Chorley Council pens letter condemning the Government's proposals to close ticket offices at rail stations across the country
Councillor Alistair Bradley said, "The loss of ticket offices in Chorley will be catastrophic for those who rely on the vital face-to-face experience when using the rail service.
"Once again, the Government have proposed measures that will be at a detriment to only the most vulnerable in our communities and we cannot stand for it.
"There are so many people that will be affected by this and while we are in support of the continued use and advancement in technology, it cannot be at a sacrifice to those who need human interaction the most.
"I do hope that Government takes ours, and the many other voices in opposition to these proposals forward and that those most affected can be supported."
Letter to Government
Re: Public consultation on proposals for how you support customers at railway stations, including the closure of ticket offices and the creation of a new Journey Maker role
I am writing in response to this consultation and I would request that this is a treated as a formal response to the same.
Chorley Council do not support these proposals and we would like to put on record that we strongly object to them and in particular the impact they will have on railway stations in Chorley which include Chorley, Buckshaw Village and Adlington.
On Tuesday 18th July 2023 Chorley Council considered a Notice of Motion 'To Oppose the Closure Of Chorley, Buckshaw and Adlington Ticket Offices And Replacement With 'Journey Makers' (see Appendix One Attached to this letter). This was fully supported by our Elected Members.
Please see below the reasons why Chorley Council object to these proposals:
Equality and Diversity
These proposals will significantly impact those who are most vulnerable in our communities and could lead to social isolation, negative impacts on mental health and general health and wellbeing.
Issues such as collecting the key for access to a disabled toilet will become a barrier to some users travelling by rail.
It will create barriers for those with protected characteristics to access the railway in addition to those who may have issues with literacy, those who do not possess a smartphone and those who do not have or use debit or credit cards.
Some users may need help navigating the railway generally and understanding which station and journey they require. How will these customers access this vital help and support under these proposals when there is no Journey Maker available?
Rail users who require support with accessing the rail services (for example, if they are blind or have limited physical mobility) will be prevented from using the railway at times when the 'Journey Maker' is not available. At Chorley station, there is currently no lift in place and users need to be guided to cross the platform if they are travelling South.
Furthermore, those who do not have access to a smartphone and must use the ticket machines, may struggle if they have a disability.
It is commonplace for the screens on ticket machines to breakdown and this will cause rail users distress where they feel worried about joining a train without a ticket, even where it is not their fault, and especially if they have been unable to obtain a 'promise to pay' ticket. Whilst train conductors are happy to issue tickets, revenue protection officers have a zero tolerance policy and will be 'bullish' when dealing with those regarded as being without a ticket. This will most certainly put users off from using the railway in future as it can be distressing and humiliating.
Ticket office staff make the platform announcements which many users rely on to help prepare to board the train and be sure the train they are boarding is the right one. Often platform screens fail and so in the absence of a Journey maker, this will cause rail users distress and will be a barrier to some using the service in future.
Customers may be paying more than they need to for a journey when using a ticket machines as it may not provide them with the best ticketing options in the same way a ticket office staff would. This could lead to financial hardship and may also prevent users from travelling by rail in the future.
It is well documented that we are facing a climate emergency and that behaviour around how we travel needs to change given transport is the biggest emitter of carbon emissions. Chorley Council declared a Climate Emergency in 2019 and one of our key objectives is to promote and enable the use of sustainable public transport.
It is evident from the data available on railway use that numbers have not yet fully returned to what they were pre covid. This could be for a number of reasons however its essential that we ensure the quality of the service is maintained if not improved to encourage rail use.
Now is not the appropriate time to reduce the quality of the service available at our railway stations. We should be championing our railway services and enticing rail users to comeback, not reducing the quality of the service.
Post Covid Recovery
The detrimental impact of the pandemic on our town centres, retail and hospitality economies has been significant and Chorley Council have worked hard to support our businesses throughout the pandemic and will continue to as the recovery continues, and we move towards a period of economic stability and growth.
Access to a high quality, customer focused rail service is crucial to supporting that recovery, both in terms of access to jobs and opportunities, and also for retail and our night-time economies across the North West.
We know there is a need to 'Level up' the Northwest and to grow our economy so that we can compete both on a national and also global scale. These proposals will undermine that ambition because our communities will not want to use a rail service that has very limited if no support for customers, particularly at evenings and weekends when rail users may be less familiar with travelling by rail. It may reduce opportunities to jobs, training, and employment for some and could impact negatively on our retail and night-time economies.
Future Viability of Public Transport
Travelling by rail must be affordable to the customer as well as providing a high-quality service which is accessible and of good standard, whilst also viable for the business to be able to operate. In recent years, prices of tickets have continued to rise, and this is to be expected given the rising cost of energy, materials etc.
Your consultation document states that 'We know that stations will play an important part of our vision, which is why we will make sure that they better serve all our customers as well as the local communities that live around them'.
The proposals in your consultation will not lead to a better service for your customers, it will do the exact opposite. It is a worsening of the service and will further widen the gap in the quality of our rail services compared to some of our European counterparts.
You also state 'As part of our proposals: Station opening times will not change and our train services are unaffected. All our train services will continue to support accessible travel'. Part of the customer experience and the access to the rail service begins with the service they receive at the ticket office/as they purchase their ticket. By removing or changing this service you are reducing the accessibility of your service and therefore they will be less accessible than they are now.
Railway data suggests that 493,202 people travelled through Chorley Railway station in 2021/22. The data does indicate if this includes customers coming into the ticket office seeking advice and support only, or those buying a ticket at Chorley and travelling , nor is it clear if it excludes those on return journeys ( i.e. removes any double counting) etc.
However, applying a basic methodology, your consultation states that 1 in 6 of Northern journeys involve a ticket bought at a ticket office. This could mean that 82, 200 tickets are bought at Chorley Railway station every year, which equates to 225 a day. Even if the actual figure is half of this (i.e assuming all return journeys) it is still over 112 people requiring advice and support to buy their tickets. Those 112 people deserve a high-quality service and are likely to include some of the most vulnerable in our community.
Chorley Council do not support these proposals and demand that these are rejected in favour of proposals which will improve the service for rail users.
Councillor Alistair Bradley
Executive Leader, Chorley Council