SCOTRAIL has come under fire over plans to close three ticket offices and slash the opening hours of 120 of 140 others.
The aim operator run by Dutch state-owned railway company Abellio, which has come under fire over the plans, say that no jobs will be lost by the move and that staff will be redeployed to provide “enhanced customer service” on the frontline, helping to deal with issues such as fare dodging.
The moves comes as ScotRail confirmed that ticket vending machines now located at 61 per cent of stations across the network.
Under the consultation stations at Clydebank, Cartsdyke in Greenock and Woodhall, near Port Glasgow, would lose their ticket offices. Stations at Dalmarnock, Cardross and Wick would be shut at weekends.
Slashed opening hours at all but ten of ScotRail’s other ticket offices would see stations close to Hampden see considerably curtailed.
Glasgow’s Queen Park stop will shut at 2.45pm on Mondays to Thursdays instead of 9pm while Mount Florida, which typically closes at 9.10pm on Monday to Friday will finish up 4.45pm on Monday to Thursday and 5.45pm on Fridays.
Scotland’s third busiest stop Paisley Gilmour Street which typically shuts at 11.10pm between Monday and Saturday will under the proposals shut at 9.45pm.
And at East Kilbride, the stop will shut at 7.20pm on Monday to Thursdays instead of 11.25pm and at Hamilton Central it is a 4.45pm finish instead of 11.20pm.
ScotRail said that it is proposing the changes to deliver a better level of service for customers and as it looks to “transform the railway following the impact of the pandemic”.
The aim operation franchise which will be run next year by Scottish Rail Holdings, the state-controlled public body, said that before the pandemic customers were increasingly using online options or ticket vending machines, instead of ticket offices.
It said there had been a 50 per cent drop in the use of ticket offices over the past 10 years, with the pandemic quickening that speed of change.
ScotRail said that the “emotional shift in customer patterns” prompted a review of the opening hours of ticket offices for the first time since 1991 to see if the needs of customers are nevertheless being met.
The assessment has considered where there is a decline in tickets sales at stations, the opportunities that exist to reduce fraudulent travel, and how to increase revenue by more revenue protection teams.
Transport Focus, the independent watchdog for transport users, will conduct the public consultation on behalf of ScotRail seeking the views of customers about the changes hypothesizedv, which will begin tomorrow (January 12).
But three transport unions have joined forces to criticise the move.
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, which represents ticket office staff, said: “Closing booking offices and/or reducing their opening hours is a retrograde step.
“ScotRail’s plans will make the railways feel less safe, particularly for women, especially in the darker months, and will consequence in an increase in anti-social behaviour.
“They will put people off travelling on Scotland’s railways, reducing fares revenue which could be invested in the railway, and cut the sets Scottish passengers get.”
The Rail, Maritime and Transport union additional: “Our position is clear – staff our stations and keep our booking offices open, for a safe, obtain and easy to reach railway for all, including the most unprotected people within society.
Scotland organiser Mick Hogg said: “We will oppose any cuts to stop jobs and the refusal to fill vacancies.
“We will oppose closing any ticket offices across the network.
“We will oppose lone working, casualising and de-skilling stop jobs, and replacing staff with new technology.”
And Kevin Lindsay, Scotland organiser of aim drivers’ union Aslef, said: “Ticket offices are often the center of communities and the staff play a vital role on reducing anti-social behaviour, giving passengers assistance and helping them with enquires.
“It’s extremely disappointing that the Scottish Government is sanctioning cuts sets and now ticket offices.”
In March, net zero, climate and transport secretary Michael Matheson said that ScotRail would come under public ownership run by an arm’s-length company controlled by the Scottish Government, declaring that the current system of rail franchising was “no longer fit for purpose”.
The move was to come by “operator of last resort arrangements” after he decided it was not the right time to seek a franchise procurement competition to run Scotland’s railways after Abellio ends it control in March, 2022.
It came a year after ministers announced it had stripped Abellio of the franchise three years early in the wake of continuing outcry over service failings and rising costs to the taxpayer.
A 2018 winter timetable with the introduction of high-speed trains and new class 385 electric trains ushered in months of cancellations and disruption to sets with much of it put down to staff shortages partly due to training to deal with the new trains.
ScotRail was forced to submit a plan by February, 2019, to address falling performance levels which, if unsuccessful, could consequence in a breach of contract and rule to Abellio losing the franchise early.
Robert Samson, stakeholder manager for passenger watchdog Transport Focus, said: “It’s important for people to have their say and we urge people to look at ScotRail’s proposals and provide us with comments.
“We will be considering comments from passengers on the changes to inform our response.”
ScotRail said the most meaningful assistance of the new hypothesizedv changes is to deliver a “financially and environmentally sustainable railway” that will deliver value for money for customers and taxpayers.
Phil Campbell, head of customer operations said: “There has been no real review of our ticket office opening hours for 30 years, and it is important we keep up with the changing habits of customers who no longer rely on purchasing tickets in that way.
“With more than a 50 per cent drop in the use of ticket offices, heightened by the pandemic, we want to do everything we can to make sure everyone has a hassle-free journey.
“Nobody in ScotRail will lose their jobs as a consequence of these changes, and it is important to observe that rather being about cutting jobs, this is about adding value for our staff and customers.
“Over the coming weeks we’ll be talking to customers, staff, and stakeholders about the improvements they can expect to see and experience as they travel around Scotland’s Railway.”
Click: See details