Closure of ticket offices


Mayor's Question Time


Wednesday, 12 September 2007


Question 2007/2154 (Oral)

Main question

Bob Blackman

Will you reconsider your plan to close the ticket office and reduce the staffing levels at North Harrow Station? Will you now withdraw these unpopular and ill-considered proposals?


The Mayor

North Harrow has seen a reduction in ticket-window transactions of over 61% in the last two years. Average transactions are now just 101 per day, down from 106 in July. Ticket-window transactions are falling in North Harrow at three times the network average rate. Now it may be because you are standing there trying to get people to sign up and they are avoiding the station. Staff will remain available at the gate line and in the ticket hall at North Harrow Station to assist customers who may be unfamiliar with the ticket machines.

London Underground's strategy is to have more staff at customer-facing positions by relocating them from where they are not needed, from ticket offices with very low demand. London Underground is currently in consultation with trade unions about these charges and I have asked London Underground to ensure that all concerns about the proposal are fully considered before any changes come into effect.

Supplementary Questions - 9

Bob Blackman

Thank you very much, Mr Mayor. Can I ask you directly how many staff will be lost when you close the ticket office at North Harrow Station?

The Mayor

None whatsoever. They will all be reallocated to other work.

Bob Blackman (AM): Well that directly contradicts statements made by London Underground at a public meeting of the Harrow Public Transport Users Association (HPTUA), where they made clear that one member of staff would be lost at North Harrow when the ticket office closes.

Mayor (Ken Livingstone): No, that member of staff will be reallocated to other work, most probably at the gates at another station in the general area.

Bob Blackman (AM): So they will be moved from the station to another station?

Mayor (Ken Livingstone): Yes. You will retain the four full-time members of staff at North Harrow but the ticket office individual will be given other work in the general area assisting other people at other stations.

Bob Blackman

In your comments you allude to the fact that the reduction in ticket office sales is 61%. In a letter from Tim O'Toole to a resident he makes clear it is a 47% reduction. It appears that the figures that you have and Tim O'Toole have seem to differ. Here we are conducting a consultation without the true facts being put in front of people.

The Mayor

We get monthly updates on this and I do not know why North Harrow Station should be experiencing a reduction of ticket sales of three times the average rate. We are now in a position where we have got about 35 or 36 stations which have very low ticket sales. One is down to 19 sales a day. I think we would all agree keeping somebody in a ticket office to sell 19 tickets is not a very good idea. What I have said is - and it is important to get the timescales right on this - that none of these ticket offices will close until we have got the 1,500 extra ticket outlets in neighbouring shops and stores, and every single station has had another Oyster sale machine put in. We are most probably talking about next summer before we move to any closures.

In the negotiations I had with the trade unions on this last week I made it clear we will not be closing all of them in one fell swoop. We will close the 15 or so with the least sales, where they are all dealing under 30 a day, see how that goes, see whether any problems arise, then take the next 15 or so and then move on. By the time we get to taking a decision on your station we might be down to 20 or 30 tickets a day.

Bob Blackman

In this particular station studies have shown that it is constantly busy, either through paper tickets being sold or Oyster top-ups or other queries being asked by commuters. The figures that have been quoted at the moment are ticket office sales. How far away will commuters have to go in order to top-up their Oyster cards when they have to pay cash?

The Mayor

Well my recollection is that already 80% of Londoners live within a quarter of a mile of an Oyster outlet, mainly their local newsagents. We are moving from 2,000 of those to 3,500. The other thing to bear in mind is that the staff released from inside the ticket office are going to be around on the gate and will be bale to assist people accessing the machine that will enable them to top-up their Oyster card, that is those who do not do it over the internet and so on.

Bob Blackman

Clearly 3,464 customers at North Harrow Station do not agree with your proposals to close the ticket office. Will you now reconsider that given the scale of public opposition that there is and retain this particular ticket office along with considering the rest of the Metropolitan Line, which is also being faced with these proposals, that will lead particularly on event days to absolute chaos on the whole network.

The Mayor

On event days you can be absolutely certain that there would be a member of staff there to assist people accessing the machines. I do not have the slightest doubt both at North Harrow and many other stations that we would be able to get thousands and thousands of people to sign petitions, come to meetings, write letters of protest. The only thing we can't persuade them to do is buy a ticket at the ticket office.

I am making a guess but my assumption is that there will be well below 50 ticket sales a day by the time we get to come to look at the situation at North Harrow. We are bound to have a background debate about cutting out waste and inefficiency in both the police and Transport for London. You cannot realistically say it is a good use of a human being's time to sit in a ticket office. Most of these are already only open for two or three hours in the morning. The rest of the day they are not serving, they are just sitting there bored out of their skull most of the time. That person could be actually on the ticket gate or on the platform interacting with the public in a much more useful way.

Bob Blackman

What message do you have to commuters arriving home in the dark not knowing whether there is anyone on the station or not and not knowing that there will be someone located in the ticket office whom they can call on for assistance when required?

The Mayor

It is an absolutely clear policy, which I have no intention from ever retreating from, that if a Tube station is open there will always be a member of staff present on that station. I think there is one station out on the very end of the loop of the Circle Line out in Roger Evans's constituency which is not staffed all day, but given the problems of crime, the issue of a genuine person turning up who might be confused and so on, I am not prepared to allow unmanned stations.

Joanne McCartney

On a similar theme I have had representations from people about the Seven Sisters ticket office. Seven Sisters has two entrances and exits, one on Green Lane which is extremely busy and one on the Seven Sisters Road which interchanges with the overground. That is actually quite deserted. You have to go through a very narrow passage to get to it, and I have had concerns from people saying they do not feel safe there, especially at night. It would be welcomed if there was someone on the gates there. There was also a concern about the loss of the ticket office and someone staffing that, particularly because the Stansted Express is sometimes diverted from Tottenham Hale to Seven Sisters, so you have holidaymakers coming from the airport trying to change with suitcases and bags, coming down and then not able to buy ticket because the machines are often out of order.

The Mayor

I am trying to recall but I do not think there is any proposal to close the ticket office at Seven Sisters Station.

Joanne McCartney

Well I hope there is not because I have had this complaint from one of the local councillors who tells me she has been in discussions about it.

The Mayor

I am running through the whole list here; Seven Sisters is not on the list. If you actually look at the pattern - West Ruislip, Sudbury Hill, South Ruislip, Mill Hill East, Moor Park and so on - we are talking about stations which are not at the centre but on the periphery where you tend to have very stable communities, people who have very fixed patterns of travel not needing lots of advice, not necessarily having a disproportionate percentage of the population, with English as a second language and so on. I would find it very difficult indeed to conceive of any circumstances in which stations as busy, and in much more crime-ridden areas as Seven Sisters, would not have the ticket office manned, just because of the sheer volumes here. There are about I think 35 stations with under 100 sales a day. This is very light usage.

Murad Qureshi

I just wanted to emphasise the point which I think you touched on, Mayor; the importance of newsagents now in the sales of our tickets. Do you have actual figures to show that that is where Londoners prefer to go to buy their daily travel tickets, whether they be bus or Tube tickets? It strikes me that it is infinitely more convenient for many people to buy their tickets when they are getting their newspaper and light groceries.

The Mayor

I think the vast majority of people of course have got a monthly or annual season ticket and once you have got one Oyster card you never need to do anything other than top it up over the internet. I think that that will definitely grow. I can only say from my own anecdotal experience in Cricklewood, that often on a Saturday or a Sunday morning whilst I am queuing to buy my paper there does seem to be an inordinate number of people in the queue ahead of me getting their Oyster cards and this has become, I think, a pretty major source of income for many of the local newsagents.

Richard Barnes

They are trying to impress you, Mr Mayor! The stations that you have just listed as being from stable communities, many of them are within my own constituency. I can accept that the number of daily sales are quite low, however Wembley Stadium is on the Metropolitan route and at times that is extremely busy. People use these outlying stations to park at and then to travel into Wembley Stadium which makes them busy stations. What are you doing to accommodate those peaks of activity?

The Mayor

On match days we would accommodate that by making sure you have got staff on the ticket barriers and able to help people with the machines. I have to say if you can overcome the hurdles to get a ticket for, say, the Cup Final at Wembley, you are mostly going to have no trouble in getting your Oyster card!

Richard Barnes (AM): That is only once a year, Mr Mayor.

Mayor (Ken Livingstone): Yes, I know, I know.

Richard Barnes (AM): I believe that Wembley is going to be more active than that.

Mayor (Ken Livingstone): We are going to take this very slowly. We are going to deal with the first 15 with the absolute lowest to see whether any problems arise. Just as when we rolled out the Oyster card we did not do it all in one go, we took it stage by stage by stage so that as snags appeared you could resolve them. If the whole of the Oyster card had been rolled out in one stage rather than over two and a half years, all the small problems would have compounded each other. It would have been quite chaotic. We will take this very cautiously. We are under no great pressure here; we are talking about relatively small numbers of staff, and we can take the time to get it right.