Strikes on the London Underground bring misery to millions of commuters, yet most don’t question the issues around them. The last couple strikes have been centred around Tube ticket office closures, but with the evidence against them it’s hard to see why this is such a sticking point for unions and TfL. I would like to clear up the misconceptions around this issue and tell you why the Mayor should not give in to the unions.
In 2014 Transport of London looked at how to modernise the Underground network. In the report “Fit for the Future” they came to some important conclusions. They found that the tube needed aggressive investment to help it modernise and increase capacity. The report also found that changes in customer behaviour meant people would prefer visible station staff over ticket offices.
With the increasing use of contactless bank cards ending the need to top-up, and automated ticket machine technology becoming the norm, customers were using ticket offices less and less. It was decided to shift staff from ticket offices to platforms and ticket halls. These more visible staff could provide on the spot help, and make passengers feel safer. The space those ticket offices took up could be used for more ticket machines, or profitable retail space.
This plan was set to save TfL £50million a year, and potentially more if the retail space could be utilized. The majority of these savings would come from reducing the TfL workforce by 950 ticket office staff. TfL put the plan in motion and offered a generous voluntary redundancy package. It quickly became oversubscribed, with 450 staff members rushing to apply in the first weeks.
The Unions, as is the case with any modernisation, quickly moved to oppose this change. They staged strikes and even convinced Sadiq Khan to review the ticket office closures when he took office. An independent review was conducted by TravelWatch in late 2016. The subsequent report though it had some reservations, concluded the ticket offices should remain closed. In early January there were more strikes.
The Mayor has buckled under this pressure. As a result TfL is rolling back this station modernisation and rehiring 65% of the station staff. This reduces the Fit for the Future savings by £32.5million a year at a time when this money is needed more than ever. The Mayor has already caused significant strain on the transport budget with his partial fares freeze, which put a £640million hole in TfLs finances.
Demand is set to increase dramatically on the Tube, and TfL needs to fund upgrades to meet this head-on. TfL has shown ticket offices are not needed and this was supported by an independent review. Even the Mayor is on record as saying these past strikes were “completely unnecessary”. Giving in to the unions now will only encourage them to block future modernisation on the Underground. The Mayor’s underfunding will hold back much needed upgrades, and this union payoff only puts him deeper in the hole. I urge the Mayor to not give in to these baseless claims by the unions, and to properly fund the future of our transport network.
Keith Prince is the London Assembly Member for Havering & Redbridge, and a councillor in Redbridge. He is the former Leader of Redbridge Council, a past councillor in Havering, and was a former marketing manager for LBC Radio.