Simon Calder, often known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about journey for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key journey subject – and what it means for you.
Stockholm’s grand and central railway station looks like a Scandinavian cathedral: a shrine to mobility in the northern world. Devotees of the rail community enter an enormous and extravagantly embellished ticket corridor – which, in a long time previous, may have marked the inspirational begin to many adventures by train.
I spent a number of hours there on Saturday: admiring the structure, having fun with the sound and movement of a rail hub and exploring in some element the ticket corridor. In it, you possibly can buy a pint of Murphy’s stout at O’Leary’s Bar; change cash at the Forex counter; or order freshly ready sashimi at Sushi Yama. But what you possibly can’t do is buy a train ticket.
You can be conscious that train operators are proposing mass closures of rail ticket places of work at stations in England. Many incapacity campaigners in addition to the RMT union are implacably opposed to the thought. An enormous demonstration is deliberate for Thursday 31 August at Westminster. If you need to register your views on the proposals you need to achieve this by Friday 1 September (when, by the manner, most rail companies in England will shut down for the day as train drivers belonging to Aslef stroll out).
The authorities insists that service to the passenger will really be elevated, as a result of workers can be taken from behind a glass display and can be higher in a position to help travellers who want some care. The RMT says it’s a job-destruction scheme that may set off 2,300 redundancies.
My greatest guess is that proposals can be severely watered down so that originally solely smaller, quieter stations lose their booking places of work. But to discover out what life for rail passengers with out ticket places of work looks like, I’ve been exploring western Sweden.
Stockholm Central is the pure place to begin. Emerging from the capital’s wonderful Tunnelbana metro system, you possibly can comply with the indicators promising “Tickets”. But when you attain the major concourse, they vanish. I used to be wanting perplexed when a chap in a high-visibility jacket requested – in Swedish and English – if I wanted assist. Where, I questioned, is the ticket workplace?
“There isn’t one,” he replied. It closed early in 2021, alongside with the nation’s surviving rail booking places of work in the different two large Swedish cities, Malmo and Gothenburg. During the Covid pandemic, when rail income slowed to a trickle throughout Europe, it was described at the time as a vital money-saving transfer.
Swedish Railways’ spokesperson Tobbe Lundell, mentioned: “We are now eliminating an unnecessary cost in order to continue to be able to offer an attractive price level on our trips.”
Many rail travellers who like to give you the option to buy from a pleasant face will see the further value as removed from pointless. Yet my new hi-viz pal mentioned if I wished to buy from an individual, I may achieve this at the vacationer info workplace in the center of the concourse.
It can be easier and cheaper, he added, if I booked on-line. Swedish Railways has spared no expense in offering free weapons-grade WiFi to all station customers, and inside a few minutes I had secured an inexpensive ticket described as “last-minute” for the 40-minute journey north to Uppsala.
When I reached the historic college metropolis, alternatives for purchasing rail tickets blossomed. The regional transport enterprise has an workplace in the station primarily for native journey wants however which additionally sells Swedish Railways tickets. Across at the Pressbyrån newsagency, you possibly can decide up a ticket alongside with a hotdog and occasional. Over the street, a comfort retailer additionally advertises that it sells rail tickets. Some passengers had been shopping for from ticket machines (which cost a small premium on on-line costs).
I purchased on-line for my return journey to Stockholm – however on a rival operator, Mälartåg, which undercuts many Swedish Railways trains on the route. Just about everybody on my train appeared to have purchased on the firm’s personal app. I most well-liked the journey, too: aboard a brand new, double-deck train with two mains sockets per passenger quite than simply the one on Swedish Railways.
For travellers who want human help with shopping for a ticket, the market has delivered options. There are a lot wider considerations about look after passengers with disabilities – and the way to guarantee individuals acquire the greatest deal for his or her journey. A comfort retailer assistant couldn’t be anticipated to interpret a rail ticket system as Byzantine as the UK’s. But that’s as a result of our fares construction is bonkers: simplify the system and everybody will profit.
The train again to the capital paused at Knivsta station. The good-looking century-old ticket corridor has been reworked right into a microbrewery. Change can ship some welcome advantages.