“Where to Sir?”

“Here of course!”

So went the old booking office clerk joke. But in today’s railway what is the future for the booking office?

Maintaining, staffing and equipping a booking office is costly. Nationally, over half the tickets sold are now online. It can be no surprise that the focus should turn to station retailing.

Transport for London of course has now closed all its classic ticket offices, relying on self-service machines, contactless cards and pass agents. However, the London Travelcard area has a fairly simple fare structure and queries mainly relate to how to get somewhere rather than what ticket to buy so they can be dealt with by the barrier staff.

Some TOCs are now following this trend, with the aim of migrating sales to smart tickets, the internet and self-service machines. However for many journeys these channels or products are not yet user friendly or fully established. Even though the station staff may have access to the full information as if they were in a ticket office and will guide passengers through the process, will customers accept this radical change?

A significant number of tickets are still sold face to face. Even in a typical South East TOC, 20% or so of passengers are not regular users of rail and this is higher for longer distance and regional services. They will be unfamiliar with the range of tickets and services available, therefore requiring a bit more assistance than busy barrier staff can provide.

Railways are continuously evolving. It takes some time for the changes to be fully implemented and accepted by customers. This does not mean we should not progress new ways of retailing, just to be careful of the assumptions we make; a significant minority actually value old-fashioned personal service.

“Return ticket please.”

“Where to, Sir?”

“The past of course!”

“Return ticket please.”

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