Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Railway Ticket Office Closures

Today, I received a letter of support from London TravelWatch, the train customer watchdog, in response to my letter objecting to ticket office closures at Thames Ditton and Hinchley Wood stations. The full text, which is set out below, lists a range of other additional failings which South West Trains must address. We await their response, and hope common sense will prevail.

31 March 2010

Dear Mr Raab

South West Trains – booking office hours (interim reply)

I write further to our acknowledgement of your concerns about by South West Trains’ (SWT) proposals to reduce booking office hours. Your objection was considered by our board on the 23rd March 2010

London TravelWatch has objected to these proposed changes as follows:

We were extremely concerned that in many cases, the number of transactions per hour, at booking offices at stations within our geographical remit, were above the standard of 12 transactions per hour. This level was set by the Secretary of State in a previous decision on SWT booking office opening hours. SWT justified this by saying that since the introduction of Oyster Pay As You Go (PAYG) in January 2010, transactions at ticket offices had reduced by between 30 and 50 per cent. However, they did not quantify this at the individual stations concerned.

We also believe that it was unreasonable to take a decision on the long term future of ticket office hours at any station based on this period. The severe weather experienced then and the consequent disruption to train services, naturally resulted in fewer passengers and reduced transactions – including casual users, who by the nature of their journeys will make more transactions to purchase tickets.

In the London area the introduction of Oyster on the 2nd January 2010 on the SWT network will have had an impact on transactions , but this is still very early days in the use of Oyster PAYG on National Rail, with many passengers possibly still unaware of the benefits of Oyster use, especially in relation to off-peak fares.

For these reasons our board felt strongly that we should object to the SWT proposal, until and unless they could provide, from a retailing period when train services have operated normally, substantial evidence that shows that these stations have tickets sales of less than the standard of 12 per hour and where in London the impact of Oyster PAYG can be easily understood and quantified.

We also felt that in the London context South West Trains could be more pro-active and supportive of the Oyster product by:
a) publicising the differences between Oyster fares and cash fares at stations, and
b) reconsidering its long standing opposition to providing top up and retailing of Oyster at its Ticket Vending Machines and Booking Offices.

As we understand it, South West Trains is now the only train company operating London services not to have committed to upgrades to its Ticket Vending Machines to include Oyster top up devices. We also understand that any new devices ordered will have as standard from the provider the capability of also accepting ITSO standard smartcards for use on other journeys. As South West Trains is already engaged in a major ITSO project we believe that it would not be unreasonable to consider fitting such devices at the earliest opportunity, as this would also enhance the benefit derived from the existing ITSO project.

Turning to other matters, London TravelWatch is concerned that a number of issues that we raised with SWT in previous consultations on booking office hours have either not been addressed at all or not been answered fully by SWT, despite assurances that work would be done to review matters.

Primary amongst these is that of the continued exclusion of stations (with direct services from SWT stations) from the destination list available on their ticket vending machines. London TravelWatch believes that this is unreasonable as it potentially penalises users of other train operators services.

In addition we have asked SWT to respond to our previous concerns about queuing times (and this should include monitoring post Oyster PAYG introduction) at booking offices and ticket vending machines, and about staff availability on stations such that they should be multi-functional, visible and accessible to passengers.

We also noted that from amongst the public comments on these proposals that there were recurring themes at a number of locations of ticket vending machines not being usable in bright sunlight at certain times of day, unavailable for cash or card transactions or unreliable in service.
We will obviously now have to await a decision by the Secretary of State as to whether they will approve SWT’s proposal. I hope that this is useful feedback on these changes. When we receive this information we will write back to you.

Yours sincerely

Tim Bellenger

Director - Research and Development

London TravelWatch


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