Tube passengers using South Wimbledon and Queensway stations have become the first to lose their ticket offices under controversial plans to close all offices by the end of this year.
The closures were announced by Mayor Boris Johnson in November 2013 despite previously opposing plans by former Mayor Ken Livingstone to close 40 ticket offices.
After winning office in 2008, the Mayor axed his predecessor’s closures programme but later approved a reduction in opening hours at many ticket offices. He now says the increased take-up of Oyster and the availability of contactless fares means the offices are no longer needed as they now account for just 3% of tickets are sold.
Almost 900 jobs will be lost as part of the closures, with unions and some opposition groups on the London Assembly claiming the changes will make the Tube less accessible for older and disabled passengers.
London Underground denies the claims and insists all stations will remain fully staffed and that passengers will be able to get the assistance they need.
It also says the closures will save £50m per year which will be re-invested in the network.
Nick Brown, London Underground’s Chief Operating Officer, said: “Throughout this year, passengers will see further improvements at stations, including more staff in ticket halls, on gate lines and platforms, where they can offer the best possible assistance.
“Our new customer service training programme is also underway, and staff are being equipped with the latest technology to help customers with their journeys.”
Despite LU’s claims that passengers won’t suffer as a result of the changes, some Assembly members say they remain concerned.
Darren Johnson, a Green party member of the London Assembly, said: “I find it difficult to believe that several hundred staff can be taken away from the front line of the tube network without having an impact on passenger safety and convenience.”
“Many station staff are going to be stretched to the limit as they try to remain visible and accessible whilst handling incidents on the platforms and enquiries in the ticket hall.”
Labour’s Val Shawcross commented: “Cutting the number of staff available to help customers will have dramatic impact on tube users, particularly the disabled, elderly and those not used to London’s transport system all of whom will rely more on staff to help them.
“Whether those staff are based in a ticket office or not isn’t the key point, it’s about making sure there are enough staff to provide the world class service Londoners have come to expect.
“The fact that the Mayor is set on spending £134m of tax payer money closing these ticket offices only weeks after foisting another fares hike on commuters will leave many asking what the Mayor of London is playing at.”