TfL should not be cutting 950 posts

Many of those staff are still needed to help customers.

Many of those staff are still needed to help customers

There has been heated debate across the transport sector and throughout London on TfL’s Fit for the Future programme. The programme will, alongside other changes such as a 24 hour Tube service at weekends, bring about the closure of all ticket offices at London Underground stations, with job losses expected to total around 950.

I have no inherent opposition to moving staff from the ticket office to the station floor – this is not the question at hand. Rather, the issue is whether TfL, with its reduced staffing levels at stations, can provide all customers – especially the disabled and elderly – with a safe, accessible and acceptable service.

This was the subject of a roundtable I hosted yesterday at City Hall with the campaign group Transport for All and a range of other disability groups and charities. During the discussion participants shared their own experiences on how a cut in staff in stations would impact accessibility across the network.

One key theme that emerged was the need for a standardised and predictable approach to locating help at stations. As currently proposed, staff could move from fixed positions within ticket offices to a roving role across the station concourse and station as a whole.

One major concern raised was that there would be no uniform approach to locating help for customers across stations – especially when stations may only have one member of staff on duty in stations outside zone one.

For example, how confident would a partially blind or mobility-impaired passenger feel making their way to a station not knowing whether there would be a member of staff at the ticket barriers to assist them with their journey? How do you summon help at the ticket barrier if the lone staff member is elsewhere in the station?

Another (partially sighted) contributor noted how electronic information boards with times of departing trains were located at completely different places across stations – making it extremely hard to find direction and help at unfamiliar stations.

A standardised information or help point at a predictable entrance location in each station would go a long way to giving disabled customers confidence that assistance was available or could be called. Older and disabled passengers, people with autism, hearing loss, mental health, learning difficulties and other problems reported difficulties dealing with hard-pressed staff being called on by dozens of other customers, such as tourists.

There were also reports of many current failings within the system, such as wheelchair users being kept waiting for staff, and staff being unable to use the ramps and equipment available properly.

Current staffing levels were clearly often inadequate and for disabled passengers, the presence of helpful, well trained staff to offer assistance makes the vital difference regarding whether a journey is even possible.

The meeting also considered developing a framework for campaigners to assess staffing needs at their local station (for example whether elderly passengers would need assistance navigating stairs), so that local residents and campaign groups can demonstrate to TfL what services are needed to ensure the underground is accessible to all customers. I look forward to developing this framework with campaigners in the coming weeks.

I have been calling on TfL to address the impact of their proposed staff cuts on older and disabled passengers and conduct a station-by-station consultation to establish the staffing levels that are needed in each of London’s hugely varied stations. We need this station-by-station review so that the public – including passengers, local Councillors and campaign groups – can have their say on the proposals.

After all, it is Londoners who will have to live with these changes and deal with them on a daily basis for years to come. I hope our work yesterday will empower passengers to make their voices heard and make TfL take notice.

My strong view – confirmed by the roundtable meeting, is that TfL should not be cutting 950 posts from its current station staffing complement. If ticket offices are to close in response to technological changes and the proliferation of contactless payment, then many of those staff are still needed and should be located at prominent customer help points where they should do just that – help customers.

Val Shawcross is the London Assembly Labour Group spokeswoman for Transport and assembly member for Lambeth and Southwark

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.