. In contrast, the Farnham ticket office staff are ready to go the extra mile when it comes to ensuring you get the right ticket and best route.
My second objection was brought home to me by my friend who takes his disabled grandchild to Ash Vale regularly. His grandchild has got to an age where a wheelchair is necessary and, as you can imagine, the train journey is fraught with difficulty. Ticket office staff often assist passengers on and off the trains and meet them with ramps where required. It’s not something that a ticket machine can do, just as it can’t open up disabled toilets or advise about ticketing options, lift availability or a host of other services that older or disabled people rely on. Lack of staff could severely compromise this child’s chances of ever travelling independently in the future.
In fact, disabled people are already three times less likely to travel by rail than non-disabled people, and this shouldn’t be allowed to worsen particularly when we have an ageing population and a growing number of disabled people. This is why you’ll hear organisations representing disabled and older people objecting to this short-sighted move.
And, thirdly, I believe that this is also about safety. Ticket offices are a safer option, whereas if you have to buy a ticket from the machine you are much more vulnerable, as the spate of robberies at bank cash machines proves.
Importantly, ticket office staff are trained and experienced in dealing with trouble. Their presence deters abusive and anti-social behaviour and they make us feel safe, something that can’t be underestimated, particularly because train travel is so important to Farnham’s economy and when we need to encourage more sustainable travel.
There’s still time to object to these proposals, which are being consulted on, but only until July 26. See the RMT’s excellent website for details: https://www.rmt.org.uk/campaigns/rail/save-ticket-offices/ or google “Save Ticket Offices”.