Further changes have been made to the planned new opening times of six Lanarkshire railway ticket offices following a public consultation on ScotRail’s plans.
Wishaw will now open seven days a week to assist with journeys to and from the nearby hospital; while the review led to minor adjustments of between 15 and 50 additional minutes to the planned weekday opening times of Bellshill, Cambuslang and Hamilton Central, and the weekend opening hours at East Kilbride and Rutherglen.
The train operator insists that the changes will allow staff to be redeployed to help passengers in other ways; but Central Scotland MSP Richard Leonard has said there is “overwhelming opposition” to the plans, which he called “damaging closures”.
The Lanarkshire Live app is available to download now.
Get all the news from your area – as well as features, entertainment, sport and the latest on Lanarkshire’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic – straight to your fingertips, 24/7.
The free download features the latest breaking news and exclusive stories, and allows you to customize your page to the sections that matter most to you.
Head to the App Store and never miss a beat in Lanarkshire – iOS – Android
Proposals were announced last month to reduce office opening hours at 120 stations across Scotland in response to declining in-person purchases with nearly half of tickets now being bought through vending machines and mobile apps – with dozens of station facilities across Lanarkshire now set to open only in the mornings or during early rush hours.
More than 1500 responses were received to the consultation, conducted by independent watchdog Transport Focus; including more than 1000 from individual members of the public and 87 from politicians and community and user groups.
Assessors concluded that some stations’ opening times should be adjusted based on ticket sales data, but their recommendation to consider consistent hours at each station rather than having as many as four sets of opening times on different days of the week was rejected due to the “ risk [of] wasting resources by having staff in a ticket office during times when the station is not busy”.
Their report noted: “Comments received show widespread concerns about buying a ticket but also wider concerns including accessibility, access to NHS hospitals, anti-social behaviour, station facilities [and] ticket office closures.
“We think it would be far better if the regulation shifted from ticket office opening hours and moved to station staffing hours; that would give passengers some protection and reassurance about staff presence while allowing the operator more discretion over how tickets are sold.
“Doing so would recognize that selling tickets from an office is only one of many valuable roles that station staff undertake. The narrow focus of the consultation did not give an opportunity for passengers’ wider concerns about staffing to be addressed [and] we believe these should be picked up in the national conversation.”
Changes to the opening hours will also affect the opening of accessible toilets at 26 stations including Wishaw, East Kilbride and Cumbernauld, with Scotrail saying they will “review options and commit to ensuring all station toilets remain unaffected through implementing remote locking systems”.
The train operator added: “Accessibility of waiting rooms outside the proposed opening hours [is] under review, analyzing each station and taking into consideration public response, feedback from staff and British Transport Police, in addition to anti-social behavior incidents and current shelter facilities.”
Staff availability is to remain the same despite changes to the ticket offices hours at Airdrie, Carluke, Motherwell and Shotts, while extended provision is to be made at Bellshill, Blairhill, Cambuslang and Lanark to help passengers booking accessibility assistance.
Passengers responding to the consultation expressed the wish to be able to buy tickets in person and ask for travel advice; with recommendations being made to ensure changes are made to automated machines which do not currently sell all available tickets such as special offers and off-peak fares.
Mr Leonard, the former Scottish Labor leader, responded to the outcome by saying: “The so-called consultation was clearly a sham from the outset and now we can see that ScotRail intends to press ahead with most of the planned cuts despite overwhelming opposition.
“I fully support the RMT’s call on the Scottish Government to step in and put a stop to these damaging closures immediately.”
Scotrail insist that no jobs will be lost with staff being redeployed to other station duties and into mobile teams, and say they will “now work with Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government to discuss the next steps”.
Head of customer operations Phil Campbell said: “The changes we propose to make as a result of the consultation demonstrate we are listening to our customers and creating an environment that improves safety, support and the helpfulness of staff.
“The safety, comfort and wellbeing of our customers is a top priority; we will always listen to what passengers and people who use our stations have to say and we believe this proposal takes into account most of the issues we identified in our original plan as well as the views of the public.”
*Don’t miss the latest headlines from around Lanarkshire. Sign up to our newsletters here.
And did you know Lanarkshire Live had its own app? Download yours for free here.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.