Tube bosses have failed to properly explain proposals to axe ticket offices and move staff into ticket halls and onto platforms, leaving “a substantial proportion of passengers” wrongly believing the network will be left unstaffed.
The plans were unveiled last year by London Underground and Mayor Boris Johnson who say the move away from paper tickets and cash fares means traditional ticket offices are no longer needed.
Mr Johnson, who in 2008 scrapped plans approved by predecessor Ken Livingstone for a more limited closure, claims the move will save around £50m per year.
Tube unions and some opposition politicians claim the closures and resulting loss of 750 jobs will reduce passenger safety and make it harder for older and mobility impaired passengers to access the service.
LU boss Mike Brown has repeatedly denied these suggestions, and insisted that he would never sanction a move to unstaffed stations.
However a consultation carried out by passenger watchdog London TravelWatch suggests Brown and his team have failed to get this message across.
The watchdog received 2,052 responses from passengers which were then analysed by pollsters Ipos MORI.
The firm cautions that the self-selecting nature of the consultation means findings cannot be seen as “representative of the population as a whole” as those taking part in such exercises “tend to be” more likely to believe they’ll be negatively impacted by the proposals they’re commenting on.
In addition, not all respondents answered all questions meaning its analysis is based on varying sample sizes.
Of the 1,799 who answered the question ‘How often do you use the ticket office?’, 897 said they did so at least once a week, with a further 337 answering at least four times a week.
893 of the 1,431 respondents providing a reason for using a ticket office said they did so to resolve an issue with an Oyster card, more than those saying they use the offices to obtain information and advice (830).
790 said they use ticket offices to top up Oyster credit, potentially supporting LU’s predictions that the introduction of contactless fares will further reduce their use.
Just 482 respondents said they use offices to buy a ticket for travelling that day.
However Travelwatch’s consultation shows that many passengers believe the offices have a wider role as a place of advice and assistance, including providing help to tourists and other visitors.
Many respondents also said staff were essential to ensuring passengers got the best ticket and to deterring crime on the network.
LU insists all stations will remain staffed and that staff will be “more visible” and will continue to help passengers with transactions, including those they’re unable to complete at ticket machines, and to provide advice and assistance.
However papers to be considered by the watchdog’s board next week say the consultation revealed “that a substantial proportion of passengers believe that the closure of ticket offices would lead to entirely unstaffed stations.
“From this it is clear that public awareness of the detail of the scheme is limited.”
TravelWatch is calling on LU to “do more to inform the public of what is actually being proposed.”
Responding to the survey’s findings, Phil Hufton, London Underground’s Chief Operating Officer, said: “We welcome London TravelWatch’s survey of our proposals to modernise the Underground, and we will take the results from the survey into consideration over the coming weeks.
“Our proposals will mean that we will bring staff out from behind glass windows and back offices and into ticket halls, onto concourses and onto platforms to help our customers buy the most appropriate ticket and help them get around our network.
“All stations will remain staffed at all times while the service is running and there will be more staff visible and available to offer assistance to customers where they need it most.
“Today, less than 3 per cent of journeys involve a visit to a ticket office, and this decreasing trend is set to continue as more customers use online payments, and now also contactless payment, which has seen over 12 million journeys made since it launched in September.
“Modernising the way we work will mean we are able to give a better service, invest more in improving the network and bear down on fares.”
The consultation’s findings will be discussed at the TravelWatch board meeting which takes place from 9.30am on 18 November 2014.
The meeting is open to the public and will be held at London Councils conference suite, first floor, 59½ Southwark Street, London SE1 0AL.