The future of ticket offices

Articles, The NewsEditor

The Standard managed quite the scoop on Monday: Every single London Tube ticket office could be axed in plan to save millions. The appearance of the word ‘could’ in the headline should tell readers what they need to know. This isn’t a secret plan that TfL bosses are planning to inflict on station staff in the dead of night – it’s something that they’re considering as part of a general round of cost savings.

Here’s the Standard with some more detail:

Ticket offices would be replaced by 20 plus “travel centres” at the larger stations such as Waterloo, Euston and King’s Cross.

Passengers wanting to buy tickets at other Tube or London Overground stations would have to use automatic machines instead…

…The job losses are the result of a 12.5 per cent — £220 million —  cut following the government’s June spending review.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped the unions, in this case the TSSA, shouting loudly about what any job losses might mean. Here’s Manuel Cortes, quoted in the Metro:

‘Boris had better re-think if he thinks he can sacrifice 6,000 Londoners’ jobs on his Long March to Downing Street,’ he said.

‘We have a deal with TFL which clearly rules out compulsory redundancies. If he tears that up, all bets are off. We all know he is a shameless politician but this really takes the biscuit for sheer hypocrisy.’

Sir Peter Hendy has admitted that the plans are genuine but that they are only one of a number of options under consideration, and that the 6,000 jobs figure is somewhat exaggerated.

This issue is a perfect illustration of the problems at the heart of London’s transport network. A solution to a problem is proposed and before it even reaches the stage where it would go to consultation, the unions have threatened strike action. There’s no rational conversation here, and the language used gives very little room for either side to back down and save face.

All the while, the real issue of providing more ticket machines in place of staff is not discussed.

Station staff play an essential role at the Tube – amongst other things covering first aid, safety, fire and information roles. They are also the ‘face’ of the station, updating the status white board and providing ad-hoc announcements over the tannoy. To lose them would be to change the character of the Tube substantially.

However, given that most Londoners top up and renew their Oyster cards at ticket machines without issue, and that the queues at existing machines can be horrendous at peak times, surely more machines can only be a good thing? Anyone who has travelled overseas will recognise the benefit to being able to simply select your own language on the screen at an underground or train station and book tickets without having to refer to a guidebook. Tourists who come here see that same benefit on our newer ticket machines.

There are pluses and minuses to both sides of the proposal – it would be a great shame to not see them discussed before the usual cycle of claim and counter-claim starts appearing in the press.