Why close ticket offices?

I love Fitton. When we moved out of London three years ago, we could have gone absolutely anywhere  –  Guildford, Tunbridge Wells, Beaconsfield, Amersham. But we chose Fitton, and I have very few complaints. The Red Lion, perhaps, could benefit from judicial refurbishment, and I am not convinced by the wisdom of having four charity shops selling Alistair MacLean and blue glass fruit bowls.

But it’s Fitton station that worries me the most. It’s not only the peeling paint and the wire hanging baskets full of nothing but brown plants and empty Costa cups. It’s the complete absence of any kind of staff.

Fitton station is ‘unmanned’ (a word that always makes me think of the hero of a romantic novel temporarily deprived of his masculine swagger). You buy tickets at a machine. You wait on the platform under the flickering electronic arrivals display. And if trains don’t arrive, or the gutter is spilling rainwater on to the one metal bench, or there’s a dead pigeon rotting on Platform 1, or (as I have experienced on at least one occasion) a young man whittling chunks out of the wooden frame round the timetable, there’s no one you can appeal to.

I am completely at a loss to understand why anyone should think this is an ideal situation.  Rising fares are, of course, a cause for concern. Sir Roy McNulty in his recent review points out that UK passengers pay 30% more than their European counterparts. But his recommendations for reducing running costs, currently being considered by the Transport Minister, include closing ticket offices. Why does he think this is a good idea?

I am all for efficiency. When I worked in marketing (strategy and brand development) for a major UK pharmaceutical company, I set up innumerable office systems that cut waste and improved flow.

But you must do nothing that harms the core product. Closing ticket offices to reduce running costs is, to me, like M&S deciding to offer cheaper cardigans by snipping off the buttons. It’s a solution, but not one that any sane consumer would welcome.

(photo Michael W. Giddens, Stockvault)

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