Transport unions certainly do – the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) claims to have unearthed government plans for 675 train ticket offices to be shut in the recent McNulty rail review.
The TSSA’s response to this discovery has been to launch a “save our stations” campaign. I can understand the arguments for keeping train ticket offices open, as they can:
1. Provide valuable advice (although our research has found it’s often incorrect, but more on that later)
2. Avoid all the problems you can get with ticket vending machines
3. Improve safety, especially at night or for vulnerable passengers
4. Generally help and welcome people at tourist hotspots
On the other hand, if the costs of the railway have to be slashed, then cutting staff is one very obvious way to do it.
Train station staff salaries
Despite the recession, McNulty found that the pay railway staff get has risen by substantially more than the UK industry average. From 1996/7 to 2008/9 real average salary costs were up 31% for train companies, whereas the average for the economy as a whole was 15%.
McNulty also found one train company with 10 different agreements for employing its staff. Some ran to over 300 pages and referred back to agreements dating from the 1920s.
So it’s not too surprising that if £1bn is to be saved from the running costs of the railway, then cutting staff numbers, and thus closing manned ticket offices, is going to be on the list.
Our own research has consistently found that advice at stations is poor. Earlier this year, when we asked about journeys, 59% of ticket office clerks failed to offer the cheapest ticket when we asked. Two thirds got it wrong in September 2009 and half got it wrong in October 2007.
Despite this research, do you, like transport unions, care about manned ticket offices in train stations? Or are you happy to either book tickets online or use vending machines?