Political leaders slam ‘back of a fag packet’ ticket office plans

Political leaders across the Liverpool City Region have criticised the “egregious” proposals by train companies and the UK government to close ticket offices at dozens of stations in our area.

Controversial proposals by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) were announced earlier this month that could lead to staff being moved out of ticket offices and onto station concourses to sell tickets, offer travel advice and assist with accessibility. 

Some kiosks would remain at larger stations. Merseyrail stations are not expected to be impacted by the change.

In a bid to register their opposition to the plans, members of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority rallied round its first-ever emergency motion calling for it to be scrapped.

Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, who put forward the motion, said the authority needed to act with “immediacy” given the “egregious” nature of the plans which had been “done on the back of a fag packet” while Liverpool Council leader Cllr Liam Robinson described it as a “naked attempt at cuts and job losses.”

The motion highlighted how across the city region, 90% of Northern Rail operated ticket offices will close, with the potential for dozens of jobs to be lost. It said, “The Combined Authority believes that removing staff visibility from our stations, at a time when public trust in the railways is already at an all-time low threatens to drive an already failing rail system further into the ground.”

It described the three-week consultation period on the plans as “wholly insufficient” and demonstrates a “wanton disregard for staff and passengers alike.”

Cllr Robinson, who has worked extensively on the railways, said, “I know we in this city region have been very proud of our approach to having fully staffed railways stations, both on the Merseyrail network and on the Northern Rail network operating out of Lime Street. We’ve argued for that and up until this point always had that because we’ve been able to recognise the real strong benefits that it brings.”

The Liverpool Labour leader said staffed sites ensured passengers can get the correct tickets and admitted the rail network can sometimes “be a bit mystifying” but without a staff member in place, more ticketless travel would take place “and there would be less money going back into the rail industry to pay for the service.” 

Cllr Robinson said, “Probably the most important bit I believe is, actually, is that staffing presence is really important in preventing crime and anti-social behaviour on the network. Particularly later in the evening, in the winter when it’s colder and darker, we do know that by having a staff presence lone females and other vulnerable groups are much more reassured to travel on the public transport network.”

The former train station manager said the proposals could ultimately lead to fewer people seeking to use public transport overall. He added: “Let’s be dead blunt and dead political actually, this is basically a naked attempt at cuts and job losses.”

Emily Spurrell, Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner, said investment had been made in training staff at stations to help passengers feel safe. She described the decision as “misguided” and would “undermine the work we’re doing locally.”

Mrs Spurrell said, “It’s going to cost the region money and is a completely ridiculous decision in my view.”

Cllr Seve Gomez-Aspron, deputy leader of St Helens Council, said the move was “nothing but regressive” and meant the £15m upgrade of Lea Green Station would now include a new ticket office “that will never open.”

Closing the debate, Metro Mayor Rotheram said the move was akin to “policy incoherence” and alongside other combined authorities, had sought legal advice to see if it could be challenged legally. He added, “On a number of fronts, the government have done this on the back of a fag packet and the rail companies have gone along with it.”

Image: JJ Jordan

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