So Southern wants to limit booking office opening hours in the name of improved service to customers. As I understand it, the proposal is to reduce opening hours to a limited peak period Monday to Friday, 7am to 10am, with no booking office service at other times of the day.
And there would be NO service at all on Saturday or Sunday. Instead there would be a ‘host’ on station mainly to answer queries and assist with the operation of ticket machines. Experience suggests the following:
1. 7am to 10am Monday to Friday is simply not adequate. The office is well used after 10am and at weekends, often for making enquiries.
2. Eastbourne is host to tourist visitors, both from within the UK and further afield. In addition there are often conference delegates in town at weekends, plus students and foreign language students for whom English is not their first language. They want to make enquiries as well as buy tickets.
3. Eastbourne is home to many (elderly amongst them) who do not have access to a computer or prefer not to use one. Limiting booking office hours would seriously affect people who want to make complex enquiries/book tickets for services well beyond the Southern network and purchase railcards. Recent changes to the Southern website have actually reduced the clarity of the choice of tickets on offer.
4. There is no detailed description of how the ‘hosts’ would operate. The ticket machines are not 100 per cent reliable and limited in the scope of tickets issued, for example the issue of tickets for future dates. Although there is a suggestion that ‘hosts’ will have access to enhanced hand-held devices will they handle cash in an exposed position on the station concourse? It is not clear whether ‘hosts’ would have access to the current computer system capable of dealing with the most complex ticket enquiries, the printing of timetable information, issue of railcards and tickets to anywhere in the UK including the handling of cost-effective options.
5. Will on-train payment be accepted from customers unable to buy a ticket from a booking office or will the option of £20 fines remain?
6. The proposal suggests that ‘hosts’ will be available during the opening hours of the station – 11pm is mentioned. There are trains which depart as late as 23.56 and arrivals as late as 01.42. Imagine being a ‘host’ on a near deserted station at the end of the day.
On the face of it the proposal looks like a cost-cutting measure for the benefit of Southern from a company that comes well down the customer satisfaction rankings. The majority of customers at Eastbourne will not benefit from these proposals, will they?
I would urge Herald readers who value good service to write to Govia at firstname.lastname@example.org – only by making our views known will Southern and Transport Focus take any notice.
C M Collins
St Annes Road
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