Rail strikes: Grant Shapps says industry is ‘not badly paid’
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The rail industry is reportedly putting together a confidential strategy to phase out paper tickets and close or “repurpose” 980 ticket offices in England from September. The blueprint is part of wide-ranging reforms aimed at placing the under-pressure rail network on a steady financial footing. Over the past two years, taxpayer subsidies have reached a total of £27billion or £1,000 per household.
Tens of millions of passengers are bracing for travel chaos this week with strikes over pay demands crippling much of the network.
There are also plans afoot to cut 2,500 posts at Network Rail through voluntary redundancy, as well as reforms that would increase weekend shifts and scrap restrictive working practices.
But the switch to online ticketing will worry millions of elderly people in particular, as many still struggle to get online and do not yet own a smartphone device.
While millions of Britons now buy and download train tickets to their mobile phones, many older people appear extremely reluctant to move away from buying paper versions.
Age UK has warned around three million of those over the age of 65 do not have internet access.
On Thursday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said one in eight tickets is still sold over the counter.
Caroline Abrahams of Age UK said: “Many more [older people] lack an up-to-date smartphone or tablet, or live in a place with unreliable broadband.
“These people have relied on buying tickets face-to-face or over the phone and then collecting them from a station machine. What are they expected to do if everything goes online?”
Mr Shapps has for a long time suggested paper tickets on trains should be phased out.
He said: “The quietest office sold just 17 tickets in three months.
“Any sensible plan would move staff away from where they are not needed, like ticket offices.”
Any passengers struggling to cope with digital services would receive help from staff on the concourse with Apple iPads.
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Mr Shapps insisted they would “welcome passengers who cannot or do not want to use contactless or mobile tickets, advise on journeys and timetables and help them buy tickets”.
Last-ditch efforts from ministers to avoid a disastrous strike on the national rail and London Underground collapsed this weekend.
On Saturday the RMT union, which has more than 83,000 members from almost every sector of the transport industry, confirmed strike action would go ahead at Network Rail and across 13 railway operators.
This will happen on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, although commuters have been warned of heavily impacted services on the other days as a result of a domino effect from the previous days’ strike action.
The Tube strike will take place on Tuesday.
RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch has warned further strike chaos could follow if a financial deal is not struck soon.
The union has insisted its actions are the result of job cuts, a threat to pensions, salary freezes and below inflation pay proposals.
Mr Lynch said: “I think there will be an extended period of industrial action if we don’t get a settlement.”
Transport Secretary Mr Shapps lashed out at the RMT, accusing the union of “punishing millions of innocent people” including those “who do not get paid if they can’t get to work” and patients who will have to cancel hospital appointments.
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