A review commissioned by Mayor Sadiq Khan into the controversial closure of every London Underground ticket office has concluded that there is no need to re-open them.
Ticket office closures were approved by London’s first Mayor, Ken Livingstone, in 2007. Both Mr Livingstone and LU said the rising popularity of Oyster meant staff assigned to the offices could be better used within the network. However Livingstone’s successor, Boris Johnson, halted the closures shortly after taking office in 2008.
Mr Johnson later approved significant reductions in the opening hours of the ‘saved’ ticket offices, before announcing in 2013 that they would all be permanently axed. Like his predecessor, the former Mayor said the closures were justified by the move away from paper tickets to Oyster and, more recently, Contactless.
The move was opposed by some members of the London Assembly, unions and some passenger groups who claimed it would make it harder and less safe for passengers, especially those with mobility impairments, to use the Tube. Johnson and TfL managers always insisted that staff would be redeployed into ticket halls and onto platforms, ensuring that all passengers would be able to get assistance when needed.
During this year’s mayoral election, Mr Khan promised to commission a review into the closures and in September asked passenger watchdog London Travelwatch to carry out that task.
The body’s report, which was published today, says there are “positives” to the decision to axe ticket offices and move staff into public areas but cautions that some passengers feel less safe when staff aren’t visible.
One factor identified in the report is the introduction of a new predominantly navy blue uniform for staff, which Travelwatch says makes it harder for them to stand out in crowds, feeding the perception no-one is around to help.
However it suggests that making changes to how staff are deployed, including introducing new ‘focal points’ in ticket halls, would allow LU and TfL to address such concerns without re-opening any of the ticket offices.
The report also raises concerns that the range of tickets which can be bought using ticket machines is less than that previously available from ticket offices and suggests the machines may need to be replaced or upgraded to allow them to cope with increased use following the offices’ closures.
City Hall says Mayor Khan has asked TfL managers to address the report’s recommendations and to present an ‘action plan’ to the full TfL board when it meets later this month.
As part of its response to the report, TfL will establish a joint working group with Trade Unions to review the deployment of staff across stations. It will also consider changes to uniforms to make staff more visible.
TravelWatch Chair, Stephen Locke, said: “Our research was commissioned by the Mayor but we have reached our conclusions independently, drawing on a wide range of evidence, including input from the general public, staff and mystery shopping of stations.
“We have concluded that much more needs to be done to make the new system as passenger friendly as it needs to be.
“Our research has identified significant issues that must still be addressed, including the layout of stations, the services provided by ticket vending machines, staff training and availability, and assistance for people with disabilities.”
“The new arrangements could, potentially, deliver good customer service – but we have listed several recommendations that need to be implemented before the reforms can be given a clean bill of health.”
The report has been welcomed by Mr Khan, who said: “I want to thank London TravelWatch for this comprehensive report that raises serious issues around the service passengers receive on our transport network.
“I have now asked TfL urgently to present a full action plan responding to all the concerns outlined in the Travel Watch report.
“Where the necessary alternative provision was not provided after ticket offices were closed, we now need action straight away.
“Millions of commuters use our stations every day, and we must do everything we can to ensure every passenger feels safe and can access the assistance they need.”
Commenting on today’s review, Conservative London Assembly member, Keith Prince said: “This report proves what we have been saying all along – traditional ticket offices are outdated in the modern transport system.
“It is quite right that TravelWatch has identified some areas for improvement, in the same way any organisation should review its activities over time, but the die is now cast for the closed ticket offices.
“This is now the second Mayoral review in as many months that has backed the previous administration’s decisions. It is now time for Sadiq Khan to stop kicking things into the long grass and actually face the issues he was elected to tackle.”
Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member, Caroline Pidgeon, said: “This is a welcome report which puts the needs of passengers first while recognising that huge changes have occurred since the introduction of Oyster almost 14 years ago and more recently the introduction of contactless payment.
“The report hits the nail on the head by stressing that what most passengers value above all else is visible and accessible staff at Tube stations.”