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Belgian rail’s plans to reduce ticket office opening hours provoke criticism
Rail operator SNCB’s decision to cut back on ticket office opening hours from 1 March has drawn criticism from politicians and unions.
Changes are planned for 54 of the 91 stations across the country that still have ticket offices, reports Belga. At 33 of these stations, ticket counters will no longer be open at weekends, while others will close on Sundays or only open on weekday mornings.
Ticket offices will no longer open after 20.00, except at Brussels south station. At other major stations, including Antwerp Central, Brussels Airport and Leuven, services will be reduced by at least two hours each weekday.
SNCB has justified its decision by the sharp rise in online sales and at ticket machines. Only 10% of tickets are still sold at counters, compared with 50% in 2015.
Unions called for details of plans for staff affected by the changes and the impact of the measures on passengers, particularly those with reduced mobility.
Questioned in parliament, federal mobility minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo) recalled SNCB’s responsibility to provide passengers with travel advice and ticket sales according to their public service contract, reports RTBF.
The list of stations offering a ticket office can only be modified after consultation with the minister, and the current plans concerned the opening hours of counters. “The 90 stations which offer ticket offices will keep them,” he added.
Politicians express disapproval
Socialists and Ecolo-Groen politicians expressed their disapproval over any reduction to ticket office hours.
“For many people, getting a ticket from the machines or via a digital tool is like a real obstacle course. They need ticket counters,” said Laurence Zanchetta (PS).
Olivier Vajda (Ecolo ) said he was "angry", calling the plans a "sabotage" of the public service contract.
In response, Gilkinet referred parliamentarians to the SNCB board of directors, which was represented by several political parties.
His comment sparked criticism from the opposition: "When there is a positive decision, it's you, when it's a negative decision, it's someone else's fault," retorted Catherine Fonck (Les Engagés).
Politicians from CD&V and Défi parties were equally disapproving of the reference to the board of directors.
Rail strike threat called off
Meanwhile, SNCB has called off its planned three-day strike from 29 January to 1 February. The decision followed management’s intention to resume talks with trade unions.
The threatened strike action would have been the third in three months. In November and December there were 48-hour rail strikes in protest at SNCB’s efficiency drive.