Wednesday, 5 February 2014

A fine day for a London tube strike

The media coverage of today's London tube strike has been predictably awful and light on facts. This morning, Eamonn Holmes had his best furrowed-brow-of-deep-concern on as Sky News showed allegedly "shocking" images of people queued outside tube stations seemingly baffled about a strike for which we have had plenty of notice and thus plenty of time to sort out alternative arrangements. The whining on Twitter has gone predictably nuclear and there are so many red herrings flying about, it is no wonder people don't seem to understand what the strike is actually about. So here are some helpful points.

1. It is not a strike about driver salaries. Regardless of whether you think tube drivers are overpaid or not, this is not what this strike is about. Stop blathering on about driver salaries. Please.

2. It is a strike about the plan to close all ticket offices on the London Underground and the loss of 953 jobs, which TFL plans to manage as a programme of voluntary redundancies.

3. Yes, more than 400 TFL staff have applied to take voluntary redundancies. Good for them. That doesn't change the fact that there will be less staff and no ticket offices.

4. The claim that everything will be OK because staff will be redeployed to platforms and thus the tube will be safer is laughable. Firstly, as Boris Johnson likes to remind us, crime is down on the London Underground. This is great news but taking staff away from the ticket hall level of tube stations will not improve passenger safety. Incidents sometimes happen in London tube stations at the ticket hall level. Most nights after work, I walk to Oval tube station and it is because it is a well-lit, staffed station that I feel safe. The Oval station staff are friendly, helpful and busy.

5.  If a staff member is dealing with an incident on a platform and then something happens at the ticket hall level that also requires the attention of a staff member, that person cannot be in two places at once. Or the staff member on the platform may be blissfully unaware of an incident in the ticket hall and not do anything to help. Especially late at night when many tube stations are much quieter than at rush hour, this is not a prospect that any passenger should feel comfortable about.

6. Last night, it was announced that a tube station was temporarily unable to offer wheelchair access because of staff shortages. This means that nobody would have been on hand to assist with placing a ramp to ensure any passengers in wheelchairs could safely get off the train. Why would anyone be OK with staff cuts that would make it harder for people in wheelchairs to get around London (not to mention the elderly, parents with buggies, anyone who has to take heavy luggage on the tube...)? Again, see point five about station staff not being able to be in two places at once...

7. Yes, the overwhelming majority of tube passengers use Oyster cards and many take advantage of auto top-up so they never have to go near either a ticket window or a ticket machine. However, many people still obtain their first Oyster card from tube stations, sometimes ticket machines break down, sometimes people have trouble with the ticket machines for many reasons, sometimes Oyster cards are faulty, sometimes people make mistakes on ticket machines and need a refund, sometimes people have trouble with ticket machines because of eyesight  problems, sometimes people have trouble with ticket machines because of language and literacy issues, sometimes kids use ticket machines and get confused, sometimes someone is taking so long at a ticket machine it is quicker to see a member of staff... And so on and so forth. There are many reasons why a human being is required even when there are ticket machines.

8. Ticket hall staff provide a great service for tourists to London, whether from abroad or from other parts of the UK. The ticket machines may be straightforward enough for most people but there are plenty of times when a confused visitor needs some friendly advice on getting around this fine city. It's all well and good for smug Londoners who have memorised the entire tube map to crap on about how they never need to speak to a member of TFL staff. I urge these people to visit any tube station near any major London tourist attraction or any interchange station and observe TFL staff helping visitors. This is good for London's reputation as a tourist destination.

9. Staff-free ticket halls are a magnet for fare evasion (much like the daft hot-in-summer-cold-in-winter buses Boris Johnson has spent £350,000 each on...). What is a major contributing factor in fares going up? Oh yes, that's right. Fare evasion.

10. Boris has said that because of the 40% RMT member turnout and 49% TSSA member turnout for the strike ballot, it is invalid. Rather like the mere 38% voter turnout at the last mayoral election, eh, BoJo?

11. And while we're talking about the unions, yes, Bob Crow is a walking caricature of the old school union man in his duffle coat and flat cap. And Boris Johnson is a walking caricature of a posh, eccentric bumbler. So what?

12. Yes, Bob Crow is on a salary of £145,000 a year. Again, so what? Unions often pay people well, which means they are not hypocrites when it comes to making demands for higher salaries for their members. If you are not a RMT member, you are not paying Bob Crow's salary so why whine about it? But if you are a British taxpayer, you are helping pay the £1 million salary of new RBS CEO Ross McEwan. And if you shop at Tesco or you're a British taxpayer, you have been making your contribution to Tesco CEO Philip Clark's £6.9 million salary. (For what it's worth, if I was Bob Crow, I'd move out of the council house, but that's a moot point.).

13. My nearest tube station is at the end of a line. The staff at the ticket hall level are kept very busy with confused passengers who have fallen asleep, especially late at night, and need advice on how to get home. If you don't spend much time at the end of a tube line, you'd be surprised how often this happens (and yes, sometimes it is drunk people, sometimes it is just the tired and overworked.) If someone has missed the last train heading in the opposite direction and they are unfamiliar with the area's night buses, some advice from a friendly human is usually warmly welcomed. Baffled tourists have also washed up at my local tube station and need help to find their intended destination.

14. The chaos on many platforms today, frankly, isn't much different to the daily chaos at plenty of busy tube stations when there is no strike on. Am getting flashbacks to the time I had to wait for seven trains at Stockwell in rush hour before I could get on board (and I don't even take up much room). London is always a busy city. A lot of the whining today is pitiful. Some people are carrying on as if it's the Blitz. And some people have reported problems on their journey today not because of the strike but merely because of fellow passengers being idiots. This is usually the case on any given day travelling on the tube. Today is not the apocalypse. Harden up, people.

15. The 7/7 terror attacks were a vile, awful, inexcusable event. It was a murderous assault on the transport network we take for granted. But Londoners kept on going, most people refused to be scared off using the tube and it remains a busy, popular service that does an amazing job of moving millions of people every day through the capital. Among the heroes of 7/7 were TFL staff who worked with emergency services and ordinary Londoners in the face of an unthinkably despicable event and played an important part in getting London moving again. No good person ever wants 7/7 to happen again but what is inevitable is that on a network of the scale of the London Underground, sometimes things go badly wrong. Life can be unpredictable. And when unpredictable things happen on the tube, TFL staff are the first people everyone turns to for help and information. With 953 front-line staff gone, this will be compromised.   

16. Sometimes a little human interaction beats the hell out of being ruled by machine overlords.

Image courtesy of TFL


  1. Well explained Georgia. As a tourist in London it is always comforting to find tube staff who are helpful.

  2. Perfectly valid points! If only everyone had common sense and understanding like yourself we wouldnt be in this strike situation!

  3. Well said we as underground workers do this on a regular basis day in day out and thoroughly enjoy our roles helping and assisting where needed

    1. Keep up the good work. I hope you keep your job and always a comfort to know there are ample staff to cope with the many incidents which can occur at train stations. Travellers need to be safe as do the workers at the stations.

  4. so spot on! thank you for all those very accurate points.

  5. Great that you have taken the time to produce this piece however you have done just what the RMT & TSSA keep doing which is provide incorrect or partial information. There will always be a minimum of TWO staff on duty at a tunnel section station and depending on complexity many more. The normal placement of staff will always be the ticket hall first. If there is an incident then one of two may go to the platform or other location to deal with the incident.
    If we then talk about a station with is outside of the tunnel then this can be single staffed or depending on complexity have several staff. Ticket hall staff are there to assist customers at point of entry. Not everyone needs assistance be it with their journey or the ticket machines. Customers with disability will continue to be looked after regardless of the changes. However when unforeseen staff shortage happens and yes people do go sick or have domestic situations at short notice. Arrangements are made to assist people at stations with disability access in these cases and this is usually done by allowing a taxi to be requested. The only regrettable inconvenience would be the wait for the taxi to arrive.
    Also worth noting that at outside stations a majority don't have ticket office opening for most of the day and only open for an hour or two in the morning. These stations have been already operating with one person for many years so nothing will change at these.

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      At the nearest station to my house, staff already multi-task and at Vauxhall Station, nearest my office, there are always queues at the ticket office where staff are having to deal with combined requests for tickets and general inquiries (as it is a National Rail interchange with separate Oyster card barriers, this confuses many tourists).

      Surely it would make sense to keep the 953 jobs and, when the ticket office is quiet, staff can be redeployed elsewhere as required. Indeed, I have seen this happen already so why would it make sense to take 953 people away when they clearly have things to do?

      I used to live near South Wimbledon tube station and sometimes, especially late at night, the station was entirely unmanned. If anything, that station needs more people, rather than less. On one occasion, there was nobody to help when I saw a couple being harassed by another passenger at the ticket hall, my phone battery had run out, and all I could do was hurry back to my flat to call the police. The station was also a magnet for fare evasion.

      I'd also be concerned if I was a staff member having to work alone at a station. Surely that is a workplace safety issue that means more staff are required rather than 953 jobs being cut? A member of staff working alone at a betting shop near my house was murdered a few months ago and now there is a campaign to ensure there are always at least two staff on duty. Surely this should also be the case for tube stations?

    2. Just to be clear, South Wimbledon is never left unstaffed and in fact should have two staff as a minimum. Its because staff aren't visible that customers don't get any assistance or maybe feel unsafe. This is why staff are being made to now perform their duty in the ticket hall where they can be of more assistance. Staff have been working alone on stations for decades already and will continue to do so on stations which aren't located under ground.

    3. I'd just like to point out that you keep saying 953 jobs are to go. Two points,
      1) 200 new jobs will be created so only a total of 753 jobs will go and they are also introducing a new CSA 2 class of staff who will be on a lower wage but will only be able to work in ticket halls and so long term far more of these will be employed cancelling out the 753 job losses entirely.
      2) Nearly all of the job losses are at management level and so very few 'visible' staff will be lost, you won't notice the difference in the stations, if anything there will be more visible staff.

  6. Georgia,
    I agree with all your points. I just said the other day when there is one member of staff at a station, if that member of staff collapses, has a fall or even worse a heart attack. Who will report this or call an ambulane. Especially when one person is at a station at night. My nearest station has fare evaders, a lot of crime drugs being used in the toilets, we also have a park by the station and a lot of muggings. I have seen station staff call the police, which shows how much we need staff at these stations.

    1. Good points Georgia. It is all about safety and service.

  7. Staff from the open sections are often moved to the tunnel section to make up the minimum numbers that are required by the LFB, following the Kings Cross tragedy, which compromises the stations that are leaving.

    Ticket office staff are included in the minimum numbers and with almost 20% of station jobs gone, LU will find it increasingly difficult to maintain the fire brigade's set, minimum numbers.

    The next move will be for Johnson's tory leaders to change the legislation to accommodate [at the expense of safety] such a large reduction of staff.

    It is early morning [when many return from clubs] and late at night when the tube's staff, are already at minimum, have to deal with a large proportion of people under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.

    The large scale reduction of staff is quite frankly wreckless, however, this gung ho attitude to people's wellbeing is evident enough with the state of the hospitals & ambulance service and the closure of fire and life boat stations and the reduction on the cash spent on Britain's flood defences, which were hastily and belatedly reversed today.


  8. Hmm.

    1) I'm not aware of anyone confusing the high salaries commanded by tube drivers to push a leaver as being the reason for the strike.

    2) Indeed. But aren't those staff who used to sit behind the little glass window to be redeployed to the concourse giving more staff to help passengers?

    3) fine

    4) If the re-deployed staff are available to the whole station, surely that will increase numbers of staff available at all levels of the station, both platform and concourse? That means more visibility not less.

    5) At the moment, if there are five staff and six incidents they can't cover all of them. Extra staff actually out in the station can only reduce problems.

    6) Because the buggers were on strike. Again, if you have the ticket office staff out in the station the system would be better able to cope with wheelchair passengers.

    7) If the human being is stuck behind a little window they cannot be near the machines to help with issues.

    8) See 7)

    9) Who said anything about staff free ticket halls? As I understand it, what is being proposed is to move the ticket office staff out from behind the little window and onto the concourse. This will help reduce Fair Evasion.

    10) Fair enough

    11) Fair enough

    12) Tube users pay for tickets. tickets pay staff's salaries. Staff members who are members of RMT pay a sub to RMT which pays for BC's Salary ergo Tube Users pay part of his salary. Other examples are class envy.

    13) See 7)

    14) Just because tube drivers aren't working doesn't mean the rest of the city isn't. The Tube is a Service which is, as you say, relied upon. When you cannot rely on it you stop using it. This is why I now drive to work.

    15) How does 7/7 have anything to do with this strike?

    16) Indeed and as per 7) above the staff who would have been stuck behind a little window and thus unable to help with a machine (you get told to ask a staff member actually on the concourse) will be out there actually able to help.

    This is a bad strike for bad reasons.

    1. 1. Loads of idiots have used the strike as a chance to whine about driver salaries when that is a separate issue.

      2. Agreed, there is no reason why staff in the ticket office shouldn't come out to help with ticket machine problems if they're not serving any customers. But if they lose their jobs altogether, that means there will be 953 less people across the tube network to help customers in any number of situations. Thus, if anything, it should be about looking at job descriptions rather than wholesale job losses.

      3. Er, good...

      4. Some stations are currently down to just one member of staff as it is. 953 less staff members won't magically create more members of staff. See point two about looking at job descriptions rather than wholesale job losses.

      5. It would depend on the incidents. Again, see point two about looking at job descriptions rather than wholesale job losses...

      6. Yes, I know this was due to strike action. It is also an example of what happens when there are less people staffing stations. Again, see point two about looking at job descriptions rather than wholesale job losses...

      7. Again, see point two about looking at job descriptions rather than wholesale job losses...

      8. Again, see point two about looking at job descriptions rather than wholesale job losses...

      9. See point four about how some stations already are down to one member of staff. Also, shared station managers between stations in some cases. And again, see point two about looking at job descriptions rather than wholesale job losses...

      10 and 11. Er, good...

      12. Not all TFL staff are union members and what TFL union member staff members spend their money on is their own business, including union dues. On that stellar logic, you could argue for any civil servant being banned from spending money on something you didn't approve of because your taxes/train fares pay their salary. It's a similarly spurious argument to banning people on benefits from buying alcohol.

      13. And again, see point two about looking at job descriptions rather than wholesale job losses...

      14. Good for you! That is your choice! Get yourself to work however you can and enjoy the fact that you are able to drive to work.

      15. Did you click on the link about the role of TFL staff, which would undoubtedly include ticket office staff, when 7/7 happened? 953 less staff means 953 less people on hand if something dreadful like that ever happens again.

      16. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand again, see point two about looking at job descriptions rather than wholesale job losses...

  9. Good to see Georgia Lewis be spot on about her points. Finally someone with common sense! :)

  10. The FIRST decent post on this subject and in that 'im including the RMT/TSSA/ all LUL/TFL representatives and Boris. I saw Mike Brown on tv earlier 'live' and he was asked a straight question and he came out with some spiel and yet NEVER answered the question that was asked of him. Strange how NO ONE has asked boris how he has reneged on many promises he made when he wanted people to vote him in as mayor. He even tried to score political points back then by saying strikes only happen under Labour & Ken Livingstone.Ken planned to close ONLY 40 ticket offices not ALL. I also read somewhere today that Boris went to London Bridge for a 'photoshoot' while thousands outside struggled into work. And WHAT is Boris going to do with the £150m surplus he has left over from his egotistical bike rental scheme ?? He could use that to keep ticket offices open as he promised many times.

  11. 953 jobs to go. So can some mathematician explain where these extra staff about the station are going to come from ?? There are not 953 ticket office staff at present, so that's even LESS staff not available around the station , not more. Someone get TFL some batteries for their calculators please. 4 years ago they shed 800 jobs in ticket offices. We were lied to as they said 'they will work around the station to be more visible and available to passengers'. Again, those 800 people left the company meaning LESS available staff.

  12. Ppl need to understand that a lot is going on within all these changes. Staff are having to re-apply for their jobs whereby some staff willbe downgraded if they dont make the selection process. Despite the fact they have been doing the same job for over
    10 years or not. The public only no a third of whats going on... but thx to boris who is only in power cause half twit idiots voted him in. Boris is not for the working class.

  13. I travel to London from Scotland. Last time I was there, the machines took euros but not scottish banknotes so I had to queue for 40 mins at a ticket office. How will I buy a ticket with no staff..? Seems a bit ridiculous when it is legal tender and within the uk. If they're going to do is, they need to make it possible for everyone (including tourists) to buy a ticket!

    1. What an excellent and likely unconsidered point. I'd love to hear an answer from tfl,

  14. Just one point I would like to make. Last time ticket office cost were made we were told they would be coming out of the ticket office to the ticket hall where they would be more visible, more staff to assist. What they didn't say was that instead of now having an open ticket office and a member of staff on the hardline, or 2 members of staff now on the hardline, what actually happened was the ticket office closed. Covered the hardline because the member of staff on the hardline finished their shift. So fewer staff are available to assist. And this is exactly what they intend to do again. Fact

  15. (cuts = costs) (gateline=hardline)Apologies for the auto correct mistakes.

  16. Well said.not to mention the accounting and revenue ,together the maintainence of machines and being an alreafy established information assistance far as tha oyster os concerened when it first was brought the tickwt office could resolve all issues and was a one stop shop where you could go and get everything sorted,refunds faults cancellations and any other peoblems and this was done through trustworthy human interaction where as now you must go home and queue on the phone which for the most part was cowting the customer more than was worth because the cost would far outway the refund.oh and now you have the internet which when it woeks is great however when ir doesnt it once again costs the customer as they have to pay again and yep youve guessed it queue on the phone again and get e refund that may be out weighed by the cost of the call.ofcourse only recenlty the call has been swithed over to a local number so as to be seen to help but isnt the customers personal time valid as well?lets also not hope rhat same customer doesnt get the runaround and have to call oyster again!!i wonder at what cost it has been metering all the simple things out to other companies that could and were being done at your local ticket office and i dont think it takes much thought as to where they recoup those costs from!oh and should it not be forgot that a union is the very last line in the small mans defence and though i wouldve like many other londoners like to have seen some sturdy and productive talks and not two stags locking horns without a union the kind of sweeping changes without hide nor hair of concern that wouldve occured would have been something worthy of dark age employment and would changed london in the worst way possible while we all accept change the unions serve to slow the mistakes as the big bolshy bossess have to think before they act.once the union has gone its gone and we will all be alone out there commuters included!as bob used to say "its good to talk"!god bless london rown.:)

  17. Sorry about the spelling errors but big hand and small small phones dont often get for thought.there has been millions of pounds made from customers mistakes uses the oyster touch in and out system which customers havent got back simply because most dont even know they are owed though ofcourse now they have started to give back some though the web and thats if you set the ball in motion by being online to begin with but think about this-before that happened which was literaly moments ago in comparison to the time oyster has been around you would be encouraged to outo top up so when your fund fell below a certain point it would automatically take more money from your account and put it on your card so how would you ever know that you had made a mistake and that you are due a refund?at the ticket they have been restricted to only being able to see the last 8 journeys which for most people in this busy town they complete in the last two days of travel! You couldve made and repeated a conatant mistake and the result would be as soon as it falls below £5 it would automatically top up again so you would be none the wiser! What words now spring to mind for you i wonder!!!almost sounds like the travel network bosses have a few million extra bank account that they dont evenhave to have a credit check for!just a thought!!;)love you london!

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