During 2015 TfL removed all the ticket offices from Underground stations, bringing staff out from behind the glass into public areas. Now in 2016 they're introducing brand new ways of working and a completely different staffing structure, which'll mean increased use of technology and fewer staff on duty. It's called Fit For The Future, and it's TfL's major current programme for increasing customer interaction whilst cutting costs. And this is the reason why the RMT scheduled a strike for this weekend, a dispute since called off following last minute tweaks to terms and conditions.
So radical is the restructure that it's taken over two years to plan and implement, with job descriptions changed, allocated stations altered and numerous staff offered redundancy. And so complex is the transformation that they're not rolling it out all in one go. Staff at the majority of the tube network will be switching over to the new way of doing things at the start of April. But staff at King's Cross St Pancras and at 22 stations at the eastern end of the Central line are switching over today.
The biggest changes are to station-by-station allocation of staff. Previously platform and gateline staff were always based at a single station, but from now on that'll only be the case at the very largest stations and everyone else will be grouped across a wider area. There'll still be staff on duty at every station, but you won't always see the same familiar faces in the same location, and many stations will have fewer staff on duty than you're currently used to.
King's Cross St Pancras is now classified as a Gateway station, the most important type. These are the main visitor entry points to London, used by a high proportion of people unfamiliar with the network (who are likely to need to purchase a ticket), and have dedicated Visitor Centres that provide travel and tourism information. The six Gateway stations will not share staff with any other stations, and neither will the 29 not-quite-so important Destination stations (for example Embankment, Green Park and Stratford).
Mile End is now classified as a Metro station. These serve predominantly inner London communities and are generally busy, with a majority of users being commuters who are familiar with the network. They're also usually underground. Under the new scheme most Metro stations are being paired off with one other (Mile End is being twinned with Bethnal Green) to create a single staffing unit.
Epping is now classified as a Local station. These are smaller and generally serve outer London, and usually have platforms at surface level. They also tend to be fairly quiet outside peak hours. Local stations are being grouped in larger clusters, typically of between four and six stations (Epping will form a Multiple area with all the other stations north of Woodford).
The 23 stations pioneering the Fit For The Future approach, starting today, will be grouped as follows.
Metropolitan line cover group 7: King's Cross St Pancras Central line cover group 9: Mile End, Bethnal Green Central line cover group 10: Leyton, Leytonstone, Snaresbrook, South Woodford, Woodford Central line cover group 11: Buckhurst Hill, Loughton, Debden, Theydon Bois, Epping Central line cover group 12: Wanstead, Redbridge, Gants Hill, Newbury Park Central line cover group 13: Barkingside, Fairlop, Hainault, Grange Hill, Chigwell, Roding Valley
If you'd like to see the full underground map and how stations will be grouped from April, see page 18 of this official TfL pdf.
Then there's a whole new hierarchy of job descriptions for staff, some of which are a little lowlier than previously and might therefore be paid less.
Area Manager – Accountable for safety, performance and people leadership across an Area. Not located permanently on stations. Customer Service Manager – Responsible for people management, customer service, safety and day to day operation of the station, or a group of stations. Visible to customers in the ticket hall and around the station, with some time spent in station offices dealing with people management. Customer Service Supervisor – Responsible for day to day operation. At larger stations usually responsible for a given area of the station (e.g. control room). Not present at Metro stations. At Local stations, generally the single staff member. Customer Service Assistant 1 – Assists customers in the ticket hall, at the gateline and on platforms. May perform other station duties (e.g. security checks). Not present at Local stations unless there is a specified need (e.g. detrainments or a busy second gateline) Customer Service Assistant 2 - Interacts with customers primarily in the ticket hall or on the gateline. Not present at Local stations or smaller Metro stations, except perhaps during peak hours.
And finally there's new technology. Not only have ticket machines been updated, but all frontline staff have now been issued with their very own iPad mini. It's not a freebie, it's for work, and from today several processes at FftF stations can only be completed by using it. Bespoke apps created by TfL include Station Log (in which staff will return all activity at their station), Ticket Monitoring (for staff to report when ticket machines and gates need attention) and Fault Reporting (for recording faults such as damage to escalators and cracked roof tiles). I understand the iPads also come with Citymapper installed, which is just as well given how much easier it is to navigate than TfL's own 'mobile-friendly' website.
If you're a regular user of one of the first 23 stations for switchover, watch out for changes next time you pass through. From today you might see different members of staff. You might never see some previously familiar staff ever again. You might see fewer staff (at Leytonstone during the rush hour, for example, four staff will be trimmed to two - one downstairs in the ticket hall and one upstairs on the platforms). You might even be able to get travel advice off the iPad mini, in case you'd like to test out a member of staff with your Oyster or routing needs.
And from 3rd April, expect to see this model rolled out everywhere across the network. TfL hope that fewer staff in more useful locations will mean improved and more efficient customer service. But will this new model really be Fit for the Future? The next few weeks at the guinea pig stations, starting today, will help us to find out.