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Watchdog rejects reopening LU ticket offices, but demands urgent action plan

Ticket office closures on London Underground (LU) can be implemented, but new measures should be carried out to address areas such as passenger safety, London TravelWatch’s review of the closures has concluded.

The independent watchdog’s final report, which was commissioned by London mayor Sadiq Khan, found that LU can effectively meet passenger needs without a network of ticket offices.

However, it warned that the closures, which were introduced under the Fit for the Future programme in 2014, have led to 45% of passengers reporting that they feel less safe.

The report suggested that one problem may be that new dark blue staff uniforms were introduced at the same time as the ticket office closures. They are harder to see, so passengers may not realise that staff are present.

Stephen Locke, chair of London TravelWatch, said: “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 did criticise LU for carrying out the closures without ensuring that the network’s ticket machines would be able to cope with the resulting increased demand. The current ticket machines suffer problems with reliability and cannot carry out all the functions that used to be done by ticket offices.

The lack of offices also means that there is no clearly defined “focal point” for passengers to go to for assistance.

The report found that this affected disabled passengers in particular. Previously, staff were able to phone the ticket office at a passenger’s destination to ensure they had assistance waiting. Since the closures, station staff are required to phone the line controller, who may be busy with other issues. Disabled passengers are frequently reporting that assistance was promised and then failed to appear.

London TravelWatch made a number of recommendations to address these and other concerns, and said that some offices may have to be reopened if it isn’t possible to implement them.

In particular, it urged LU to appoint staff at all stations, who should wear brightly-coloured uniforms, proactively look for passengers to assist, and have iPads and local knowledge of the station.

The watchdog also recommended establishing clear focal points at each station, and ensuring that Visitor Centres are visible to passengers.

Recommendations surrounding ticket machines included updating signage so passengers are clear about the different functions available at the different machine types, and allowing them to sell annual season tickets and refund Oyster card deposits without the 48-hour delay currently in place.

More has to be done

Responding to the report, Khan said: “I want to thank London TravelWatch for this comprehensive report that raises serious issues around the service passengers receive on our transport network.

“In my manifesto I promised to review the impact of ticket office closures under the last mayor, and today’s report makes it clear that more has to be done to ensure passengers can get the right information and support when they need it.”

Khan has now asked TfL to produce an action plan to address the problems identified, which will be presented at its next board meeting on 15 December.

Measures in the action plan are to include a joint working group between TfL and trade unions to review station staff deployment; changes to the staff uniform; and a new trial of staffed information zones.

Separately, Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT union, said the report was “a big disappointment” and “an opportunity missed” to tackle understaffing on the Tube.

He said the union, which currently has an overtime ban in place in protest at the ticket office closures, would continue to campaign for them to reopen. TSSA members have also voted in favour of industrial action over the issue.

Jon Stewart, deputy chair of London TravelWatch, recently defended the report's independence in an appearance before the London Assembly transport committee.

Mark Wild, LU’s managing director, said: “Since I joined LU earlier this year it has been a priority of mine to analyse the ticket office closures and ensure we are still giving customers the very best service.

“We are completely focussed on making the changes needed to ensure that our customers feel safe, fully supported and able to access the right assistance no matter where they are travelling on the Underground.”

(Image c. Yui Mok from PA Wire)

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Nickk   05/12/2016 at 17:38

Closing the suburban stations' ticket kiosks was pathetic. My local had its public-side window bricked over, but in the bitter evenings, with little to do, the staff member can frequently just be seen behind the excess fares window. Being fully glazed, it's nigh-on impossible to attract their attention without touching through the barrier...

Lutz   06/12/2016 at 09:42

So it has been show that there is no impact from the closure of the ticket offices, only failings in the way the program was implemented.

Jerry Alderson   07/12/2016 at 16:54

I'm fully with Lutz on this. I fully approve of getting rid of glass windows and locating staff where the passengers want them to be rather than the passengers having to go out of their way to the ticket office. I'm 100% in favour of principle but like most things the implementation could have been better and still needs to be improved. This review is a useful exercise because TOCs can learn from this. I support GTR's planned introduction of hosts (I've seen it work well on Chiltern) but GTR needs to get the implementation right and it needs to make sure that the customer experience is the priority. Whereas LU coincided the change with staff cuts (I suspected that LU had too many staff as all stations were staffed at all times) GTR will be increasing staff as it will be increasing staffed hours at stations.

Jerry Alderson   07/12/2016 at 16:58

Oops. Clarificaiton needed. I meant to say something like "I suspected that LU had more staff than absolutely necessary at some stations as all stations were already staffed at all times and some by several people at the same time." Not suggesting for a moment than any LU station should not be staffed at all times.

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