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Railway Ticketing

Volume 736: debated on Thursday 13 July 2023

We are delivering on the plan for rail commitments to improve railway ticketing. We recently announced that contactless pay-as-you-go will be extended to another 53 stations in the south-east, and we are working with Greater Manchester and the West Midlands on pay-as-you-go trailblazer devolution deal commitments. Some 99% of all tickets can be purchased online or through ticket machines.

May I wish the Minister of State a happy big birthday? Sarah from my office thinks he looks no older than 25; I may not always agree with her on that one.

One of my constituents, who works at a local station, reached out to me last week with concerns about the Department’s plans. In the email, my constituent said:

“By closing the ticket office, you take away a focal point of contact. How is someone in need going to find me on a station that is as big and spread-out as ours?”

Can the Minister reassure us both that those who need assistance will be able to locate staff easily?

There is no better place to celebrate my half century than this place, with friends and even greater colleagues.

I thank my hon. Friend—and I thank his constituent—for the work he performs at Berkhamsted and Tring stations. These stations, along with another 51 stations, will be getting pay-as-you-go by the end of the year. We know that 90% of transactions are completed outside ticket offices, and this shift tends to increase for stations that operate pay-as-you-go. He asked about ensuring that staff at ticket barriers are easily identifiable. I believe that is the case, and we will certainly make sure, as these reforms are rolled out by train operators, that it continues to be the case. The proposals from train operators are aimed at redeploying ticket office staff to parts of the station where all passengers will access them and see them.

Will my hon. Friend confirm when my constituents will be able to access the tap-in and tap-out service from the stations in my constituency at Laindon, Basildon, East Tilbury, Pitsea and Stanford-le-Hope?

Yes, I can. I thank my hon. Friend for the work he has done in ensuring that part of the roll-out of the 53 includes four of his stations. I can confirm that we are on track to get those delivered by the end of the year. Across the rail network, that will take us to more than 400 stations with pay-as-you-go.

I thank the Government for expanding the pay-as-you-go scheme to stations in the Windsor constituency, which means that people can quickly tap in and tap out when they commute. It strikes me that people are under increasing financial pressure during these difficult times, so will the Minister confirm that it is the Government’s intention to roll the scheme out further afield, and that people travelling in that way will get the best available fare?

Yes, and I thank my hon. Friend for the work he put into ensuring that his constituency station at Windsor is part of that. I can give him that assurance. As well as providing seamless tap-in, tap-out payments, fares will be simplified so that most adult passengers can be confident that pay-as-you-go will be the best price for them on the day of travel.

Many of my constituents in Battersea are concerned about the Government’s plans to close ticket offices at Wandsworth Town and Clapham Junction. Those closures will have a severe negative impact on disabled people, including blind and partially sighted people, and their ability to book assistance, buy tickets, or use the rail network. Only 3% of those with sight loss said that they can use a ticket machine, and nearly two-thirds said that it would be impossible. Will the Minister set out what assessment has been made on the impact of those closures, and will he publish it?

The hon. Lady is a London MP, and she will be aware that when London Underground did exactly the same thing for the underground it was deemed a success. That is why the current Labour Mayor has no plans to reverse it. The first group I met was that representing disability and access issues, because I wanted to ensure that the reforms best help those individuals. The aim is to redeploy staff away from the ticket office, where not so many people are seen, to the front of the station where all passengers can access them. That will particularly benefit those who have accessibility and disability challenges.

I wish the Minister a happy birthday, but may I respectfully bring to his attention the experience shared by Stephen Anderson, who provided evidence to the Transport Committee recently? He highlighted this issue, and said that if he requires assistance he needs a designated point to approach, rather than having to call out for help on the platform. In essence, Stephen believes that ticket office closures are merely a means to cut staff. As a disabled passenger impacted by previous Government policy, Stephen expressed a view echoed by other witnesses, including Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson. Does the Minister share their concerns?

I thank my hon. Friend—I enjoy all the work that I do with him. I take the point that he makes with regard to Stephen, but I passionately believe that the best help that anyone can give in a rail station is through personal interaction. That is difficult when somebody is behind a glass screen, because they are not able to exit that point and go and help. It was striking that the recent report on accessibility by the Office of Rail and Road showed that demand for passenger assist at stations had increased by 68%. On that basis, and because fewer people are now purchasing tickets from the ticket office—only one in 10—it surely makes sense to put the staff out on the platforms where they can be accessed, and where they can help and reassure people and give them more assistance.

Halifax ticket office is facing closure. We know that one in six journeys on Northern are purchased at a ticket office, which is higher than the national average. There might be more of a case for closing ticket offices if there was not near constant chaos on rail networks in the north. Pretty relentless cancelled and delayed services are not uncommon, with the fragmentation of the tickets on offer resulting in everybody having questions about what service they can get on and when. Why on earth are the Government allowing the closure of the ticket offices?

This is ultimately a matter for the train operators, but they have taken the view that their staff can be better redeployed across the station concourse platform and barrier, accessing 100% of passengers, rather than the 10% nationally who purchase their tickets from a ticket office. Effectively, this is the railway catching up with the change in passenger behaviour and demand. I very much hope that in Halifax there will be a better service as a result. Some train operators are looking to turn currently unstaffed stations into staffed stations by redeploying, and I again give the commitment from the train operators that no currently staffed station will become unstaffed as a result of these changes.

I gently say to the Minister that Chorley matters to me; its ticket office is open all day, but the proposal is to have somebody available from nine to four, which is half the time. Please do take this up for people with disabilities, rightly, but don’t forget that what you are being told is not the case.