Monday, 3 February 2014

Passengers face massive disruption if Boris’s cuts to ticket offices happen

The Mayor of London’s proposal to close all London Underground ticket offices and cut up to 1,000 tube staff is apparently supported by 82 per cent of Londoners, according to a poll commissioned by TfL.

However the question they ask in their poll doesn’t mention either the ticket office closures, or cutting a thousand staff, but TfL are now claiming public endorsement for the cuts. Polls commissioned by the unions also show overwhelming opposition from passengers to these cuts.

Closing ticket offices which are only used by 3 per cent of people making journeys does not sound much of a problem, except when you translate that into over a 100,000 people a day who are queuing up to sort out the issues which the machines can’t help them with.

I can see some merit to the argument that we utilize new technology to make staff more accessible, but these plans combine the closures with a huge reduction in staffing. Fewer staff will be around and when they are wandering about, we may, or may not, be lucky enough to bump into them. Ticket offices in most stations provide a reassuring focus point where you know you can find someone.

The presence of a staffed office provides an invaluable source of advice and assistance to passengers, way beyond the function of merely selling tickets. Get rid of a 1000 staff and you lose that reassuring presence which helps passengers feel safer, especially if travelling after dark.

Crime and abuse sadly occur in society and tube stations are no exception. In a recent survey of disabled travellers “enhancing personal security and safety” was ranked consistently as the most important benefit that staff provide to disabled passengers. CCTV cameras can never replace staff in making passengers feel safe waiting on a dark platform at night.

As we have tragically seen in recent years, emergencies do happen on our transport network and deleting staff posts as the number of passengers flowing through stations increases is irresponsible and could lead to injury or loss of life on the expanding tube network.

This Mayor – Boris Johnson – presided over annual fare hikes above the rate of inflation every year between 2008 and 2013. During this time, the real average increase in TfL fares was 11 per cent, hitting Londoners’ pockets over and over again.

Meanwhile, he throws away vast sums of public money on a succession of vanity projects including his New Bus and his cable car. While the Mayor wants to shed staff from tube stations to save money, the additional cost for the extra staff on the back of the 600 Boris Buses is an estimated £30m a year.

With record numbers using the tube and a massive predicted increase in passenger numbers these cuts to staffing are unnecessary, unsafe and unworkable.

He has slashed away at our public services. Earlier this month, 10 of London’s oldest fire stations closed their doors for the last time, 14 fire engines were withdrawn and 552 firefighter jobs were axed – all victims of this Mayor’s decision to cut council tax for the average family by 7p per week to make a political point, rather than safeguard our communities.

He has also presided over police front counter closures and is pushing for City Hall security services to be outsourced too.

Tube workers have been rightly praised, as heroes during the terrorist attacks, for making the Olympics a success and for keeping London moving. They now deserve our full support in their fight for a safe, properly staff tube.

Industrial action is a last resort and no one wants strikes, least of all tube workers who lose pay. But passengers face disruption and a worse service for years to come if these cuts take place.

This Mayor opposed the closure of 40 ticket offices by his predecessor and entered office in 2008 with a firm pledge to keep ticket offices open. He repeated his promise again in 2010. Now we see the Mayor quietly ditching his commitments and hoping nobody will notice.

I hope Londoners will see what he’s really doing and object to these dangerous cuts.

Written by Darren Johnson, Green Party London AM 

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