The ticket office at Bromley-by-Bow station closed this week.
Monday was a normal day, inasmuch as any bank holiday is normal. But on Tuesday the ticket office didn't open, and never will again, as part of the rolling closure of every single TfL ticket office in London. Did anybody notice?
Bromley-by-Bow has long been at the vanguard of reduced ticket office opening hours. Back in September 2010, when the first round of massive cutbacks was announced, Bromley-by-Bow's ticket office had the greatest reduction of any station on the entire Underground network. On weekdays the opening hours were cut from thirteen to one and a half, on Saturdays from eight to one, and on Sundays from eleven to one. From 84 hours a week the total was cut to less than ten, as TfL made it clear they didn't think the ticket office had much of a future.
As it happens, Bromley-by-Bow's ticket office lasted five more years. During that time if you needed to buy a ticket and turned up in the morning peak you probably got personal assistance, while at the weekend you had to be lucky to hit the seemingly random single hour. At all other times of day you had to use the machines, of which there are two, and people did. The vast majority of the station's passengers are regular travellers, not lost tourists, so using the machines wasn't generally a problem. If a human touch was required there might have been someone in the ticket hall, or you could have visited a nearby station with better hours, or you could simply have coped with the self-service option. In this, Bromley-by-Bow was much like many other peripheral London stations, its ticket office being quietly run down through lack of use.
So this week's closure won't have been too much of a practical hardship. Most passengers won't even have noticed, given that the shutters have usually been down as they pass through, and still are. TfL even sent me an email to tell me how not very traumatic my experience would be.
From 1 September, we will be carrying out improvement work at Bromley-by-Bow Tube station; this is part of our plans to modernise the Tube. As a result, we are making changes to the ticket hall and the ticket windows will be permanently closed.
I'm not expecting very big changes. If other stations are anything to go by, they'll slap an 'i' sign on the wall where the window used to be and add a tube map.
We are moving our staff into the ticket hall where they can assist you more effectively; the station will continue to be staffed between the first and last train times.
The provision of visible staff has been a very big part of TfL's war of words over ticket office closures. But have they delivered?
The station now has smarter ticket machines, offering guidance in 17 languages, making paying for travel easier; staff will be on hand to show you how much more these machines can do.
There's mention of the availability of staff again. Don't worry if the idea of machines worries you, goes the message, help will be at hand.
To pay for travel, you can now:
• Use the smarter ticket machines
• Use your contactless payment card. It’s the same fare as Oyster and no need to top up
• Buy tickets or top up your Oyster card online or at nearby Oyster Ticket Stops
Because it's all do-it-yourself now, isn't it? Most people already pay electronically, and contactless cards make life even easier. But if you do still need to buy a ticket with the human touch then there's an Oyster Ticket Stop within five minutes walk of the station, and a couple more within ten.
Work to the ticket hall and improvement to facilities is expected to continue for up to one month. The station will remain open during this period.
That last sentence always makes me laugh, every time TfL send me a 'modernisation update' email. Of course the station will remain open, because almost nothing of significance is changing.
And if you do visit the website, you find yet another promise regarding available staff. Specifically that "in future, all stations will be staffed from the first to last Tube. We are closing our ticket offices and moving our staff into ticket halls where they are more visible and can assist you more effectively." Well it isn't happening.
I've been through Bromley-by-Bow station four times in the last couple of days, and this is what I've seen.
5pm: A member of staff by the ticket gate, offering assistance to a passenger who wanted to talk about refunds. Great stuff. 7pm: Two members of staff chatting at the top of the stairs. 10pm: No visible member of staff, and the ticket gates open. 11pm: No visible member of staff, and the ticket gates open.
If Bromley-by-Bow station is supposed to be staffed until the last train, then either that's a lie, or the member of staff is hiding somewhere.
And this is nothing new. I regularly travel from Bromley-by-Bow in the evening when visiting BestMate, and I can assure you that the pattern hasn't changed for years. In the early evening the station is staffed, usually by someone sitting in the kiosk behind the gateline, but later on they vanish and the ticket gates are left wide open. Indeed if you fancy a free tube journey between Bromley-by-Bow and Plaistow after ten o'clock in the evening, I can pretty much guarantee that there'll be no staff at either end and both sets of gates will be wide open, every day, every week, without fail.
In terms of staff availability, the closure of Bromley-by-Bow's ticket office has changed nothing. The big plan to move staff into ticket halls is a hollow promise, here at least, because there's still no visible uniformed presence in the evening, just as there hasn't been for years. Indeed if you were ever to be mugged at this station late at night I've seen no evidence that any member of Underground staff would be around to notice.
As such, to be fair, Bromley-by-Bow is no worse than Bow Church DLR down the road. This isn't meant to be staffed, and isn't, nor have a ticket office, and doesn't, and passengers use the station perfectly fine. It's only TfL's insistence that their Underground modernisation programme means making staff "more visible" "from the first to last Tube" that grates, because it evidently isn't happening.
Closing this month: Bayswater, Buckhurst Hill, Bromley-by-Bow, Chalfont & Latimer, Chesham, Colindale, Colliers Woord, Croxley, Dagenham East, Dagenham Heathway, Edgware Road (both), Elephant & Castle (Bakerloo), Euston, Finsbury Park, Fulham Broadway, Gants Hill, Greenford, Hammersmith (H&C), Heathrow Terminal 5, High Barnet, Highgate, Hounslow East, Hyde Park Corner, Knightsbridge (west), Paddington (Bakerloo), Ruislip Manor, Victoria, Whitechapel