Blog: It’s time for a bold vision for rail
Thoughts from Rail Delivery Group CEO Jacqueline Starr on Customer Focused Stations
RDG Chief Executive Jacqueline Starr
“Train companies committed to a genuine consultation, and worked closely with passenger bodies to build and improve on the original plans. We thank everybody who participated and for helping to make our proposals better and welcome the recognition by Transport Focus that the principle of moving staff to where they can better help passengers, is the right one.
We listened, and we pledged that the vast majority of cases, stations with staff today would continue to be staffed tomorrow and with similar operating hours. We pledged to upgrade ticket vending machines and that all stations will have a single welcome point, developed in partnership with accessibility groups and passenger bodies. We pledged any changes would be introduced gradually, with regular feedback and review in a process fully involving London Travel Watch and Transport Focus.
These proposals were about adapting the railway to the changing needs of customers in the smartphone era, balanced against the significant financial challenge faced by the industry as it recovers from the pandemic. At a time when the use of ticket offices is irreversibly declining, we also want to give our people more enriching and rewarding careers geared towards giving passengers more visible face-to-face support. While these plans won’t now be taken forward, we will continue to look at other ways to improve passenger experience while delivering value for the taxpayer. Our priority remains to secure a vibrant long-term future for the industry and all those who work in it.”
These proposals were designed to move staff out of ticket offices and onto station platforms and concourses to support better, face-to-face interactions, with the potential to close ticket offices in a number of locations.
New, multi-skilled ‘customer help’ roles – which are already in place at many stations – would have meant staff are able to help more customers across a whole range of needs, from buying tickets, to offering travel advice and helping those with accessibility needs.
If accepted, the proposed changes would have been phased in gradually. Ticket office facilities would have remained open at the busiest stations and interchanges, selling the full range of tickets.
Alongside these proposals, there are a number of other improvements to retailing and accessibility taking place across the railway. These include:
The total number of tap-in-tap-out stations in England will jump to over 400 by the end of the year. As a result, a bigger range of customers can now access large chunks of the national rail network across London and the South-East by tapping in and tapping out with their contactless cards or devices to pay for their journey.
Single leg pricing
The successful trial of single leg pricing on LNER’s routes is another important step in the simplification of fares, because it ensures customers can easily buy the cheapest combination of fares for their journey, both out and back. Operators are now looking at how this can be extended further across the rail network.
Digital tickets have made it easier and faster for customers to buy and manage tickets online. Half of all ticket sales in rail are online, with even more using ‘tap-in-tap-out’ options on smartcards or phones. The shift to digital tickets has reduced the need for physical ticket offices. And it’s never been easier to plan your journey, with different apps and online retailers helping you to get the best fare for your trip.
The rail industry’s Passenger Assistance app, launched two years ago, enables anyone requiring it to request assistance for their journey at the touch of a button. This has already supported 3.5million forms of assistance since it was launched. Assistance could involve help navigating the station as well as arranging ramps to provide access to and from a train.
The industry is committed to going further in making buying tickets easier and simpler. Visit Great British Railways Transition Team's website for more information on the industry's plan to improve Fares, Ticketing & Retail.
The proposals would have helped bring station retailing up to date from the mid-90s, when the rules on how to sell tickets were last reviewed, long before the invention of the smartphone. Back then, an estimated 82% of all sales were from ticket offices, compared to just 12% on average today.
Bringing staff out from offices would have allowed the railway to respond to that generational shift in customer behaviour, as other industries and organisations have done. Most airlines and many banks and supermarkets, and in the transport industry, Transport for London, have evolved to better meet their customers needs.
The changes would have meant a more visible and accessible staff presence overall in stations during staffed hours, on ticket concourses and on platforms.
What was being proposed is already in place at many stations and is already benefitting both passengers and staff.
" It is very much a better working environment, I’ve got more job satisfaction helping out the customers. "
Customer Sales Advisor at Newbury Station, which already adopts a customer focused approach.
Informed by extensive and ongoing engagement with accessibility, safety and passenger groups, rail companies committed to a series of proposal pledges for passengers.
Staff at stations will be more visible and readily available on platforms and station concourses, helping plan journeys, use digital and self-service ticketing and be a more visible presence to deter anti-social behaviour.
Train operators are upgrading ticket machines to make sure you can still buy the most popular tickets at stations. In many cases extra staff and guidance will be available in public areas of stations, to help show how to buy tickets using phones or self-service machines.
You will still be able to book assistance two hours in advance of your journey either using the Passenger Assistance app or via a dedicated phoneline available 24/7 and you will always be able to access help and advice from a trained representative. New mobile assistance teams will be created to offer extra help where needed, including for stations which are currently unstaffed. The commitment to 'turn up and go' will be maintained.
The industry will always remain open to talks with the RMT union about securing the long-term future of the industry and giving our staff rewarding, long-term careers in rail. Support and extra training will be given to staff who wish to move to the new customer reception role.
These proposals and the consultation were for the 974 stations which have a DfT-controlled train operating company (TOC) as the lead operator.
This excludes stations operated by the Elizabeth Line, London Overground, Merseyrail, North Yorkshire Moors Railway Company, Transport for Wales, TfL, Transport for Greater Manchester, and Transport Scotland.
" It benefits the people who are buying tickets, but also benefits the staff. It makes it so much easier for me to travel. "
Passenger at the customer-focused Oxford Parkway station
Between Wednesday 5th July and Friday 1 September 2023, passengers were invited to comment to transport watchdogs Transport Focus and London TravelWatch on proposals about how tickets are sold and to improve customer service.
Both watchdogs have now published their repsonses to the consultation.
We would like to thank everyone who took part.
A key benefit of these changes is that they would have greatly improved our ability to make staff available at the right place and time to help customers face-to-face rather than being restricted to just selling tickets from behind a window.
The new customer-focused multi-skilled role would have meant staff are more visible to better provide advice about the best and cheapest fares, support customers with accessibility needs, so that passengers get a more tailored service and staff are able to enjoy more engaging, and varied roles.
Train companies were committed to smoothing the transition of moving staff closer to customers, and the proposed changes would have been phased in gradually. An estimated 99% of all transactions made at ticket offices last year can be at TVMs or online now and, where needed, TVMs across the network will be improved to make sure that customers can still buy the right tickets at stations.
Ticket office facilities would have remained open at the busiest stations and interchanges, selling the full range of tickets while the transition takes place. Following these changes, if a customer was unable to buy a specific ticket before boarding the train because it was unavailable at the station, they would have been able to buy one during their journey, at a ticket office enroute, or at their destination.
No. Station operating times, and train services remained unaffected by these proposals.
Almost 9 in ten customer transactions happen without customers setting foot in a ticket office.
Our commitment to providing the right ticket at the right price would not change. There would have been a greater proportion of staff, not fewer, staff outside the ticket office on the station floor to help make sure customers continue to get the very best travel and ticket advice.
Our staff will always be treated fairly, and we want them to enjoy more rewarding, sustainable long-term careers in rail.
Alongside the public consultation on ticket offices, a range of options would have been created for staff affected by these proposals, including moving to a new multi-skilled role and comprehensive re-training and re-skilling.
Train companies would have continued to engage constructively with unions at a local level to manage the transition in a way that works best for staff.
We hoped to deliver these changes without the need for compulsory redundancies, but we were not able to make any commitments beyond that.
Alongside the public consultation on ticket offices, a range of options were created for staff affected, including moving to a new skilled role and comprehensive re-training and re-skilling, and train companies planned to continue to engage constructively with unions at a local level to manage the transition in a way that would have worked best for staff.
No. Stations will remain staffed, either directly or through roving mobile teams.
Around 43% of stations already operate without ticket offices, and well-established arrangements allow customers to travel without a ticket before buying on board trains or at their destination station.
Customer Help Points are also available at many stations to offer help and advice to customers, including during emergencies. Where this is not possible, train operators will outline proposals at individual stations as part of the local consultation process.
Passenger Assist activities – providing accessibility assistance for those with reduced mobility - are not affected by these proposed changes. Our aim is that no one should be left behind, and train operators will continue to meet current obligations on accessibility.
For a full overview of the national mitigations in place to support customers on day one, please click here.
Alongside the public consultation on ticket offices, a range of options were created for staff affected. This included moving to a new multiskilled role with comprehensive re-training and re-skilling, and train companies will continue to engage constructively with unions at a local level to manage the transition in a way that works best for staff.
See all the latest news and commentary pieces from Rail Delivery Group on Customer Focused Reform.