Monday, May 30, 2022

The future of Britain's railways: No ticket offices but plenty of tasers

Earlier this month the rail union RMT revealed plans by the rail industry for a cull of ticket offices across the network. It said over 1000 ticket offices are at impending risk of closure.

I looked at their list for the Midland main line and, sure enough, Market Harborough is on the list of ticket offices due to go. But so are Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield and St Pancras.

It looks as though pretty much all ticket offices are to be closed.

But isn't this what has already happened on the London Underground? Does it really matter.

The independent campaign group Railfuture thinks it does. On its website Nigel Middleton lists five unique services a ticket office can offer:

  • They can be the friendly face to explain fares to customers new to the railway (or for regulars, making a very occasional journey) the fearsomely complex fares system and what type of ticket is best for their intended journey.  At a time when Penalty Fares are about to increase, there will be a natural concern that the right rail ticket is about to be purchased.
  • They sell tickets to those that are uncomfortable with technology (and although any journey can be bought from any rail retailer [in broad terms], in practice, nervous purchasers need to get to grips with many different rail retailer websites).
  • They may be the only option for someone wanting to pay cash.
  • They are the only way to buy some types of ticket – e.g .some Rail Rovers.
  • They can help travellers out and about who do not have Smartphones and therefore cannot self-serve on needs such as new/changed seat reservations.

Meanwhile, the British Transport Police have become the first force in the UK to arm its special constables with tasers.

The specials' chief officer told ITV News:

"Allowing them to carry the device is a positive step both in recognising the skills and competence of our part-time, volunteer officers and further strengthens our commitment to ensuring the railway is a safe environment for passengers and rail workers."

When tasers were first introduced, we were told they would be used as a last resort to prevent the police having to draw firearms. Today they are rapidly becoming standard issue.

I don't suppose anyone beyond Priti Patel wants a future in which stations have few railway staff and are patrolled by police with what can be lethal weapons, but it's where we are rapidly heading.


crewegwyn said...

It works (generally) on the underground because it's a self-contained system with an effective touch-in, touch-out arrangement and a coarse fares structure.

Rather more difficult on a Penzance to Wick network.

Phil Beesley said...

Railway staff and transport police display courage every day when dealing with violent people on railway premises. The British Transport Police History Group records honours given to officers. It's a good measure of the type of violence they face.

Officers have been honoured in the last 20 years for confronting armed terrorists whilst off duty, confronting a knife attacker and bravery in a bomb attack. In 1990, officers apprehended armed criminals close to a railway station. In 1945, an attempt was made to fatally shoot a transport policeman.

These bravery citations miss all of the occasions when railway workers and transport police are threatened, of course. They don't capture contemporary knife crime. However they do not describe an environment where transport police regularly use lethal force.

In 2004/2005 when tasers (CEDs) were introduced to British policing, they were provided to officers who had been trained to use firearms. Tasers were issued to officers who had been trained over weeks to use force as a last resort, training them to avoid shooting.

CED training takes three days.

By 2012, a period of eight years, senior police officers determined that tasers/CEDs should be used more widely. Originally for use in incidents when a firearm might be used, the taser became an alternative to physical restraint.

"The alternatives to CED include a range of other measures such as physical restraint, batons and police dogs. Much will depend upon the circumstances, but CEDs will often be less injurious than resorting to baton strikes or employing a police dog."