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Stafford councillors oppose rail ticket office closures

Stafford councillors have spoken out against plans to close the town railway station’s ticket office.

The entrance to Stafford Railway Station

The proposals, which affect hundreds of ticket offices across the country, have sparked concerns about how passengers who need assistance when booking tickets will access services in the future.

A public consultation on the move closed at the start of this month. Stafford Borough Council’s leader Aidan Godfrey has written to the Government and Avanti West Coast, which operates Stafford’s railway station, to oppose the closures and a motion on the issue was presented to the council’s full meeting on Tuesday.

Councillor Alec Sandiford, who put forward the motion, said: “Having a clearly sign-posted place in the station for people with ticket enquiries provides certainty and confidence for customers who may struggle to otherwise locate station staff. The closure of ticket offices will disproportionately affect older and disabled residents in Stafford Borough as well as those who are limited by their literacy and IT skills.

“Not all residents are able to use station ticket machines, or have the means to book a ticket in advance. Complicated journeys involving connections are likely to require human assistance to ensure customers purchase the most appropriate and cheapest tickets, and do not incur penalties or pay more than necessary for their journey.”

Councillors agreed unanimously to support the motion, which called on the authority’s chief executive to write to Secretary of State for Transport Mark Harper and Avanti West Coast to oppose the proposed closure of staffed rail ticket officers. The issue will also be referred to the council’s Economic

Development and Planning Scrutiny Committee with a recommendation to invite representatives from Avanti West Coast to a meeting to discuss future plans for ticket offices and staffing at Stafford.

But opposition group leader Jeremy Pert said: “The motion, in my view, is not the best-worded motion I’ve ever seen. However, I think the sentiments are well-founded and I think the impact on the elderly and those who have access issues is significant – as a result this is something we should be supporting.

“It’s a pity the motion does not seek assurances on the position of staff, because I think that is relevant, and equally does not ask for the delivery model that the Rail Delivery Group has in mind. There has been no innovation in any of these areas since privatisation.”

Councillor Ann Edgeller said: “I will be supporting this motion and I think it’s really good you have highlighted the issue. It’s affecting jobs, but not only that, I use it myself and I’m sure there are many of the older generations that use it because they get confused when trying to book online or on their phone.”

The Rail Delivery Group has said that just 12% of rail tickets are sold at ticket offices, compared to 82% in the mid-1990s. Avanti West Coast is proposing staff would move into “multi-skilled Customer Ambassador roles”, where they would be able to give advice on fares as well as supporting those with accessibility needs, such as passengers with reduced mobility.

Jacqueline Starr, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, said: “While local plans vary, the aim of the proposals is to bring staff out from behind ticket office windows to offer more help for customers buying tickets and navigating stations. At the same time ticket vending machines are being upgraded to offer a wider range of fares, and we have committed that no customer will have to go out of their way to buy a ticket.”

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