Staff cuts at Hampstead and Highgate tube stations spark safety fears

ANGRY critics this week claimed proposed job cuts at London Underground ticket offices in Hampstead and Highgate will turn the tube stations into death traps. Full details have now emerged of Transport for London s plans to cut 800 posts across the capita

ANGRY critics this week claimed proposed job cuts at London Underground ticket offices in Hampstead and Highgate will turn the tube stations into death traps.

Full details have now emerged of Transport for London's plans to cut 800 posts across the capital and insiders say as many as three-quarters of the staff at Hampstead and Highgate tube station offices could be culled by February next year, prompting fears over how emergencies could be dealt with adequately.

Two members of London Underground staff, who both asked not to be identified, told the Ham&High this week that there are genuine fears about how the cuts will affect stations that are "already understaffed", and that safety is a major concern.

Another insider told the Ham&High that staff would soon be on strike over job cuts and that Highgate is set to lose three out of four ticket office staff.

He said: "Ticket offices are being used less and less but what ticket office staff are dealing with more and more are complaints about Oyster and unresolved journeys.

"Come next February when ticket office opening hours are drastically reduced, gate line staff will no longer be able to direct customers to the ticket office for assistance because it will be shut. Customers will simply be told to ring Oyster."

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If TfL's proposals are passed, opening hours at Hampstead station's ticket office will be reduced from the current times of 6.30am - 7.30pm Monday to Friday to a slot of just more than two hours a day at 7.45am - 10am.

Hampstead councillor Chris Knight asked what would happen to a passenger suffering a heart attack or stroke while stuck in the tube station's notoriously unreliable lifts.

He said: "It's an accident waiting to happen. The Hampstead lifts have a history of bad operation and we've had nothing but complaints over the last couple of years.

"What do you do if someone's stuck in a lift and they have asthma or a heart condition or other illness? If someone has a stroke are you expected to just call some bloke on a radio and wait for help?"

He said ticket office staff also play an important role in making customers feel safe when leaving the stations at night.

He added: "It gives single women or elderly people confidence to know there's someone in the ticket box they can talk to rather than leaving an empty, unmanned station with a skeleton crew somewhere. I think it's a disaster."

The Rail Maritime and Transport Union's general secretary Bob Crow has issued a statement confirming that Underground staff are planning to strike following a vote.

The union last week said it was only the vigilance and experience of station-based staff that prevented disasters on previous occasions when smoke was spotted rising from an escalator at Euston and an air-conditioning unit at Oxford Circus.

Besides Hampstead, other tube station ticket offices that with substantially reduced opening times will include Belsize Park, Chalk Farm, Highgate and West Hampstead. Most will close for four hours in the middle of the day and shut up shop by 7pm.

A spokesman for TfL denied stations will be less safe if posts are cut. He said: "We're still consulting on individual staffing levels for stations, but we believe we can remove 700-800 posts across the Underground. We have committed that all stations will continue to be staffed at all times while our trains are running, that customer and staff safety remain our highest priorities, and that we will achieve this reduction without any compulsory redundancies."

He added that "only" one in 20 journeys now involves interaction at a ticket office window and said those staff remaining would be stationed on platforms, in ticket halls and at gate lines.

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