Disabled people in my constituency already have trouble accessing work and leisure opportunities in London because Erith station’s London-bound platform has no disabled lift or step-free access. They are advised by the train operating company to travel in the opposite direction for 15 minutes and then change trains. The closure of the ticket office at Erith will further disadvantage this group of people. Will the Minister consider an equality impact assessment on the proposal and reject McNulty’s plans to close ticket offices, particularly at places such as Erith, where disabled people already face a difficult journey?
In considering the recommendations of the independent McNulty report and before any decision was made on changes to future ticket office rules, it would of course be vital carefully to assess the needs of disabled communities and pensioners. That would be a very important part of any decisions made on future reform of ticket offices.
The McNulty report identified some 30% savings in real costs across the piece. If that is to be achieved by the closure of ticket offices or in other ways, what will the Minister do to ensure that that money will be passed on not to the rail companies but to the users? The line from Chippenham—the constituency of my hon. Friend Duncan Hames—to London is among the most expensive in the world: more, mile for mile, than the cost of Concorde. We need to cut those rates, and we can do that by saving money on the infrastructure.
We have made it clear that it is vital to get the costs of running the railways down, and it is also vital that the benefits of those cost reductions be shared by both taxpayers and fare payers so that we can give both better value for money. If we can achieve savings on the scale contemplated by McNulty, we could, we hope, see the end of the era of above-inflation fare increases.
Costs impact on fares, as the Minister has just said. In London, Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson—[Hon. Members: “Hooray!”] I expected a more Pavlovian response, Mr Speaker. Mayor Johnson has approved rises on average of nearly 6%, yet Labour mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone—[Hon. Members: “Hooray!”] Much better, Mr Speaker. Both sides of the House appreciate the Labour candidate; I am sure he would be very reassured. Ken Livingstone says he can cut fares by between 7% and 11% because of Transport for London surpluses. Has the Minister had any discussions with Mayor Johnson about the rises?
The hon. Gentleman is completely naive in his approach to Ken Livingstone’s proposals on fares. Livingstone’s numbers simply do not add up, and his track record shows that he promises fare reductions and ends up delivering fare hikes.
Does the Minister agree that no station operator should be allowed to close ticket offices where there are any real concerns about security and safety as a result of creating an unmanned station?
Certainly, if we were to change the way ticket offices operate, we would need to look carefully at all safety and security consequences, as well as taking into account the concerns of the disabled community and pensioners. However, we do need to look at ticket offices as part of the process of reducing costs on the railways, in order to deliver the better value for money that passengers want. We need to do that because the way passengers are buying tickets is changing. Oyster in London demonstrates that there are some high-quality alternatives to the ticket queue. If we can roll those out more widely, which we plan to do with ITSO smart ticketing, that will make a difference to our approach to future decisions on ticket offices.