diamond geezer

 Tuesday, October 24, 2017

When TfL first proposed closing every station ticket office, four years ago, there was a furore. Unions went on strike, newspapers screamed, and passengers got very upset. But when TfL finally got round to closing the last ticket office, two years later, nobody batted an eyelid. Unions rolled over, newspapers overlooked the event, and passengers carried on swiping cards through gates as usual.

So it may come as a surprise to hear that TfL are currently closing the ticket offices at 11 tube stations, because they didn't get round to closing them before.

• Gunnersbury, Kew Gardens
• Harrow & Wealdstone, Kenton, South Kenton, North Wembley, Wembley Central, Stonebridge Park, Harlesden, Kensal Green, Queen's Park

Two of these stations are on the Richmond branch of the District line, and the other nine are at the northern end of the Bakerloo line. What they have in common, you may have noticed, is that these stations also serve the London Overground, with tube and Overground trains sharing the same tracks.

TfL would have liked to have closed the ticket offices at these 11 stations in 2015 but they weren't allowed. Before the Overground began they'd been operated under different terms and conditions, which included the requirement to be able to sell tickets to National Rail stations nationwide. Closing these ticket offices therefore required a separate public consultation, undertaken in conjunction with London TravelWatch, and this (and a change of Mayor) delayed the process considerably.

But TfL are now going full steam ahead. Everything is explained in the 'Improvements and projects' section of their website, specifically a page called 'Bakerloo/District line ticketing'.
From 14 June until October 2017 we will be installing new ticket machines at 11 stations on the Bakerloo and District lines. Ticket offices at most of those stations will then close.
These are special ticket machines, slimmer and shinier than the usual ticket machines seen on the tube, and with enhanced capabilities. These machines can sell you a ticket to Leicester, not just Leicester Square, or an advance return from Dundee to Plymouth if that's what you need.
Staff will be available to help customers buy tickets. Installing new ticket machines is part of our efforts to improve the Tube. Closing ticket offices across the Tube network means we have been able to move our staff into ticket halls where they can help our customers more effectively.
At the two District line stations the ticket offices have already closed, way back on July 5th.

 Former ticket office opening hoursCurrent
Gunnersbury06:45-19:4506:45-19:3008:15-17:30Now closed
Kew Gardens06:30-20:1506:45-19:3008:15-21:30Now closed

I travelled down to Gunnersbury station to see what's transpired. A member of staff was stood in front of the former ticket window, poised to offer help. She wouldn't have been stood there previously. Another member of staff was sat inside, clearly visible through the glass, doing staff-ly things on a terminal. Where the sign above the window would have said Assistance and tickets it now said Assistance. A sheet of paper stuck to the window said "We no longer accept the old £1 coin at this ticket office", even though it was no longer a ticket office.

One stop down the line at Kew Gardens the shutters at the ticket window were firmly down. One member of staff was patrolling the ticket hall, and another stood beside the adjacent gateline. The same notice about old £1 coins was still stuck to the glass. A second more amateur notice alongside advised passengers that the window was now for Information and Assistance Only. Ticket Office Closed. Please Use Ticket Machines. Two new slimline ticket machines had been installed, and one was being used by a cluster of passengers. So far, so New Normal.

But it's a different story so far on the Bakerloo line, where closure hasn't yet taken place.

 Ticket office opening hoursCurrent
South Kenton
North Wembley
Stonebridge Park
Kensal Green
--Not yet closed

At these six stations, the ticket office is seemingly still open for two hours in the morning peak and two hours in the evening peak. I didn't manage to visit any of them during the four hours the ticket office is supposed to be operational, but the signs above the windows still said Assistance and tickets, and the Closed signs propped up in the windows looked temporary - between rush hours - rather than permanent.

What seems to be holding things back is the installation of the new ticket machines. I spotted one at Kensal Green, along with three older machines, but none at Stonebridge Park, and none at Harlesden either. Harlesden's ticket hall is so tiny that it's hard to imagine how a new ticket machine could be squeezed in, other by knocking down the ticket office. Indeed it's hard to imagine that sufficient changes could be made in time to bring about closure by TfL's stated deadline of October 2017.

At three other Bakerloo line stations, meanwhile, closure has been deliberately held back.
At the other 3 stations, ticket offices will stay open while we monitor customer use of the new machines for 3 months. A decision will then be made about the ticket offices.
 Ticket office opening hoursCurrent
Harrow & Wealdstone07:00-19:00--Might not close
Wembley Central07:00-19:0009:00-17:00-Might not close
Queen's Park06:45-19:15--Might not close

London TravelWatch proposed that the ticket offices at the three busiest stations - Harrow & Wealdstone, Wembley Central and Queen's Park - should remain open. At the very least, they said, run a trial for at least two months to see if the new machines have any effect on ticket office usage. We'll give it three months, said TfL, hence these three ticket offices are on borrowed time while the trial plays out.

At Queen's Park, for example, one new ticket machine has been added alongside four older models. Meanwhile there are two ticket windows, not generally both in use. When I passed through I saw one customer at the ticket window, and another at one of the older ticket machines. It's not clear whether the requisite three month trial period is underway.

Imagine if the same attention afforded to this Bakerloo trio had been applied to all the other tube station ticket offices across the network. Instead TfL just clodhoppered in and shut the lot, on a point of principle, without considering whether certain stations really ought to keep theirs. I find it amazing that Waterloo (100m annual passengers), London Bridge (71m) and Stratford (67m) no longer have TfL ticket offices, whereas Harrow & Wealdstone (5m), Wembley Central (6m) and Queen's Park (6m) might keep theirs.

What's properly mysterious is that one intermediate Bakerloo line station has been completely missed out.

 Ticket office opening hoursCurrent
Willesden Junction06:30-20:1506:30-20:1509:15-18:30Staying open

For reasons I don't understand, but which someone might point out in the comments, Willesden Junction isn't included in the ticket office crackdown. What's more it actually has two ticket offices, one at the Old Oak Lane entrance and the other at the Harrow Road entrance, and as far as I know both of these are staying open. Willesden Junction may soon be a complete anomaly on the tube network - the only tube station served by only TfL services to retain a ticket office. Oxford Circus, 83m passengers, no ticket office. Willesden Junction, 5m passengers, two ticket offices.

Ticket offices still operate at the vast majority of Overground stations across London, which are run to a completely different business model. Even a minor outpost like Hatch End (0.7m) boasts a ticket office that opens for 59 hours a week, while the ticket office at Highams Park (2m) opens for over 90. It's a right peculiar system which allows tiny South Hampstead (0.5m) to open up its ticket office at quarter past seven every weekday morning, while Green Park's (41m) will never open again.

But plans are afoot to rid the Overground of its ticket offices too, thanks to these clever new ticket machines and their enhanced capabilities. TfL now plan to install them across the Overground network, not just at stations on the outer Bakerloo, and every Overground ticket office will then be closed. Subject to consultation, which may or may not throw up exceptions, total closure is proposed by the end of next year.

Meanwhile there will always be a handful of tube stations with ticket offices, mostly on the District line, because they're run by National Rail. At the following seven tube stations rail services dominate, and tube trains generally just slip in up the side. Their ticket offices aren't always able to do Oystery things, but customers can still carry out an actual transaction with an actual person, in sharp contrast to what happens one station up the line.

 Ticket office opening hoursCurrent
Ealing Broadway05:35-23:2505:35-23:2507:00-20:30Will not close
Richmond06:15-21:4506:15-21:4507:15-21:30Will not close
Wimbledon06:15-22:0006:15-22:0007:15-21:30Will not close
Kensington (Olympia)07:25-20:3008:25-15:0009:15-16:30Will not close
Finsbury Park06:15-21:15 07:00-22:3008:15-22:00Will not close
Barking05:15-23:3005:15-23:3006:15-23:30Will not close
Upminster05:15-22:0006:15-22:0007:15-22:00Will not close

We live in a capital with two radically different philosophies on ticketing, depending on which kind of station you choose to travel from. The ticket offices at these peculiar hybrid stations prove the point rather well. We evidently don't need all the ticket offices at tube stations we once enjoyed, that point is well proven. But did we really have to lose all of the other 260 along the way?

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