The 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?