No tears in Westminster over ticket office closures

SYMPATHY for tube station staff seems to be at an all time low in Westminster with many welcoming staff cuts to ticket offices and criticising plans for a strike.

Under new proposals office opening hours at all but one of Westminster’s Underground stations will be slashed by a total of 823 hours each week.

The worst hit stations Maida Vale and Warwick Avenue will lose more than 70 hours a week of manned ticket offices.

But while in nearby Camden and Haringey there has been outcry from local groups and businesses over the proposed cuts, their Westminster neighbours are less concerned and have critisised tube staff over plans to strike from Monday.

Maria Jordan, a member of the St John’s Wood Society, said: “The truth is that we are dependent on technology and we don’t need ticket officers.”

Helena Roberts, of Bravington Road in Maida Hill, said: “I travel from Maida Vale to Baker Street everyday. I can’t remember the last time I used a ticket office, everything is Oyster now and I’ve started topping up my balance online.

“It sounds pretty harsh but I think they are a waste of money, especially as all the staff are going on strike now anyway.”

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And Jason Page who commutes to Baker Street everyday, said: “Commuters never use them – the queues are always too long and they aren’t as efficient as Oyster machines.”

The response contradicts a campaign launched by Westminster’s Liberal Democrats on Wednesday. They want to keep the opening hours and argue staff offer support to vulnerable people.

Campaigner Simon Dodd said: “Without ticket offices for support, many vulnerable people could simply stop using London’s underground network altogether. When elected, Boris Johnson promised local people that he would protect ticket offices. He must honour that pledge to local people.”

However, David Hogarth, chairman of Westminster’s Older Person’s Action suggested that ticket offices were becoming superfluous for the vulnerable too.

He said: “I, like all people over 60, have a freedom pass so I have no need to go to the ticket office. It now lasts until 2016 and if I need to get a replacement I can’t go to the tube station anyway – I need to go to the Post Office.”

Some local businesses also welcomed the changes claiming the move would support local businesses by driving commuters to them instead of the station concourse.

Sam Patel, manager of a newsagent in Baker Street station, said: “It is especially good getting the tourists coming in.

“If they come in to get a travelcard maybe they’ll also buy a map of London or a telephone card.”

Ticket offices at Maida Vale will be open for a maximum of three hours if the proposals are carried out.

The offices are currently open for 11 and a half hours, between 6.30am and 8pm.

In St John’s Wood station the office will be unmanned for an extra 28 hours a week. On weekends hours will be reduced to 10.15am until 3.15pm on Saturdays and 10am to 2.15pm on Sundays.

Marylebone station will be less affected with hours reduced by less than 2 hours on weekdays from current opening hours 7am to 10pm to 7.30am to 8.45pm.

Paddington, Baker Street, and Bayswater also face cutbacks which the RMT claims will affect “safety and service for the travelling public”.

A union official added: “If there are businesses and people in Westminster who feel that there is no need for ticket office staff then we think they are wrong.”

Howard Collins, London Underground’s chief operating officer, said: “It is clear that passengers can be better served by getting staff out from behind the windows of under-used ticket offices.”

o Strike talks were ongoing at the time of the Wood&Vale going to press. For the latest see