Plans for a mass closure of railway station ticket offices in England have been announced.
Industry body the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) unveiled proposals which could lead to nearly all offices being shut, with facilities only remaining open at the busiest stations.
It said moving ticket office staff on to station platforms and concourses would “modernise customer service”.
There are 1,007 stations in England run by train companies operating under contracts issued by the UK Government.
Posters are being displayed at the vast majority of these on Wednesday informing passengers about the potential closure of the ticket office.
Following a consultation, the Government will make the final decision on which offices will be axed.
It is not known how quickly the first sites will close, but the programme is expected to last for three years.
The rail industry is under pressure from the Government to save money amid the drop in revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Train companies across England will launch passenger consultations on the ticket office closures.
The plan sparked fury from trade unions and disability groups, with concerns also raised by public transport organisations.
There are fears the move could lead to job losses and put some vulnerable passengers off train travel.
The RDG said 12% of train tickets are bought from offices at stations, down from 82% in 1995.
Passengers will be asked to pay for journeys by tapping contactless cards on barriers, using self-service machines, or buying tickets from staff on station concourses or trains if possible.
Transport Salaried Staffs Association interim general secretary Peter Pendle said: “We are clear the Government will face strong opposition from this union on the totally unnecessary mass closure of ticket offices.
“Ministers will soon realise that the public have no desire to see their rail network diminished in this way.”
Vivienne Francis, chief social change officer at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), said: “A mass closure of rail ticket offices would have a hugely detrimental impact on blind and partially sighted people’s ability to buy tickets, arrange assistance and, critically, travel independently.
“RNIB research shows that only 3% of people with sight loss said they could use a ticket vending machine without problems and 58% said it was impossible.”
Neil Middleton, director at pressure group Railfuture, urged the industry to “encourage more self-service but don’t force it”.
He said: “If this change drives passengers off the trains, then we’ll all be worse off.
“Even though there may be a cost saving, if fewer passengers are on the trains it is very easy to see that income will reduce.”
RDG chief executive Jacqueline Starr said: “The ways our customers buy tickets has changed and it’s time for the railway to change with them.
“With just 12% of tickets being sold from ticket offices last year, and 99% of those transactions being available on TVMs (ticket vending machines) or online, our proposals would mean more staff on hand to give face-to-face help with a much wider range of support, from journey planning, to finding the right ticket and helping those with accessibility needs.
“Our commitment is that we will always treat our staff, who are hugely valued and integral to the experience our customers have on the railway, fairly, with support and extra training to move into new more engaging roles.
“We also understand that our customers have differing needs, which is why the industry widely sought the views of accessibility and passenger groups when creating these proposals, and will continue to through the consultation.
“We encourage those who wish to take part to go to their local train company website or visit Transport Focus or London TravelWatch.”
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