Kent transport

Protesters against Kent ticket office closures march through Gillingham

Protesters gathered against government plans to close railway ticket offices in Kent.

The Medway Trades Union Council and the RMT Union staged a march in Gillingham against the closures.

Crowds gathered at the Gillingham War Memorial at 12.15pm today and marched with flags and banners along the High Street to the station at 12.30pm.

The protests are against Department for Transport plans to close 978 booking offices across the country in October – including Medway’s five main stations.

This means that customers will have to use ticket machines to buy their tickets instead or buy online.

The march was part of a national day of action for ‘We Own It’ – a campaign against privatization and for public ownership in the 21st century.

There were several speakers at the protest, including RMT Chairman Alex Gordon and Medway Labor Group leader Cllr Vince Maple.

People gathered to protest against the closing of ticket offices in Kent
Nearly 1,000 counters are expected to close in October
Nearly 1,000 counters are expected to close in October

They pointed to the problems with computerized ticket machines, the important service provided by reservation agents and the thousands of jobs that will be lost.

Ivor Riddell, walk organizer and RMT Medway branch secretary, said: “This will be a huge impact for the general traveling public who want to get the best rates for the right trip. You can’t get that from a machine, it would just give you what you asked for and nothing more.

“It will also affect disabled people, vulnerable people and people who speak a different language – they don’t understand the system, even though I struggle to do that as a conductor.

“You need someone with the experience and training who can really assess what you need and give you the best value for the trip you’ve taken.”

Speaking of the march, he added: “I am absolutely over the moon – we had a good crowd here today from a cross section of the community.

Ivor Riddell spoke at the rally in Gillingham
Ivor Riddell spoke at the rally in Gillingham
Ivor Riddell, RMT Medway branch secretary, organized the protest
Ivor Riddell, RMT Medway branch secretary, organized the protest

“We had people with disabilities, local elected officials, other unions supporting us, it was just amazing.”

RMT chairman Alex Gordon said: “I think the closure of ticket offices will mean that people will pay more for tickets because they will be reliant on ticket machines, or online sales, or various apps.

“It’s really a shameful move by the monopolists to get rid of staff, reduce their payroll and be able to take more money out of passengers’ pockets.

“They win and we all lose – and they laugh at us.

“We should all stand together and say we’re not going to put up with it anymore.”

(Left) Alex Gordon, Ivor Riddell and Cllr Vince Maple
(Left) Alex Gordon, Ivor Riddell and Cllr Vince Maple
Protesters marched down Gillingham High Street towards the station
Protesters marched down Gillingham High Street towards the station

The protest was part of a much larger campaign to prevent further layoffs and to “ensure the safety of passengers and workers when using national railways”.

Cllr Vince Maple, leader of the Medway Labor Group, said: “Many people are gathered here today to recognize that every ticket office in Medway and the county is under threat of closure.

“I know I speak firsthand to passengers and the hardworking women and men at the counters – they see hundreds of people a day at all five Medway counters.

“So for the government to say they are no longer needed is just rubbish.”

Over the past month, tens of thousands of workers have gone on strike in a long-running dispute over wages, jobs and conditions.

The march was part of a national day of action
The march was part of a national day of action

Arriva bus drivers across Kent also recently voted to strike, leaving the possibility of passengers being stranded without services.

Demonstrations against ticket office closures also took place today in Bromley South, Denmark Hill, Epsom, Horley and Oxford.