Protest held in Berwick over proposed ticket office closure
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The group, which represents rail companies, has said just 12% of tickets are sold via staffed offices – but documents produced by the likes of Northern have admitted that elderly passengers and those from ‘deprived communities’ will be impacted.
Campaigners gathered outside the railway station in Berwick on Saturday, in what is expected to be the final event before the public consultation on the closures ends on September 1.
Speaking on behalf of the group, protester Lorne Anton said: “Campaigners believe the closure would restrict passenger access to the best value tickets, worsen passenger service, safety and security and ultimately lead to de-staffing of stations.
"This has nothing to do with improving the passenger experience and has everything to do with cutting costs, jobs and employee conditions.
“To think ticket office closures will in any way improve the service to the public is nonsense. This move by the Government and train operating companies may be in the interest of shareholders but it is certainly not in the interests of the travelling public.”
Responding to the criticism, David Horne, managing director at LNER – which manages Berwick station – said: “Our customers’ habits have changed, and we must plan for the needs of our future customers. Our proposals for each of our stations will bring our people closer to our customers, improve accessibility and make good use of the hand-held technology and digital systems that we have pioneered in the rail industry.
“Our people will be crucial to the success of our plans, and that is why it is so important to empower our teams to respond to customer needs. I would encourage people to share their views on our proposals as part of the public consultation.”
The protest comes after RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch hosted a well-attended meeting in the town to discuss opposition to the changes. So many people attended that the event had to be moved to a larger venue.
Elsewhere, a draft equality analysis produced by Northern, which manages Alnmouth and Morpeth stations, acknowledged that “elderly customers may have difficulties or lack confidence utilising new technologies” such as ticket vending machines or mobile apps, and added that cash remains the most popular payment option for those aged over 65.
It adds that the lack of payment options “will particularly impact the elderly and/or communities that are more deprived, as they are more likely to prefer cash as their valued form of money”.
Furthermore, the report states that the reforms “will bring a change in the routine” for customers, “potentially creating increased levels of stress and anxiety” while “some accessibility requests may not be able to be supported during the same hours that they are currently” due to reduced station staffing hours.
Tricia Williams, chief operating officer at Northern, said: “Only one in six journeys on Northern services are purchased through a ticket office. This compares to almost half of all journeys in 2018. We need to modernise to meet the changing needs of our customers.”