Train Companies Launch Passenger Consultation on Plans to ‘Modernise’ Customer Service

Train companies in England have launched a passenger consultation on plans to ‘modernise’ customer service across the rail network.

These plans include moving staff out of ticket offices and on to station platforms, concourses and ticket halls. Proponents of this change say the proposals would mean more face-to-face support for passengers to find the cheapest tickets and get advice on journey planning.

The rail industry view is that customer service roles should be overhauled following a significant decline in the numbers of people using ticket offices.

The case in favour of these changes states that they would bring station retailing up to date from the mid-90s when the rules on how to tell tickets were set – notably before the invention of the smartphone. In those days, 82 percent of all tickets were sold at ticket offices. Today that figure is a mere 12 percent. This downward trend sped up during the pandemic. It is also estimated that 99 percent of all transactions made at ticket offices last year could be made at ticket vending machines or online. As part of the proposals, ticket vending machines across the network would be improved and upgraded where necessary.

Should a passenger be unable to buy a specific ticket before boarding the train because it was unavailable at the station, they would be able to buy it during the journey, at a ticket office en route or at their destination – though this would be ineffective for seat reservations.

The consultation will last for 21 days.

There has been engagement with accessibility, safety and passenger groups. In response, rail companies have presented a number of pledges for passengers about the proposals:

  • Across the network as a whole, there are to be more staff available than there are today
  • Passengers will never have to travel out of their way to purchase tickets
  • Those with accessibility needs will always be supported

Currently, only 57 percent of stations have ticket offices.

Anthony Smith, Chief Executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said:

“It’s important for people to have their say. We urge passengers to look at the proposals and tell us what the ticket office changes might mean for them. Transport Focus will make sure passengers’ views are heard.”

It is a regulatory requirement as part of this process that Transport Focus and passengers are consulted. Transport Focus said it will review the impact of the proposed changes and passenger comments received before responding to train operator proposals.”]

Jacqueline Starr, Rail Delivery Group Chief Executive, said:

“The ways our customers buy tickets has changed and it’s time for the railway to change with them. With just 12% of tickets being sold from ticket offices last year, and 99% of those transactions being available on TVMs or online, our proposals would mean more staff on hand on to give face to face help with a much wider range of support, from journey planning, to finding the right ticket and helping those with accessibility needs.

“Our commitment is that we will always treat our staff, who are hugely valued and integral to the experience our customers have on the railway, fairly, with support and extra training to move into new more engaging roles. We also understand that our customers have differing needs, which is why the industry widely sought the views of accessibility and passenger groups when creating these proposals, and will continue to through the consultation. We encourage those who wish to take part to go to their local train company website or visit Transport Focus or London Travelwatch.”

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