Regional transport body Centro is standing firm in its opposition to controversial proposals by London Midland to remove staff and reduce ticket office opening hours from stations across the region.
London Midland has applied to the Department of Transport to take the issue to arbitration in the wake of huge opposition to its proposals. Centro is strongly opposed to them, as are unions, MPs and groups such as Passenger Focus, plus more than 18,000 passengers and other individuals who responded to the company’s stakeholder consultation.
Under the London Midland proposals unveiled in March this year all 57 of the stations it manages in the Centro area would be affected in some way, either with reduced opening hours or complete closure of the ticket office. London Midland argue that passengers are increasingly buying tickets online or via platform vending machines, meaning less requirement for staffed offices.
Centro formally responded to London Midland objecting to the proposals and also wrote to the Minister of State for Transport, Theresa Villier, urging the Government to reject them. As part of the London Midland arbitration bid the DfT has invited Centro to make representations to the Secretary of State for Transport, who will ultimately decide on whether to approve the proposals.
Centro believes that the sight of unmanned stations will provide visitors with a poor first impression of the region. Chief executive Geoff Inskip said, “We believe staffed stations are key to providing the overall level of high service that customers expect and deserve. Passengers should be able to turn up at any station and go on their journey with ease and convenience – a staff presence is crucial in making that happen.”
There has been concern that reduced staffing levels would lead to increases in crime in the vicinity of railways stations. RMT union leader Bob Crow told the Birmingham Press in March that the proposals would lead to a “criminals’ paradise,” and feared that “Someone may die” as a result of cuts in staffing levels. Centro chair Cllr Angus Adams added, “Customer experience is not best served by ticket machines or where people feel threatened by criminal or anti-social behaviour because there is no staff deterrent, or where there is no-one there just to help. As the Integrated Transport Authority for the West Midlands, we at Centro would be failing in our duty if we did not do our best to thwart these proposals.”