28 September 2012: last Tuesday Transport Minister Norman Baker set out his plans to develop a smart ticketing system which be used across underground, trains and buses. A new smart ticketing scheme, similar to London's Oyster card, would help to cultivate a joined up public transport system that allows passengers to make easy and practical door to door journeys by sustainable transport.
Norman Baker also wants smart ticketing to guarantee that passengers get the lowest possible fare. But will it? How many times have many of us been charged for the "longest possible journey fare" just because when we swiped our Oyster card the system did not register it? As many London stations keep their gates open, it is difficult to find out where or when or why we have been overcharged. In my own personal experience, when the smart card fails, there has been always a station staff member to resolved the problem.
Staff at stations should have the ability to respond, explain or assist passengers, All virtues, we hope, are not dismissed by the Department for Transport when they make their decisions.
When we hear the Transport Minister state publically that rail operators are knocking on his door asking for permission to shut down ticket offices, this message not only generates a feeling of incertitude for those who work as station staff members; it generates incertitude for rail passengers too.
Ticket offices are a vital part of the railways and closures or reduced hours will certainly discourage passengers from using the railways. If the Government is committed to offering people more sustainable travel options, train stations need to be perceived as a safe and welcome places. Passengers want to know that staff at ticket offices will be able to answer questions when they have them. Station staff are essential for conveying information about delays, platforms and timetables. The importance of station staff is particularly acute for elderly and disabled passengers, who may need additional help to use the train. Those are basic aspects of passengers service and without those services, rail will be less attractive and will encourage the use of cars by default.