The Big Ticket Issue

By - Friday 15th November, 2013

Andy Ellis returns with a novel idea to make East Croydon station work for both commuters and the homeless

There is a problem afflicting East Croydon station (and many other London stations) at rush hour and also during school holidays at 9:30 discount time.

It is, of course and quite simply, queues. Queues both for ticket machines and sales desks.

Now who is in the queue? There will, of course, be those seeking far flung exotic places such as Glasgow or Crewe. I suspect though, that a majority will be looking for tickets to a fairly short list of destinations: mainly London and – at holiday time – Brighton.

This is guesswork, but a little statistical gathering would acquire the correct information. Let’s go with London/Brighton for the moment.

There is a solution to the queue problem – and a socially beneficial one at that.

We are accustomed to Big Issue sellers on our streets – why not extend the scheme to the ticket hall?

Ticket sales could well increase: travellers would not be deterred by the prospect of queuing for 20 minutes

Registered Big Issue sellers would be able to purchase popular tickets (day returns to Brighton, one day travelcards to zone 1, etc.) at a discounted rate on a sale or return basis.

They could then take station (no pun intended) in the ticket hall and sell said tickets to cash paying customers who would then no longer need to queue.

Unsold tickets would then be returned to the ticket office for a refund.

There would, of course, be a small cost to the rail companies in terms of the commission paid to the Big Issue sellers. On the other hand, ticket sales could well increase: travellers would not be deterred by the prospect of queuing for 20 minutes and might switch to the train from other modes of transport.

Benefits would be reduced queues, happier travellers and a boost for the homeless.

Andy Ellis

Andy Ellis

Descendant of an old Devonshire family, Andy has spent over 25 years of his life in Croydon. He runs a small computer business, is a student at Seishin Ryu Aikido, helps to teach the Body Harmony community fitness classes held in several libraries across the town and, last but not least, dances with the Purley-based North Wood Morris Men.

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  • Peter Staveley

    I do not believe the problem are queues for tickets and ticket machines, although that can be an issue sometimes. The main problem are people waiting for the 09:30 lifting of peak-time restrictions. That is exacerbated by the lack of space in the main concourse and people deciding not to wait next to one of the two side-entrances outside the station.

    To some extent that lack of space will be partly solved by the opening of the new entrance further north. Of course, more space could have been obtained by removing the shops, but that would have lost Southern and so the Department for Transport (DfT) the rental income; which is why it was not done.

    Going back to the ticket issue. Many people going to London are likely to be using Pay As You Go Oystercard and so they will only need a ticket machine to top-up their card. Indeed due to various organisational issues between the DfT and Transport for London (TfL) Oystercards can only be topped-up using ticket machine, they cannot use the ticket office (and obviously not a ‘big issue’ seller). Oystercards can, of course, be topped-up at a newsagent or by setting-up an automatic top-up from a credit/debit card.

    So if we now ignore those just waiting for the time restriction to be lifted and those who have to use a ticket machine we are left with a vast array of ticket types that are likely to be required. It is unlikely that ticket sellers would be able to match the tickets required with those they have predicted to be required. So, in my opinion, few tickets will be able to be sold by this method.

    Obviously the ticket sellers would only be able to accept cash, they would not be able to accept credit/debit cards in payment, a method that is used by many (if not most) ticket purchases.

    Then there is the problem that the ticket sellers themselves will take-up space which will exacerbate the lack of space.

    Finally, the system will cause confusion amongst passengers because it is illegal to buy a ticket from someone who is not employed by (or are an agent of) National Rail. I suppose in theory the necessary training could be given to the ticket sellers but who would pay for that training? Would those ticket sellers be prepared to pay for it? If not are the benefits of the system enough to justify National Rail paying for that

    Whilst your idea is a good one I see virtually no benefits. To recap the ticket sellers would not have the necessary training to know which ticket could be used when (or where); they could only accept cash; they would take-up valuable space; they cannot sell Oystercards Top-ups (which is used throughout London); and they will cause confusion about whether they are a legitimate seller.

    I have to say that with the recent increase in the number of ticket machines both inside the ticket hall and outside the station (including both side entrances) I do not believe the problem is the lack of ticket machines. I believe the problem is simply that the number of people waiting around the ticket barriers for the time restriction to end.

    In theory those time restrictions could be staggered for different ticket types but that would cause confusion.

    Of course, one major lack of equity is for Freedom Card holders (i.e. those over 60 years old). Those card holders can use London Underground and London Overground services anytime but are restricted until after 09:30 for National Rail. In turn the only reason that the rail services are provided by National Rail (and not TfL) is purely an accident of history and the fact that the Mayor of London and DfT cannot agree how to relax that restriction.

    • Andy Ellis

      Am impressed to receive a comment which is longer than the original article.

      Yes, Oyster has made quite a difference but there are still tickets which Oyster does not cover – else the queues just would not be there.

      I cannot see a couple of Big Issue vendors causing a space problem. In fact getting travellers on their way quicker would actually help with the problem.

      People would not be confused by ticket vendors. They would be properly badged and identified. Londoners got the hang of Big Issue sellers right away over 20 years ago.

      Certainly there are many destinations which vendors could not carry tickets for. This was mentioned in the article. The aim would be to cover popular ticket requirements like Brighton, Gatwick or London, thus providing the opportunity to speed the journey for many travellers. Others would still need to queue – but their queues would be reduced so they two would benefit.

      Training? I think vendors would know what they were selling and at what prices. The only timing pertains to the 9:30 off-peak – simply resolved by only allowing vendors to buy tickets after this time.

      You mention debit cards. I would not expect vendors to take these. The aim is to provide a fast-track (no pun intended) for cash customers to a small range of popular destinations.

      More ticket machines? Well, these do help but each transactions takes a while. How much easier to proffer cash, get one’s ticket and change, and be away in less than 30 seconds?

      • Peter Staveley

        To a certain extent Southern already do what you suggest in that they have ticket sellers with a proper portable ticket machine on the concourse.

        There are also lots of ticket machines available.

        Selling the Big Issue is a lot easier than selling railway tickets. The Big Issue is one product whereas there could be around 30 different tickets to somewhere like Gatwick Airport. Indeed Gatwick is a bad
        example because there are Southern-only, FCC-only and any operator tickets in addition to different peak/off-peak restrictions. The risk of being sold the wrong ticket will be too high for National Rail to permit. Do not forget that having the wrong ticket results in an automatic £20 fine which you would have to then claim back from whoever sold you the wrong ticket.

        When I am next at East Croydon around 09:30 I will look at the queues but they are generally not too bad. In any case in my experience there are rarely queues for ticket machines (especially if you go to those outside the concourse), which indicates that those queuing are doing so because their ticket requirements are complicated.