MP Caroline Ansell has said closing railway station ticket offices in Eastbourne will disenfranchise many residents and she is more concerned about the plans than ever before.

In a detailed response to a consultation on proposals to partially close Eastbourne station ticket office and fully close Polegate and Hampden Park, Caroline said that after meeting Southern Railway officials and drilling down into the plans “my concerns have in no way been overcome; in fact, they have been heightened”.

“Eastbourne has one of the highest concentrations of over 70’s in the country,” she explained in the letter. “This generation is disproportionately at risk of being disadvantaged by ever increasing digitisation. One quote from a constituent is clear: “By closing the ticket office you will deny the elderly the chance to travel by train.”

She said her investigation had discovered stations would “very likely be ‘less staffed’ and that total staff numbers, varying station by station, would potentially see a drop of between 25% to 50%”.

She also told the consultation: “A partial opening of the existing [Eastbourne] office on request sounded to me to be highly impractical. Maintaining the office for just such an occasion would be self-defeating, if cutting costs is one of the policy objectives? A dedicated desk on the concourse, another proposal, will be a difficult experience for those with hearing impairment due to the high level of ambient noise.

“I learned that there are no planned new and additional machines to accommodate the increase in use and additionally, by a new cohort of inexperienced users.”

She also said some reasoning to promote the plans did not make any sense.

“It was put to me at the meeting that one reason for moving from a ticket office setting was that people didn’t want to talk to someone behind a glass counter. I recognise the truth in this but surely removing the glass, not the office, would meet that need?”

She said she has spoken to constituents and local groups and consulted with the travelling public at local stations. Many were clear about their opposition and she listed their views in the letter

Opinions given include:

A move to machines will disadvantage vulnerable groups – the hearing and visually impaired, the elderly and those not digitally enabled.

Removing the structure and protocols associated with the ticket office itself will change the dynamic around customer service. A model of ‘floating’ staff will require a new level of assertion and persistence from those needing support who will now find themselves in a competitive field on the concourse, jostling for assistance and potentially under pressure of time.

Being unable to get the most suitable and timely assistance will deter passengers from travelling.

Ticket machines do not identify value for money. It is essential that value for money is at the forefront for passengers to ensure the most affordable tickets are identified and offered.

Many constituents said how diligently ticket staff worked to ensure their best purchase and this interaction would be lost. Even the industry accepts that ticketing structures are complex, the MP said.

Ticket machines often cannot handle complicated journeys. Many constituents and holiday makers Caroline spoke to at Eastbourne Railway Station underlined this point. Journeys by train may require several stops, some peak or off peak. Ticket machines do not compute this level of personalisation for long journey types.

“It is difficult not to agree with the clear and intelligent views of those I asked about these plans at the stations,” the MP said.

“These proposals will not work on a practical level and they run a grave danger of excluding key groups in our town from being able to travel by train and could act as a barrier for tourists to visit. This cannot be allowed to happen.”