The Mayor of London, who campaigned for election on the promise of keeping ticket offices open, now plans to close them as part of the 12.5% cut in the budget of London Underground (LU) announced on 21 November. This will, at a stroke, reduce safety, reduce service, cause inconvenience to the travelling public and increase the cost of travelling cattle class.
The intention of London Underground is to create a self-service, supermarket model, and that means all Ticket Offices are due to close by 2015.
Look at the crowds in busy ticket halls like Euston – long queues for the ticket office, and even longer queues for ticket machines. It appears that more space, more ticket machines and more staff are actually what's needed.
Even in the current insanity that pervades the mayor's office, the mayor must be aware that the crowds and the queues include millions of tourists – both foreign and domestic – and they are likely to tell their friends and relatives of their underwhelming experience on London's underground.
News of the savage cuts was given at the same time as announcing the 24 hour running of some tube lines; neatly hiding the cuts from all the headlines. The mainstream media has played along with this scenario, and has also repeated London Underground's assertion that the Railway Marine and Transport Union, the RMT, is balloting for strike action over the 24 hour running. They are not. They are balloting for strike action over the cuts.
World no longer our Oyster
Another issue to have been overlooked is the phasing out of the Oyster card, to be replaced by contact-less bankcards. The Oyster card works fine for the passenger, but LU want to switch to a system that conveniently means that any ticketing problems experienced by passengers are no longer dealt with by LU, but by the passenger's bank!
London Underground states that they will keep Oyster cards while the public wants Oyster cards, but who will decide this? No doubt it will be London Underground, and when they do, it will mean that anyone who doesn't qualify for a contact-less card from their bank will have to pay the full price at a machine.
Even those with a contact-less card could find that their bank refuses to sanction a transaction, forcing them also to pay the full price at a machine and take up the argument with their bank later. Foreign tourists may well have contact-less cards, but they won't be in sterling, so they'll be charged the bank's usual exorbitant exchange rate. A great advertisement for one of the world's top tourist destinations!!
To support the closure of the ticket offices, London Underground states that only 3% of the tickets for the 1.2 billion journeys each year on London Underground are purchased at a ticket office. Oh dear, such lies, damn lies and statistics.
That 3% is actually 36 million journeys a year, an average of nearly 100,000 journeys per day. However, these journeys are not neatly and evenly distributed between London Underground's 270 stations. They are predominantly in the larger central London stations; those that have more than one tube line and connect with mainline train services and Heathrow Airport.
London Underground states that the 750 job losses will save £270m over 5 years – but these are full time, pensionable positions which cost more, so LU is jumping on the bandwagon of outsourcing jobs. Those staff that are not made redundant will be subject to outside assessment to decide on their competence, their grade and their pay. Even though their existing conditions will remain for 3/5 years, they could eventually face pay cuts of £10,000/£20,000 per annum.
Instead of fully trained staff, there will be outsourced workers on zero hours contracts. Cleaning is already contracted out, and cleaning companies are not generally known for paying generous wages or offering decent conditions of employment.
The station staff who work the evening shift at London Overground (LO) stations are contracted to STM Security, and all 250 workers are on zero hour contracts. The process of getting rid of the guards on London Overground has already started, and maintenance is being cut – compromising safety on the trains. Un-staffed stations will be useless for the disabled needing assistance. CCTV might show who attacked a woman coming home late at night, but a staffed station could probably prevent the attack.
But then, who the hell cares about the passengers? Cripes, Boris, you don't need a high IQ to know tube passengers also vote.
Michael Gold is a member of Occupy London. He is part of the economics working group (Occupy Economics).
There is also a dedicated campaign to Save Our Ticket Office, and an initiative entitled Hands off London Transport, being run in tandem with Occupy London. Further details of Holt are available here.