Karen Buck’s latest article for the Westminster Chronicle

Posted: 28/10/13

The nature of my job means that I am regularly travelling around in the constituency and across London late at night- getting on or off the tube at Westbourne Park, Queen's Park, St John's Wood, Maida Vale, Warwick Avenue and other stations, as well as catching buses. Whilst I rarely if ever feel unsafe on public transport, it is always pleasing to come through a station and see staff around. Unfortunately, even with overall crime down, we do from time to time see patterns of robberies targeted at people leaving stations. Thieves are well aware of when stations are least likely to have staff around. Fear of crime usually runs ahead of crime itself, especially amongst women and older people, and we have to be careful not to risk discouraging people from using public transport at night.

On top of this, I am sure I am not alone in using ticket machines regularly, but I am also aware that without help at hand, an entirely automated system rarely works. Sometimes machines are out of order when a ticket office is closed, leaving passengers frustrated at having to risk being challenged as they travel. Sometimes Oyster machines do not easily manage a complicated transaction, such as I have found sometimes when travelling with children.

So the Mayor's plans to close ticket offices across London Underground, cut other tube staff and remove guards from trains on London Overground is a real worry (and, of course, the opposite of what he was saying he intended to do). Recent polling showed that more than two-thirds of passengers oppose these closures. A survey of passengers jointly commissioned by Transport for All, the National Pensioners Convention and others shows that four out of five respondents said the loss of staff at stations would make travel difficult. More than two-thirds said they require assistance from staff at stations and on trains, half said they needed help buying tickets or with accessing ticket gates and platforms; and a third said it would deter them making some journeys. Campaigners are also highlighting that under the Mayoralty of Boris Johnson fares have risen three times faster than average earnings, contributing to the living standards crisis in the capital. Director of disabled and older people's passenger group ‘Transport for All' Faryal Velmi said: "Underground staff play a key role in assisting disabled and older people to use the London Underground including accessing the platform and the train, particularly at stations with complicated access routes, or manual boarding ramps. We are very concerned that if these staff cuts go ahead then access to the entire London Underground network will be restricted for disabled and older passengers". President of the ‘National Pensioners Convention' Ron Douglas said: "Older passengers already face difficulties accessing the tubes and trains in London. The last thing any pensioners in the capital want is to lose the staff that provide us with essential support."

Since Boris Johnson became Mayor the cost of a single bus journey has increased by 56% and a zone 1-6 travel card is £440 a year more expensive. Yet even with these inflation busting fare rises, adding to Londoners cost-of-living pressures, London Underground is still planning this massive programme of ticket office closures. This is just not good enough. We believe London Transport's finances would allow a fares freeze for 2014 and for Boris to keep his manifesto commitment of a ticket office open at every station in London, and that is what should happen.