Ticket office closures

Possibly the most difficult task of a journalist is to dig behind the self-interested positions of both sides in an argument and get the real story. There has been much hoo-ha over the partial closure of 40 ticket offices on the London Underground. Transport for London claim this is a sensible move given that more people use Oyster and there is less call on ticket office staff who, in any case, will be redeployed to stand on platforms or in ticket halls.
The unions say that this poses safety fears because ticket offices are the first point of call for any passenger needing help. Now that really does not ring true to me. Trying to get the attention of a staff member through that little window, when they may be serving someone else or doing some administrative task in the back is not easy. Or take my recent experience at Highbury & Islington when the ticket office closed in my face because a security guard was making a delivery.
But TfL’s claim is also self-interested. Is it merely attempting to save money? There is a little irony here that in the same edition of the Standard which featured the ticket office closures, there was a long piece justifiably questioning the amount of money being paid to Bob Kiley, the former transport commissioner, for doing pretty much nothing at all. So on one page TfL is slagged off for wasting money, and on another for trying to save it.
On this one, I come down entirely on TfL’s side. The Oyster card means that far fewer ticket office staff are needed and since the barrier is always staffed, ticket office closures allows TfL to put more people on the barriers. The unions, as they do so often, are guilty of self-interested whingeing and raising the old canard of safety fears really rankles.
I do, however, totally support the unions’ attempts to keep ticket offices open at several SouthEastern stations where they are under threat because closure would leave them totally unstaffed, which clearly is unsatisfactory. Moreover, having ticket offices open reduces fare dodging and therefore largely pays for itself. In other words, just because there is self-interest does not negate the fact that there can be a good case.

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