TRAIN passengers in Tameside will be hit by needless problems, issues and worries if a plan to close ticket offices goes ahead.
The borough may be left without one after Ashton-under-Lyne, Broadbottom, Guide Bridge, Hattersley, Mossley and Stalybridge stations were all included on a list of those under threat by the Rail Delivery Group’s proposal.
Vending machines and online purchases will be the way to buy tickets as 45 Northern-operated facilities and 16 by Avanti West Coast, including Manchester Piccadilly, have been earmarked.
Stalybridge saw a protest by the RMT union, which saw leaflets snapped up by those who will be affected by the plan.
And Conor Price, a leading official who lives in the town, spelled out what it could mean.
He said: “The community’s opposed to the closure. It protects accessibility for people with things like mobility needs or visual impairments.
“It would also increase anti-social behaviour. There’s already quite a lot of that on this line anyway. If you remove the staff, it’s only going to make it worse.
“People want a human face on the railway, they don’t want to be travelling about on a network like the wild west, where there’s no-one there.
“People in the booking office are always very helpful. They help people get the cheapest ticket available as very often they’re confused.
“And the majority of tickets sold at stations are sold through booking offices, not through vending machines, which is contrary to what bosses will have you believe.
“If the vending machine breaks, there would be no-one there to help but you may still get the penalty fare of £100 through no fault of your own. We should be encouraging people to travel by train.
“They’re planning on shutting the office at Manchester Piccadilly – the 10th busiest, it’ll be chaos. The queue starts at 5am and runs all the way until 11pm, it never stops.
“Companies say they’re going to keep staff at the station but on reduced hours and over the whole country, there’s going to be 2,200 job cuts – the size of three P and O-style attacks.
“That’s what this is, this is a jobs massacre.
RMT members were joined by Cllr Ged Cooney, leader of Tameside Council and his first deputy, Cllr Jacqueline North.
And Cllr Cooney echoed many of the union’s sentiments, saying: “You could see it, people wanted the union’s leaflets and they were keen to support them.
“They want offices right across the area and the country to stay open. It’s totally missing the mark – if the machine’s broken, what do you do?
“It’s about more than just getting a ticket. It also explains different things. Instead of going automated with everything they do, the reality is they’re teaching us to be ticket collectors, rather than paying someone to do the job.
“And as well as selling you a ticket, workers are about giving help, support and information.
“I’d be surprised if every ticket office in Tameside isn’t closed. Staybridge is a main station and they’re closing it. If they are, if a station has a machine, they will be closing the office – make no bones about that.
“This is a public service and it’s going. You’re going to be wandering around the station and what do you do if you need help and information?”
Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has joined the thousands of people who have signed petitions calling for ticket offices to be kept open.
He told Transport Secretary Mark Harper it is “wholly inadequate” and called for an immediate suspension to operator Northern’s process – or he will consider legal action.
In a letter, he said: “In Greater Manchester alone, 58 stations face the closure of their ticket office, often coupled with dramatic reductions in the times staff will be on hand to assist passengers.
“Given the disproportionate levels of disruption and poor services that rail customers in the north continue to suffer, a highly visible and reassuring staff presence has never been more important.
“I am calling for Northern’s consultation process to be suspended with immediate effect.
“Such is the seriousness of this issue, if you are unable to accede to this request, I will have no option but to consider what legal remedies are available.”