Marketta and Reijo Takanen waited for a train to Mikkeli at the Kuopio Railway Station on Monday.VR will stop ticket sales at 13 of its ticket offices next year.

The state-owned railway company announced on Monday that it will close its dedicated ticket offices in Hämeenlinna, Joensuu, Karjaa, Kokkola, Kouvola, Kuopio, Lappeenranta, Mikkeli, Pasila, Riihimäki, Rovaniemi, Seinäjoki and Vaasa by 10 January. Its ticket office in Kemijärvi, in turn, will be shut down by the end of next year.

The only dedicated train ticket offices will, as a result, be located in Helsinki, Hyvinkää, Jyväskylä, Järvenpää, Lahti, Oulu, Tampere, Tikkurila and Turku. Tickets for trains operated by VR will also be available at R-Kioski corner shops, ticket vending machines, travel agencies, Matkahuolto and, in the electronic form, through VR Online Shop, VR Mobile and VR Customer Care. Tickets can also purchased from conductors after boarding a train.

VR to lay off at least 157 employees

- VR Group will announce further details of the lay-offs as its negotiations with personnel progress.

- The state-owned railway company announced on Monday that 157 employees will be laid off in the first stage of the reform process. The lay-offs will affect people working at ticket offices, the operations centre, customer care centre and in administrative roles.

- The company will shed light on the effects of the lay-offs on conductors, train drivers, yard and maintenance personnel in the next stage of the process.

- The company estimated in August that up to 570 positions are at risk.

VR Group highlights in its announcement that the purchasing behaviour of passengers has changed dramatically over the past three years – to the extent that an estimated 85 per cent of tickets are purchased through other channels than ticket offices.

The remaining 15 per cent of tickets, however, are bought from dedicated ticket offices by people such as Marketta and Reijo Takanen, two pensioners who were waiting for a train to their home-town Mikkeli at the Kuopio Railway Station on Monday.

They regarded the news as very bad.

“It isn't easy for older people to learn how to use mechanical apparatuses. Some don't even have a computer at home, so how will they be able to buy a ticket in the bustle of the station. You should at least have instructors by the vending machines to make sure people get used to it,” says Reijo Takanen.

“The service at ticket offices has also been so good and friendly that I'd like to be able to enjoy that also in the future. I've been provided with a lot of information I didn't even know to ask for,” he adds.

Maisa Romanainen, the head of passenger services at VR, reminds that the number of people using the ticket offices has declined month after month. “I'm sure the group includes people of all ages. It'll be necessary to provide personal services also in the future. That's why the network of R-Kioskis is such comprehensive. And it'll still be possible to buy tickets on-board.”

Not all of the train stations affected by the ticket office closures have their own R-Kioski, although one can be found in all of the affected municipalities. In Kuopio, for example, the closest R-Kioski is found at the bus station just across the train tracks.

Altogether, train tickets are available at over 600 R-Kioski corner shops across the country.

VR Group also announced that it is intent on cutting its train fares notably and rationalising its entire pricing system at the beginning of next year. “We're set to reduce train fares on a permanent basis early next year. We must renew ourself and change our ways of operation in order to be able to do that profitably,” says Romanainen.

The cuts, she reveals, will be considerable. “We're talking about two-digit numbers.”

Will pensioners and students be entitled to discounts also in the future? “I won't comment on that. I'd say pensioners and students remain an important customer group for us. Our goal is to lower prices for everyone,” Romanainen replies.

Minna Pölkki – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Pentti Vänskä