Govia Thamelink Railway which now has responsibility for the majority of stations in my constituency is proposing to close the ticket offices at Gipsy Hill, Tulse Hill, West Norwood and Loughborough Junction, as well as Denmark Hill and Peckham Rye which are outside the constituency but used by many residents. Many residents have contacted me to express their concerns about these proposals. I think that it is entirely unacceptable for GTR to be cutting ticket offices when we are experiencing such poor rail services with daily delays, cancellations and overcrowding. Please see below the full text of the letter that I have written to GTR today:
‘Modernising Stations’ Consultation
I am writing on behalf of my constituents to respond to the current consultation on the ‘Modernising Stations’ proposals. I am also grateful for the opportunity to discuss my concerns with you at the recent drop in session for Members of Parliament.
As the Member of Parliament for Dulwich and West Norwood I represent residents and businesses across Dulwich, West Norwood and parts of Brixton, Camberwell and Crystal Palace. Of the stations at which it is proposed to close ticket offices, Loughborough Junction, Tulse Hill, Gipsy Hill and West Norwood lie within my constituency, while residents from my constituency also use both Denmark Hill and Peckham Rye stations.
Based on the feedback that I have received from many local residents I am opposed to these proposals.
I am extremely concerned that so soon after GTR bid for the franchise and the government assessed GTR’s bid as able to deliver against the franchise criteria, such significant changes are being proposed. I am not aware that ticket office closures were proposed at the bidding stage, and that the government therefore entered into the contract on the basis of such a large closure programme. This raises significant concerns about the bidding process, and engenders no confidence about the future running of the franchise.
I am further concerned that the consultation process is being undertaken for a very short period of time – just three weeks – with almost no proactive efforts to communicate with passengers and encourage their participation. It is impossible to locate a comprehensive list of the stations at which ticket offices are proposed to be closed, since despite the amalgamation of four franchises into a single franchise, the information on the consultation is only available in a fragmented way according to the original franchises. This approach lacks transparency and does a disservice to the many passengers who will undoubtedly miss the opportunity to express their views on ticket office closures.
The presence of staff in ticket offices at stations across my constituency provides a constant presence and a single easily identifiable point of contact in the event of an incident or emergency at the station. Residents have raised considerable concerns about personal safety if these proposals are agreed. I am also concerned that cost savings are a significant part of the rationale for these proposed changes, and that after they are implemented it would be easy to make further reductions in staff working hours and numbers.
I am further concerned about the lack of firm proposals for the exact number of staff to be based at each station and the hours that they will be working, in particular Loughborough Junction. It is important for a genuine consultation that full details are provided to all consultees and this has not happened in this case.
The current staffed ticket offices provide access to the cheapest tickets as well as providing the full range of passes and tickets. Automated ticket machines are notorious for not making the cheapest tickets readily available, and it is not clear that portable ticket machines make it easy for staff to navigate to the cheapest tickets, and it is absolutely imperative that this is addressed alongside provision of the full range of passes.
While most of the stations used by my constituents have a traditional layout with the ticket office positioned at the main entrance, the design of Loughborough Junction is such that the ticket office is on the main platform, which provides added security and oversight at a station where residents frequently raise concerns about personal safety, particularly after dark.
Loughborough Junction has a single entrance, which is very narrow and leads to a long, steep flight of steps to the platform. Residents have raised concerns about the prospect of congestion at the ticket machines at this station given the installation of new barriers and the narrowness of the main entrance. The waiting room at Loughborough Junction station closed several years ago, and the net result is an extremely inhospitable platform environment which is exposed to the elements and has a very poor microclimate. This is a very unpleasant environment in which to ask staff to work without the benefit of a ticket office. I therefore request that, in the event that the decision is taken to proceed with the ticket office closure, the waiting room at Loughborough Junction station is reinstated. The provision of services from ticket offices provides a good working environment for staff. I have to question whether it is realistic for staff to be present at all stations throughout the most severe of winter weather every year.
Many of the stations used by my constituents at which ticket office closures are proposed have no level access. Many residents have highlighted their concern as to how travellers who have a disability, or are travelling with heavy bags and pushchairs will be able to access the assistance they need without a single, straightforward location at which to seek help. At Loughborough Junction station, the lack of barriers has made it easy for friends and relatives to provide help with the long, steep flight of steps. Many residents have raised concerns about how passengers who need help will be able to get to the platforms at Loughborough Junction now that barriers have been installed at the bottom of the steps. It seems to me to be particularly irresponsible to be closing ticket offices at inaccessible stations, without any commitment to invest in new lifts or ramps at these stations.
Finally, whilst it is not within the scope of this consultation, I must take this opportunity to highlight the unacceptably poor level of rail service that my constituents receive across the network. I am contacted on an almost daily basis by residents who are subject to delays, cancellations, station skipping and overcrowding, compounded by poor quality and often late information about delays and the reasons for them. It is even more unacceptable that ticket office closures are being pursued at a time at which customer satisfaction with rail services is so low and I urge you to rethink these proposals.