Tube strike: Dear Londoners, this is why we are on strike

Where is the room in London Underground's brave new world for disabled people, poor people and non-English speakers?

Where is the room in London Underground’s brave new world for disabled people, poor people and non-English speakers? asks John Leach

Last June, the government cut funding to Transport for London by 12.5 per cent. Last November, London Underground Ltd (LU) announced its intention to close all its ticket offices, cut 953 jobs and restructure its station staffing to create more managers but cut the pay of station staff.

London Underground knows very well that passengers do not want these cuts, that staff do not want these cuts, that Londoners do not want these cuts. It is not making these cuts and closures in order to improve and ‘modernise’ its service, as it claims: it is making them to save money and damn the consequences.

Transport for London – which owns London Underground – has refused proposals from RMT that it ask the government to reverse the funding cut and that it trim the salaries of the 328 people that TfL paid more than £100,000 in 2012/13. LU bosses claim that only 3 per cent of journeys involve a visit to a ticket office.

But the percentage disguises the hard fact that this is well over 100,000 people per day. LU claims that ticket office staff are ‘invisible’: how does it think that all these people manage to find them?!

LU’s vision is of an Underground where no-one needs ticket offices and no-one needs help: an Underground where everyone has topped up their payment card online and moves confidently and seamlessly through the system.

But where is the room in this brave new world for visitors to London unfamiliar with the system, disabled people, poor people who struggle to keep their card in credit, non-English speakers, people visiting hospitals, elderly people, people who fear assault or harassment while travelling, or anyone else who does not measure up to their ideal customer?

Moreover, these cuts represent only 6 per cent of the total savings that TfL needs to make. So if the company steamrollers these plans through, then the hard-pressed passengers can also look forward to at least several of the following: higher fares, abandoned improvements, more staff cuts, less frequent services, less regular maintenance and thus lower safety standards.

LU bosses have claimed in the media that RMT has made no alternative proposals – or that the union has made no ‘constructive’ or ‘credible’ proposals.

This is a sleight of hand in which the company dismisses the well-thought-through, detailed alternative proposals that we made as being neither constructive nor credible, when in fact they are both.

RMT has proposed that TfL/LU: undertake a major programme of making the Tube accessible to disabled people; ask the government for more money; cap salaries at £100,000; bring all contracted-out services in-house; promote its own ticket offices rather than rival outlets; and abandon costly preparations for further cuts, such as driverless trains.

These measures would both improve services and save money, but were all rejected by top Tube bosses, who even had the cheek to claim that if anything, they are not paid enough.

So that is why we are on strike. We have talked and talked and it has got us nowhere. When we took strike action in February, it won us and Londoners a promise from the company of a ‘station-by-station review’ which ‘may lead to some ticket offices staying open’.

Eight weeks later, that station-by-station review has not taken place, and LU bosses openly state that even when it does, it will not lead to any ticket offices staying open.

This is deeply shocking and disappointing – but perhaps not surprising when the puppet-master is Boris Johnson, elected Mayor on a promise of keeping a ticket office open at every station, a promise that now lies in tatters.

London Underground Ltd has shown emphatically that when we stop taking action, it stops backing down. The company could not have made it clearer that if we want to stop these cuts and closures, we have to strike.

On the eve of the strike, RMT offered to Tube bosses that we would suspend our strike if they suspended their cuts to allow a full public consultation. They refused.

That tells you who is to blame for the strike going ahead. And it makes you wonder what they fear from a public consultation – presumably, that the public disagree with their plans.

John Leach is RMT London transport regional organiser

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49 Responses to “Tube strike: Dear Londoners, this is why we are on strike”

  1. Blue Dave

    total shite

  2. Callum Tanner

    There are not just two options as this article claims, top up online or using a ticket office. Its baffling to me that I need to point out the obvious- most people use the top up, touch screen machines in every station. Non-English speakers can use these machines in their own language (how many people in ticket offices speak 10 languages). They are accessible to the blind, disabled and elderly.

    Ticket offices closing may be a harsh reality, but they are simply not needed any more.

  3. Christopher Howarth

    I pay £120 a month to subsidise the high pay and inefficiencies of tube drivers and staff – paid more than me for less qualified jobs. Why should we have to struggle to pay for your artificially high pay – only high as management has consistently given into your strikes and threats? Show some comradly behaviour towards your fellow Londoners and get back to work so we can.

  4. Frustrated

    How is “asking the government for more money” a solution? As with all public services, austerity has required cuts. This is a solution that a 5 year old would propose. Every business needs to modernise, so suspending all future modernising initiatives is just bonkers. Let’s leave driver-less trains to ASLEF who seem to live in the real world.

  5. Selohesra

    So once again we suffer some mild inconvenience & the tube workers lose a days pay – all for a futile strike that can hardly be said to bring London to a halt. All it really achieves is accellerate the day when the whole system is automated and not therefore beholden to luddite dinosaurs who run unions for their own political ambition rather than in support of their members

  6. Spartacus

    TBH I’m not fussed about the strike (it hasn’t affected my commute etc.) but I disagree with the author – modernisation is inevitable and very few people ‘need’ ticket offices. However, If this article is really a summation of all the reasons “why we are on strike” then that is far more depressing – it’s limp, illogical and poorly argued.

    Tube needs to be far more disabled-accessible though. Kudos.

  7. RicardoRed

    What about the high pay and inefficiences of TFL management, outsourcing, and costly managerial decisons?

  8. RicardoRed


  9. Travelboy

    I’m puzzled as to how LU employees help a) poor people who struggle to keep their card in credit b) non-English speakers – No insult intended, but I haven’t come across that many LU employees fluent in French or German, let alone Mandarin or Russian c) people visiting hospitals.

    I also find it not credible that anyone involved in the management of one of the worlds most scrutinised public transport systems would sign up for the quantifiable lowering of safety standards.

    And ‘only 6%’! Only ‘6%’ of £1,855 million (LU Expenditure 2013 I think) is £111 million – when I was young, that was quite a lot of money.

  10. IanVisits

    In order to improve access for the disabled, you need more staff on the platforms and in the ticket hall.

    Curiously, the main advantage of closing the ticket offices is that staff currently sitting behind a glass screen, are indeed now standing on the platforms and in the ticket offices. Helping the very disabled people that the RMT professes to want to help.

    How does a person sitting in a ticket office help someone on a platform?

    While some surplus staff will be offered (and have generally accepted) generous redundancy payments, the net effect is MORE staff available to help customers in the ticket halls and on the platforms.

    As a user of the network, I am struggling to understand why keeping open ticket offices, and having fewer staff on the platforms helping people is a good thing.

  11. oli

    can anyone point me in the direction of a survey that says londoners wanting to keep staff at stations? genuinely interested to see the results

  12. Michael Simpson

    I bet you wrote that rant while at work – aka someone elses time.

  13. Alex

    If anything these strikes are pushing Londoners in favour of more redundancies. Your article claims Londoners support these strikes – I doubt that very much. Tube station attendants are only good for one thing – tourists!

  14. John

    So they are trying to say that 3% of people which totals 100,000 people use the ticket office (which doesn’t say how many of those 100,000 people were actual paying customers or ones to ask for directions!) but it also shows that over 3,000,000 the other 97% are able to pay and complete their journey without the need of a person sitting behind a glass. I personally cannot remember the last time I used a ticket office. I personally would like to see more staff on the platforms and at the barriers helping and directing. Take a page out of the DLR book, 300,000 use the DLR every day in 2012 and all of their staff are on the front line and not behind a glass!

  15. Ben

    “London Underground knows very well that passengers do not want these cuts, that staff do not want these cuts, that Londoners do not want these cuts.” Bollocks. Where is your evidence? As far as I can see, Londoners and passengers DO want these cuts. We want anything that will make the underground more cost-effective to run, in the hope that it stops the ridiculous price rises we are forced to endure year after year, for barely any service improvement. We want driverless trains. We want fully automated ticketing. We want more visible staff on the platform to help people where they need it… and doesn’t this new plan deliver that? I don’t know anyone who feels sorry for tube drivers in the slightest. £52k+ and 45 days holiday for pulling a lever? Do me a favour you greedy blighters.

  16. Ben

    Well just because we may be over-paying for TFL management (and I’d need some evidence for that) doesn’t mean we also want to be over-paying for ticket offices that are used by only 3% of tube users! You can’t use one unacceptable cost as justification to carry on with another unjustifiable cost – that’s not how the world works.

  17. RicardoRed

    are tube staff overpaid?!

  18. Elsie

    Please do enlighten me on how to use a ticket machine! I am registered blind and have always relied on talking to people at the ticket offices. As far as I am aware the ticket machines do not use braille!

  19. Red Robb

    Ok what’s not been said here is that this is clearly the result of what many people have voted for. People wanted change & got bored of Labour, now you have what you asked for a tory government. It was always inevitable that once in power strikes would happen they always do go check your history books. I digress, now London Underground was initially set up by privateers and has always been run so. It was the GLC under Ken Livingstone that merged the separate companies into one business unit of London Transport. Now if it weren’t for Maggie illegally closing down the GLC, the underground would’ve been government or at least run centrally. Now it is because the government are to thrifty and tight to recognise it’s importance as part of Londons infrastructure, that we are in this mess today.

    So there’s no point in pointing the accusatory finger at the union & staff members for what is a stressful & testing time. As I don’t imagine for a second that any of you would voluntarily swap places to do the shift work that they do. Leaving home or coming home at two or three in the morning. Regularly missing bedtime & dinner time with your family. Dealing with big shot city bod’s vomiting & being abusive on a Friday night. Cleaning up missing teeth & broken limbs at the weekend. That’s the nasty side of the job, then you get the indignant ones that think rules don’t apply to them.

    Also if staff are cut, who’s going to be there to pick up the pieces should another 7/7 happen?

    Security will be sacrificed along with cuts, that for sure is inevitable. It’s happening already, you just don’t know it.

  20. Rogue


    That’s cute do you really think that cutting staff will make travel any cheaper? Now the ONLY reason that prices go up EVERY year is to limit numbers of people using the system. TfL get the majority of their revenue NOT through ticket sales, but through advertising and properties (the biggest landlord in the capital). Now if you take your poisonous venous personal vendetta elsewhere because it seem to have narrowed your perspective somewhat.

  21. Red Robb

    It’s a shame that in an age of “information” so many know so little.

    I’m surrounded by ignorance & drake like genials that feel so sorry for themselves they turn bitter & spout utter tripe in order to make themselves feel better. Therapy would be a better option, stay away from the internet is my advice. Self gratification is so demeaning and worthless.

  22. James

    It must be awful, being as amazing as you. It’s a good thing you’re not given to self gratification.

    I, personally, will continue to be a superintelligent male duck.

  23. Red Robb


    it’s great being me, I pity all these ignorant tory/wannabe tory boys & gals.

  24. Jane Thomas

    Driverless trains will cost ten to 2 billion of government money to commission and build, a figure that seems to rise each time it is written about. Why is it ok to ask for THIS public money but not to save jobs?

  25. Jane Barnet

    Is it not obvious that taking away 953 jobs from stations means 953 fewer people will be working on stations? They will not be more visible on platforms or anywhere. They will not be there!

  26. Jane Barnet

    So you’re saying that because you personally cannot remember the last time you used this service it should be removed from the people that do use it? And the needs of the minority do not need to be addressed because you are not amongst them?How selfish! And closed minded to the needs of minorities with additional needs

  27. Chayson Holt

    Then how do ya write this comment at first place? =)
    Sincerely; American student studying in London.

  28. Elsie

    I have a special software installed that reads out the computer screen to me and I have braille on my keyboard.

  29. Lucia

    ticket office might close but there will be people on the site to help out.. is not like stations will not have anyone there to help people use machines.. sorry 10 years here and I went to ticket station maybe 5 times.. BTW you can top up your oyster online as well as buy ticket at your local place

  30. Sally

    Having used transport in other European countries that use machines with few if at all ticket officers I don’t see why we can’t adopt the same system. They must have a way round it so why can’t we do the same. I am tired of expensive travel and strikes which do nothing but hurt the people not the companies.

  31. Ray

    That’s correct,the tube could be fee, but it will not cope with the number of people

  32. Hawkharp

    what a typical union apologist bollocks reply, Put a vote to the London public on banning tube strikes, the union would lose, London is sick and angry at being the victim of union assault.

  33. Hawkharp

    You are helping Disabled, poor and non English? Absolutely lies, you’re in it for yourselves only. Ticket offices help noone, prices are more expensive on the tube because of the militant push for 50k+ salaries and retaining jobs no longer relevant, hurting poor people, the strikes also hugely impact poor and low income London workers far more than any of the middle class white collars.

    Disabled people would be far better served by the ticket office staff being out an about, helping them buy tickets on the machines and then guiding them to trains, no the worker stuck being the glass window where you can barely hear then.

    Foreign people are far more afraid of queuing to speak to a generally grumpy idiot, what would be far better is that these wombles are out in the station helping.

    The Rmt are a self involved navel gazing organisation no longer fit to be allowed free reign to abuse the commuter so so they can have more extortion money,

  34. jammin500

    This is a fair point, not sure if Braille would work mind as the screen changes but would voice activation with vibration feedback through the screen work, much like a phone does?

    However, you can still top-up in the newspaper shops that offer top-up or if your PC is designed and set-up for being used by the blind, then would you not take that option every time?

    I guess the question is how do places like Lisbon, New York, Berlin, Paris get by and have done for years now without ticket offices?

  35. mikesey

    A very common sense article, with a good deal of union bashing in reply!
    The Tory supporters making suggestions which supposedly “answer” it, don’t seem to live in the real world at all.
    Doing everything “on-line”, is not a practical proposition for many people. It’s a method which the government takes with those trying to claim Jobseekers’ allowance, for instance.
    It’s designed to cut down essential face-to-face contact, and reduce the cost of employing staff; there is no other reason.
    The RMT is right to strike on behalf of those who shall find it hard to use the tube if there are no ticket office staff to answer basic questions, like how much is a day ticket?
    I cannot see how TFL can have staff around ALL the time, to answer questions, no matter what they ” guarantee”.

    I visit London on a regular basis; what the hell do I do, if there is nowhere to get a ticket for my journey? I come in from the West Country, and at every visit I see long queues at ticket offices, and many of the people in those queues are baffled foreign tourists, all needing help.
    If any must be closed, then keep those in Central London open.

  36. Rick

    I’m sorry but Londoners do want these cuts. They are inevitable, necessary and pragmatic. Shutting down an entire city, one which has a global reputation for being a world hub of business and tourism, is what Londoners do not want.

  37. Gabe

    Support for disabled people doesn’t necessarily get compromised by closing ticket offices as long as there are still station attendants in the ticket/entrance hall who can still assist people (perhaps by entering your instructions into the ticket machine) – this is actually being increased.

  38. MP14

    Buy an Oyster card and keep it in your wallet?

  39. MP14

    As an employer i’m happy for my staff who have to put up with tube travel voicing their opinions freely – Perhaps Christopher Howarth is in a similar position, perhaps he’s self employed, perhaps he did it in his free time.

  40. ceiswyn

    Fun fact: if you try to buy an Oyster card on the website, it doesn’t accept some kinds of legitimate UK phone number. And it won’t let you proceed without one, either.

    Don’t get me started on the other deficiencies of TfL’s website, either…

  41. MP14

    I’ve experienced this myself, i suspect that they treat all 08 numbers the same due to the variable tariffs charged by these numbers….When they do get rid of ticket offices then they must improve the service elsewhere, including the website, but we shouldn’t stand in the way of progress…..if we did we’d still be living in wattle and daub housing, using hand ploughs and knitting our own underwear.

  42. RicardoRed

    Wow. I think I completely misunderstood what you had said! With ya on what you were saying

  43. Charles

    They can have a member of staff stand next to you at the ticket machine helping you through the process. I.e. using a computer, taking your payment, and giving you a ticket. How is this any different to you going up to a glass panel where the same member of staff has to talk to you through a prison-visitation-like microphone system?

  44. Rogue

    Thank you for confirming my reply Ray.

    Hawkharp, try establishing facts before raising a credible debate. London can’t vote against strike action as the underground isn’t owned by government. Sorry if I burst yet another bubble in your myopic world but hey ho thems’ the breaks.

  45. Rogue


    London can’t vote, and even if they could, can they be trusted to do so responsibly? Judging from the Lord Mayor that we have in situ my answer to that would be no.

    But please continue to humour me with your self gratuitous, sanctimonious rhetoric, and someone other than yourself may just buy into it…lol!

  46. Rogue

    You’re disillusioned if you think that all ticket office staff only work in the office. Many are & do already assist outside. Name calling ain’t very mature of you either, it’s probably a discourteous customer like yourself Hawky that’s upset their demeanour & thus ruined what was a nice day.

    As for the customers that are served how many wheelchairs have you seen on the underground over the last year?… Thought so me either, & I use the system everyday. Staff are there for yours & my safety.

  47. Red Robb

    I’m feeling generous so I’m gonna share a little something with you all.

    My wife whilst heavily pregnant was stuck on a full train on a busy Saturday Christmas Shopping evening. Now there had been an incident where someone had thrown themselves under a train. Now because TfL had adequate staff & a train driver, they were able to assist her off the train along with all the other passengers. She then had to walk down the track & was assisted onto the platform, where upon arrival they had bottles of water on hand for all passengers of that train.

    Now imagine if you would this kinda scenario with no train operative & limited station staff. This along with many other incidents 7/7 included is why it’s important to protect jobs. So for all of the unsympathetic union bashers, I for one will never have a bad word to say about the good job that TfL staff do. For all of the Tory bods on here maybe you need a different forum from which to cast your unwarranted negativity on.

  48. Michael Simpson

    We’re actually very alike then. I have no problems with workers voicing their opinions freely.

  49. Martin

    This article is vague and illogical. It seems that the well thought out strategy consists of asking the government for more money. Is this a reason for striking?

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