Together with local Conservative councillors I have been working hard to make sure that our local train stations remain truly welcoming to all ages and customers, so the announcement by the Transport Secretary today that the Government has asked train operators to withdraw their proposals to close ticket offices is very welcome news.
Whilst digital means are very important, they cannot be the only way in which you get tickets and retaining trained members of staff behind counters as well as machines on hand in the station forecourt area seems to me to be a sensible way forward. We visited local ticket offices at Shoreham, Lancing and Worthing and spoke to staff and passengers and urged constituents to make their views known in the consultation. I know that many were among the 750,000 who did.
It is clear that there are many services which cannot be provided by machines or which are just not accessible to passengers needing help with routes, best fare deals and disabilities. Many people need advice and support above and beyond just purchasing a simple ticket and that would have been diminished if everyone had to rely on finding a machine that worked and a member of staff to help them work it. In many cases the member of staff selling the tickets also monitors the CCTV and provided extra cover to help passengers with disabilities access trains when colleagues are on opposite platforms for example.
So I am delighted that so many people have heeded our calls to respond to the consultation the Government launched to show how much they value the ticket offices, that the Government has clearly listened and that common sense has prevailed. Now let’s get back to concentrating on improving the quality of the train services and the rolling stock.
This Government spent £31 billion to support the UK railway during the pandemic, and reform is vital to improve the service for passengers and secure the railway's long-term financial position. However, we must pursue this reform in a way that delivers for passengers.
During the summer, train companies consulted on reforming railway station ticket offices. The aim was to move staff out from behind ticket office screens so that more help and advice could be provided in customer-focused roles.
Since the consultations launched in the summer, I have maintained that no currently staffed station should be unstaffed as a result of the changes. I was clear this must be an open and genuine consultation process, and that the changes must deliver the highest quality of service for all users of the railway. I have listened to colleagues in the House and have engaged extensively with all interested parties.
Following further meetings with accessibility groups and the passenger bodies, it has become clear the ticket office proposals do not meet the high thresholds set by Ministers. The Government has therefore communicated to the industry that ticket office reform should not proceed. I expect the Train Operating Companies to now withdraw their proposals and for no ticket offices to close.
We will continue to invest in improving the passenger experience at railway stations, and that is why the Government has committed £20 million to extend Pay As You Go ticketing to a further 53 stations in the South East by the end of the year. The Government is also continuing its work to agree Pay As You Go pilots in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands as part of Trailblazer devolution deals announced earlier this year. As part of Network North, the Government will also be spending a further £350 million to improve accessibility at up to 100 stations. Stations will be able to benefit from refitted lifts, tactile
surfaces, ramps and footbridges, new ticket gates and accessible waiting rooms and toilets. The Department has also just completed an audit of all of our railway stations and we will now be assessing what changes can be made to the benefit of all passengers.