OPINION – Caroline Ansell MP

I met with Southern Rail in Parliament recently to discuss all things ticket office and the proposals I very much opposed to close Eastbourne station ticket office. 

I sent in my view in August through the now closed consultation outlining why I think this is a bad idea after speaking with passengers and local groups.

In a nutshell, I said the move was too far and too fast, that Eastbourne is a tourist destination and visitors need assistance, having no ticket office runs the risk of ‘designing out’ vulnerable groups and it will hasten a digital divide for those who are not tech savvy.

Ticket machines are great and many people use them and buy online too but try and buy a ticket somewhere not on the touch screen list and soon everyone is either confused or paying over the odds. Basically, machines do not deliver advice or value for money and we do not want to lose humans with expertise.

All this I reiterated to Customer Service Director Jenny Saunders and Stakeholder Team & lead on ticket offices Paul Codd. I thank them for their time.

The latest is that rail passenger bodies, Transport Focus and Travel Watch are set to publish their response to the consultation on 31st October so its imminent now. 

The bodies will either approve or object. An approval would then allow Southern to move on to the next stage by beginning a consultation with their staff and the unions.

An objection means Southern has several options. It can drop the plans (my preferred option), continue working with passenger bodies to address concerns and refine plans or refer every individual station to the Secretary of State for his decision.

The battle is not over either way. And I will continue to do everything I can to protect customer services at our ticket offices. When the verdict is in, I will consider it closely and work again with local groups on our response.

Whatever the outcome on the 31st, there will be no immediate decisions or imminent changes.

Although I do not agree with the ticket office plans, there can be no question the railways need to modernise, with passenger numbers only at 70% of pre-pandemic levels. The significant losses across the industry are being covered by government subsidy and that means us the taxpayer.