Assaults on London Underground employees have risen by 44 per cent, coinciding with staff cuts
Staff in both public and private organisations ought to feel safe at their place of work. However in the last five years assaults on London Underground employees have risen by 44 per cent, coinciding with huge staff deductions on the Underground network.
In 2009, there were 17,882 members of staff working on London Underground; by 2013/2014 staff numbers had fallen to just 10,064. Simultaneously, assaults on employees shot up by from 1,917 to 2,753 over the same period. That means almost a third of staff experience verbal or physical assault each year.
Despite this, the Mayor does not seem to be taking the necessary action to halt this worrying trend. Instead he’s set to axe another 897 London Underground roles this year when he closes each and every tube ticket office. These staff cuts risk putting the remaining staff in an increasingly isolated and potentially dangerous position, especially given the introduction of the Night Tube in September.
Recent data on employee assaults on the London Underground has highlighted a series of key factors contributing to staff assaults. In 2014/15 it was found that 25 per cent of assaults on London Underground employees cited alcohol as a contributing factor. The data also shows that assaults are significantly more likely to take place in the ticket hall or at the gate lines, particularly on Friday and Saturday evenings between 11pm and Midnight.
This paints the picture of a perfect storm: late night drinking in inner London, spilling over onto public transport which leads to aggravation with staff who are not only having to protect themselves but other passengers as well.
Transport for London should be well aware that these are the kind of issues staff will face on late night tubes and buses, and should know that lower numbers of staff will only exacerbate the problem, leaving staff members feeling dangerously isolated.
The introduction of the Night Tube has the potential to be a fantastic development for London, but it may leave London Underground staff in a compromising position. As it stands, there will be just 250 employees for 138 stations, meaning some stations will be staffed by just one person.
With alcohol a proven factor in a significant number of assaults, we have to ask just how safe employees will feel being the sole member of staff at a station at 3am, dealing with groups of passengers coming back from a night on the town. With every one of London Underground’s ticket offices being removed by 2016, staff will instead be placed in the ticket halls.
During the day this may mean they are more usefully placed, but at night time this makes staff far more exposed as potential targets. As the Night Tube begins to run in September of this year I have urged the Mayor to provide sufficient staffing levels that will ensure the safety of London Underground staff and passengers – thus far the response has been silence.
Frontline London Underground staff have an undeniably challenging job. They come into contact with thousands of passengers every day, manage a diverse range of needs and often work long and late hours. These challenges are only set to rise as staff numbers are cut; and when combined with the introduction of the Night Tube staff may be increasingly vulnerable.
We don’t want to see staff exposed to increased risk of assault, the sooner the Mayor and TfL face up to this problem, the better placed they will be to protect staff in the future.
Val Shawcross AM is the London Assembly Labour transport spokesperson. Follow her on twitterLike 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.