The ticket office at Bow Road station opened on 11th June 1902.
And closes on 18th October 2015. (at 3pm, if there's anybody left who'd like to use it)
Few will mourn its passing. You'll remember the huge hoohah when it was announced that all of the tube's ticket offices would be closing. But TfL have been busy closing ticket offices for months - steadily, sequentially, stealthily - and there's been almost no protest from the public. It can be a lot more hassle to queue at a machine than to speak to a human being, but passengers have generally coped, in the same way they've embraced self-service tills in supermarkets, hastening the advance of automation. The last ticket office closures will be in December - it's TfL's intention to shutter the lot by the end of the year - and today is the designated death date for Bow Road.
Bow Road ticket office opening hours
up until 2010
Several passengers do still use the facility. They wait in the morning rush hour to get their Oyster seen to, and stop by during the day to address some query of travel. Even I've had cause to step up in the last few weeks to get my Gold Card discount added to my travelcard - a process which the nice lady behind the counter assured me would eventually be possible at a machine. But more often than not the window is unused, revealing an Aladdin's cave of staff activity and operational notices in the tiny office behind. From tomorrow there'll be no requirement for anyone to sit inside, an act with potential implications for salaried personnel, as the machine age embraces this old Edwardian station.
At most stations TfL are plastering or tiling over the former interface between staff and public, a process they describe as "ticket hall improvement works". At West Ham they've pasted a vinyl graphic across the window recalling how Prince Charles rode in a train cab when the Jubilee line opened in 1979, while at Bromley-by-Bow the heritage anecdote relates to women's role as station staff during World War 2. At Waterloo and North Greenwich, what used to be ticket windows are now billboards exhorting passengers to ride the cablecar (while the cablecar retains two fully staffed ticket offices and an additional ticket booth at the top of North Greenwich's escalator). But Bow Road won't suffer quite so intrusive a fate because it's Grade II listed, hence any changes have to be more carefully considered... and hurrah for that, because some of the existing features are quite lovely.
Tfl had to seek planning permission for their upcoming alterations at Bow Road, as indeed they have to every time they tweak the ticket hall. Application PA/15/02274 was approved by Tower Hamlets last week, with seven supporting documents, and these confirm that reveal exactly what's intended to take place once "improvement works" begin.
• The ticket windows will be covered over with bespoke timber paneling to match the existing finishes.
The Design, Access and Heritage Statement finds no evidence that the hardwood paneling around the ticket office windows is original, indeed it appears to be relatively modern, say from the 1980s. Nevertheless we're going to get proper wood in front of our windows to maintain the illusion of heritage, and not a cablecar advert or some mention of Prince Charles, or worse.
• The ticket office window lights will have vinyl covers to cover any signage stating ‘ticket office’. Non-PVC film applied to both sides of existing cantilever light box, colour to match existing light box.
The best news is that the characterful lights above the ticket windows will be retained, at their somewhat jaunty angle, but with any wording thereon extinguished. It wouldn't be true to say Tickets any more, neither will these windows again provide Assistance. What's not yet known is where precisely in Bow Road's cramped ticket hall any future Assistance will be provided.
• Minor changes will be made to information provision.
I'm fascinated by TfL's definition of "minor". The planning application's before and after diagrams indicate that a significant number of information panels are being removed. These include the (empty) leaflet rack to the left of the main window and both poster frames beside the entrance ticket gate, essentially removing all paper-based information provision along this wall. Meanwhile on the opposite wall, between what used to be the newsagent's kiosk and the station entrance, three out of five poster frames are being removed, along with the existing tube map rack. All that will remain is a single Quad Royal frame (for a poster-sized tube map) and a leaflet rack, beneath a new white circle with a blue 'i' on it. This isn't a minor change, this is a cull, as the provision of information is slimmed down to the essentials.
Also being removed are the brass handrail by the ticket window (because nobody needs to steady themselves here any more), three Ticket Office Voice Transfer Units (because hard-of-hearing passengers will be able to speak directly to a member of staff) and the Chip and PIN reader on the counter (because technology outdates so quickly).
What remains to be seen is how staffing provision will adapt once the ticket office at Bow Road is closed. Because the station is legally deemed 'under ground', there's always been a member of staff in the ticket hall here, and presumably will continue to be. But they've always been located on the far side of the barriers, cut off from ticket purchase provision, so have never been the easiest people to talk to if you have an Oyster issue. Will they be expected to cross over to front of house more often, or permanently, or will an additional member of staff now be deployed? The ticket hall's so narrow that having someone standing around in front of the barriers would obstruct access, indeed the queue at the ticket window often did, and the queue at the ticket machines still does.
The passenger experience at Bromley-by-Bow, one stop down the line, suggests that TfL's commitment to improved staffing provision is a con. The ticket office here closed on 1st September, but there's been absolutely no attempt to push staff out into the ticket hall, or indeed maintain a significant staffing presence whatsoever. Figures released by the London Assembly this week reveal that Bromley-by-Bow's ticket barriers are left open over 50% of the time - the worst record on the tube network - due to absence of staff in the ticket hall. My experience suggests it's been this bad since at least 2011, and that the barriers are always wide open in the evening, should any fare-dodger fancy a free ride. There's no expectation that Bow Road will ever go the same way, but it's clear that the changes which begin tomorrow are more about efficiency than the provision of a customer-facing service.