Monday, January 19, 2009

Thousands of South West Trains passengers have said a resounding no to plans to cut office opening hours across the network. Passenger Focus has consulted on the proposal by South West Trains to reduce the ticket office opening hours at 114 stations and in three weeks has received thousands of postcards, letters and email from passengers opposing plans. Ashwin Kumar, Passenger Focus director, said passengers had unanimously agreed that they wanted staff at the station for advice and assistance on ticket sales to make sure they’re getting the cheapest ticket. “We fear these plans will lead to passengers paying more for their off peak tickets than they should. Ticket vending machines are important, but while they don’t offer all ticket types or provide advice to ensure passengers get the cheapest fares, there will be a need for station staff.” The watchdog’s research has found passengers choose to use the station ticket office over the ticket vending machine for a number of reasons. These include passengers requiring advice from staff, because their ticket is unavailable, queues are too long, they are using a travel card or due to the passenger’s inability to use or dislike of ticket machines. Passengers also believe staff are important for security and to maintain facilities. In its consultation, Passenger Focus received responses from county, district and parish councils, Members of Parliament, individual passengers and rail user groups. Jocelyn Pearson, who has been leading Passenger Focus’s consultation, said: “We are not against change but when fares are so complex, passengers need advice from staff at the station. “In some cases the rail products they need are simply not available. Even where the ticket is offered, the complexity of the fare structure means passengers struggle to find the cheapest fare without advice.”

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