Instinctively I feel uncomfortable with the idea of closing ticket offices at train stations. The planned closure of hundreds of train station ticket offices across the country feels like yet another chipping away of our “civil” society. When we look across the modern world we live in, everything seems to be going in one direction in this regard. There are so many examples where previously an exchange of some description that used to rely upon communication with another human being now doesn’t.

We’ve all been there. Desperately trying to get hold of a human being in a customer service department instead of computer-generated messages that make it impossible to solve complex requirements. This often causes a huge amount of concern and anxiety for many when a simple human interaction could have resolved the issue in a heartbeat.

Of course, there have been examples where technology has promoted convenience and made our lives easier. I don’t want to be accused of throwing the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to the argument, I’m tentatively progressive but I do find aspects of the changes regrettable.

I have mixed views about self-service machines in supermarkets for example. Sometimes I appreciate the ease of using them and can see how they can ease queuing (when they’re working properly!). However, there is nothing more annoying than when the red light goes off and you need to wait 5 minutes for a member of staff to approve a purchase of a small can of red bull! I also sometimes miss a lot of the discreet conversations and interactions that used to take place when purchasing items. In isolation these small, pleasant chats may not seem like a big deal but collectively they can play a role in building a community.

To the point of train station ticket offices. Clearly a sizeable minority still often rely upon them. This includes many of the elderly and those with disabilities. As a frequent train user, I generally feel comfortable using the machines. However even now there are occasions where I do feel the need to talk to a human being. When we have a complex train journey with many changes it’s not always easy to work out the cheapest route and sometimes talking to a customer service staff member in a train station ticket office is incredibly helpful.

I therefore completely understand why a number of constituents have contacted me outlining concerns about the proposed changes by Greater Anglia and Network Rail. I simply don’t think that in reality moving staff from ticket offices onto the concourse will work as intended and I do see it as a negative development for a number of rail users.

I’ve made my concerns clear to Greater Anglia and the Government. However, I’m somewhat relieved that we appear to have got of lightly. Our existing ticket office is being transitioned to a ‘Customer Information Centre’ where I’m told you can speak to a human being and purchase tickets. We’re the only one left in Suffolk and one of only 7 in the eastern region. I will however be working closely with Greater Anglia to make sure that in practice the new Customer Information Centre doesn’t in anyway amount to a deterioration in the service offered to my constituents.

There have been a number of occasions where I haven’t seen eye to eye with the RMT union. However, on this issue I do think they have a point. Further to this, the Greater Anglia consultation deadline for proposed ticket office changes has been changed to 1st September 2023, following the feedback they have received from customers and stakeholders so far.

Tom Hunt is Conservative MP for Ipswich