Mayor answers to London

Closure of Tube Ticket Offices

Question number1315/2007
Meeting date20/06/2007

Question by Geoff Pope

A London Underground press release [01 06 07] announced that staff at some Tube stations will be redeployed from ticket offices to 'provide direct assistance and

reassurance', and 'be visible to help address security issues'. How will this be achieved given that at stations where the ticket offices are closed for much of the day already (eg North Ealing and West Acton) it is usually impossible to find any staff when help is needed - for example to get heavy luggage through the barrier?

Answer by Ken Livingstone (2nd Term)

The huge success of Oyster cards has dramatically reduced the demand for tickets from ticket offices, which means London Underground can reduce ticket office opening hours so as to redeploy staff to other parts of the station where they can better assist customers, provide direct assistance and reassurance, and be visible to help address security issues. London Underground recognises the need to ensure a consistently high level of customer service across the network and is monitoring implementation to help ensure this.

Geoff Pope (AM): The point of my question is that London Underground Limited is already incapable of managing its staff so that they are visible on stations. A London Underground insider was quoted in the media last week as saying that, `Cynics might say that this policy is an invitation for staff to disappear for tea breaks without being detected¿. Is it not the truth that London Underground has no effective management system to prevent this happening?

Mayor (Ken Livingstone): No, there is a management system. There are always going to be some people that malinger, there are some people who are supposed to be sitting in the office serving tickets who just pull down the blind and pop off to have a cup of tea. All my instincts were to reject this policy, so I asked for the number of ticket sales at the stations. The original proposal was for 40 stations. We have now removed the two with the highest ticket sales and it is down to 38 stations.

The worst example is Fairlop, selling 16 tickets a day. There is no justification for that. 22 of the stations are selling less than 100 tickets a day. That is a complete waste of resource. 32 are selling less than 150, and the 38th is selling 249. That is Sudbury Hill. Temple is selling 231. You might kick this around and there might be still some sort of case, but at the lower end there is not.

You are absolutely right; these staff have to then be on the ticket barrier and on the platform. If the existing mechanism is not effective we will have to put in place one that is. Bear in mind that we have closed circuit TV that covers virtually everything on our stations, so there is the mechanism there to do it. However, I think the majority of our staff will find it actually better. It is not a fulfilling job to sit in a little ticket box for 40 minutes waiting for a sign that life still exists on earth and for someone to pop up and ask for a ticket.

Geoff Pope (AM): Do you accept that this is first and foremost a matter of safety, so that people using the Underground feel safe? At the moment, in a crisis, they can go to the ticket office and they know where it is, whereas finding a stray member of staff somewhere on the platform can be quite difficult. Are you not putting safety at risk?

Mayor (Ken Livingstone): If there is a problem, it is likely to be on the platform, and that is where we would like the staff to be. We are rolling out the emergency help buttons. This has to be seen against the background; we are talking about 240 staff being redeployed from the ticket offices on to roles on stations. Some will be driving the extra trains we are buying, but that is in addition to the 300 extra staff we are taking on over the next two years, so in no sense is this about reducing staff numbers. We want to see a much more continuous presence. If Members here start to pick up tales of stations where no one is ever seen, if you let us know we will check this through the management process, because the vast majority of these stations tend to be around the periphery or on a more lightly used line such as the western end of the Hammersmith and City line.

Geoff Pope (AM): However, as more people are using the Underground, you need more customer facing staff, not fewer. If the implication is some of them are going to be driving trains, they are not going to be available to sort out problems with buggies, baggage being carried, ticket machines not working, and change not being given. How are people going to find these staff?

Mayor (Ken Livingstone): You may have a particularly engaging and helpful local Underground operative, but Underground operatives are not normally seen carrying peoples¿ buggies up and down the stairs.

Geoff Pope (AM): Getting them through the barriers can be quite difficult.

Mayor (Ken Livingstone): Well, if there is not anyone on the barrier door, the barrier door has to be open for that. Bear in mind this is against a background in which there are going to be an extra 350 ticket machines selling Oyster cards, and at the moment we have 2,500 Oyster ticket stops where customers can buy or top up their card. That will grow to 3,500 by next summer. We are really driving ahead.

When I looked at this range of stations, they are places like Moor Park. There is not a transitory population at Moor Park; I used to have a girlfriend at Moor Park, I went there quite frequently. Everyone at Moor Park knows the routes, I am sure they all have Oyster tickets as they know it is the cheapest way forward and so on. Therefore when you come to look at where we are increasing - we have just opened a fourth ticket office window at Victoria - there will be an increase where you have got problems of lots of tourists and lots of people turning up not knowing. But, frankly, the people at Moor Park broadly know the way their system works and usually have a season ticket and can afford to do it. We are looking at North Harrow, Totteridge, Croxley, Ruislip Gardens and West Finchley. That would not necessarily be a terribly effective policy in the middle of an inner city area with a huge population turnover, but in stable communities it works, I think, quite effectively.

Geoff Pope (AM): We are also talking about places like East Putney and Regents Park. You have not really persuaded the Unions at all, both ASLEF (Associated Society of Locomotive Steam Enginemen and Firemen) and TSSA (Transport Salaried Staffs¿ Association), who represent the ticket office staff, are talking about chaos and confusion, and also that, `Passengers have every right to be horrified¿ is one of their statements. London Underground Limited has a pretty poor record in managing its staff. It is another example of poor industrial relations, is it not?

Mayor (Ken Livingstone): In all the great debate between Tim O¿Toole [Managing Director, Transport for London] and the trade unions whose side are you really on? If you wish to be a mouthpiece for Bob Crow that might get you another couple of points up the Liberal Democrat list, but it will not serve Londoners¿ interests very well!

Geoff Pope (AM): This is not Bob Crow¿s union though. This is not the RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport Union) saying that.

Mayor (Ken Livingstone): If you want me to give the unions a right of veto over management that is fine, but I will have Mrs Thatcher come round to have a word with you about it! You cannot seriously expect any Trade Union is ever going to volunteer up the job of a single member however irrelevant it still is. That is not their job.

Geoff Pope (AM): They are not losing their jobs.

Mayor (Ken Livingstone): No, but they would like to keep them all in there and then I employ another 200 staff to add to that on the platforms. At Regents Park, before it closed, the last figures I saw, they were selling 38 tickets a day. Now the choice we had there - we were remodernising the station - was did we spend £1.5 million to put in a ticket office which we might then close within a few months. I took the decision that that was silly. Regents Park is a case in point. Vast numbers of BBC workers stream in and out of there, all with their season tickets. I was surprised. I would have thought that would be one where tourists turn up saying, `Which way is it to the zoo¿ and so on, it would be useful to have someone to help, but it is actually a very lightly used ticket office.