Robert Hampton

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11th March 2014

As The Crow Flies
Posted by at 11.01pm | In the News | No responses

Shocking news today – the leader of the RMT Union, Bob Crow, has died. He was only 52.

Crow was a popular hate figure for commuters, the right-wing press and politicians. In disputes on the London Underground, he locked horns with both Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson. Arguably, he ran rings around both of them.

Unions are the big bogeymen for the right, what with their insistence on fair pay and conditions for workers and demands for basic human rights. Without their influence, we’d still be sending kids up chimneys. We need more union influence in everyday life, not less – especially now, as the Tories systematically strip away employment rights under the guise of “getting rid of red tape”.

I remember reading a blog comments thread discussing an impending Tube strike. One indignant commenter complained that Underground staff were far better paid than him, and if he didn’t turn up for work he’d get sacked, and it wasn’t fair. The response came from a member of railway staff: maybe if you had a union, you would have better conditions of employment.

It’s been a while since a rail strike inconvenienced me, so maybe I’m being more charitable than some other people would be, but I think, ultimately, Bob Crow was right on most issues. As we saw in the recent Underground ticket office dispute, Crow was never afraid to stand up and fight for what he believed in – a safe railway, run by staff who are treated well. Whoever succeeds him has some big shoes to fill.

11th February 2014

Office Space
Posted by at 10.59pm | Uncategorised | No responses

Train in Euston Square Underground stationThe good news for Londoners is that the Tube strike, planned to start tonight, has been called off. The RMT and TSSA unions have got their wish for further consultation over London Underground’s plan to close London Underground ticket offices. A shame that London had to endure 48 hours of disruptive strike action, but when you elect someone like Boris Johnson, you can’t expect good results.

It’s true that technology is changing the way people pay for public transport. The Oyster card is almost magic compared to the scratch-off Saveaway tickets which Merseytravel are still using. We’re promised contactless credit card technology in the very near future as well. However, I don’t think that technology has reached the point where the humble ticket office can be done away with.

There’s a lot to be said for the human touch. BBC Two’s 2012 documentary series The Tube showed a dedicated workforce working hard to keep the often-creaking network running, in the face of often abusive passengers. I worry that, for all TfL’s protestations that all stations will retain a visible staff presence, somewhere down the line it will be decided that the network can do without them at all, and numbers will be cut to the absolute minimum required to comply with safety regulations.

My opinion on this is influenced by my experience of Berlin’s transport system when I visited in 2012. Very efficient and reliable, but run with minimal staffing. At Schönefeld Airport station, there were no staff visible at all to help visitors find their train or to help buy a ticket. Not a good first impression. I would hate for that to happen in London.

Hopefully, with the strikes called off for now, the process of ticket office closures can be managed with the co-operation of the unions, to achieve the best result for staff and passengers alike. If TfL want to save money, how about getting rid of expensive custom buses and the glorified funfair ride that almost nobody uses?