diamond geezer

 Monday, January 13, 2020

TfL are doing something financially extraordinary over the next few weeks. They aren't closing 45 Overground ticket offices.

There was an outcry in 2013 when TfL proposed closing every Underground ticket office. But they went ahead and did it anyway, and when the last one closed at the end of 2015 there was no outcry whatsoever.

In truth, for franchise-related reasons, 11 ticket offices at tube stations that were also Overground stations stayed open. Nine of these were at the northern end of the Bakerloo line and the other two were on the Richmond branch of the District line. But TfL eventually managed to close those too, either outright in 2017 or after further consideration in 2018, thanks to new ticket machines deemed as good as interacting with a human.

Today the only tube stations with ticket offices are those at railway stations where National Rail's rules take precedence - Barking, Ealing Broadway, Finsbury Park, Kensington Olympia, Richmond, Upminster, Willesden Junction and Wimbledon. But the other 262 are dead and gone.

In 2018, surprising nobody, TfL announced plans to close ticket offices at Overground stations. They targeted 51 in total, the vast majority of those remaining, and duly consulted on their closure plans. The usual outcry erupted. Unexpectedly that outcry succeeded, and TfL rolled back their closure plans substantially. Only one ticket office would close entirely (Brondesbury) and three that had been 'temporarily closed' would stay that way (Stamford Hill, Theobalds Grove and White Hart Lane). All the others would stay open - hurrah! ...but with their opening hours significantly reduced. Two have already been cut back (Bruce Grove and South Acton). The others change over the next four weeks.

Here's the spin the TfL press office have put on it.
London Overground ticket office changes introduced due to customer needs
The hours at some London Overground ticket offices will start to change over the next few weeks to better match the times customers use them. These changes reflect the way customers now pay for their travel as many people choose to use contactless payments and mobile devices instead of paper tickets.
When they say 'due to' customer needs they mean 'despite'. When they say 'some' ticket offices will start to change they mean 'most'. When they say 'better match' customer usage they mean 'limit'. And when they say 'many people choose to use contactless payments and mobile devices' they mean 'never mind, everyone else will cope'.

The press release goes on to say that "for many of the busiest stations" hours will remain unchanged, that "stations with less busy ticket offices" will be staffed six days a week, and that "the quietest ticket offices" will remain open every weekday from 7:30am until 10am". What it doesn't say is that there are far more of the latter than the former, and that opening hours in general are being massively reduced.

Take Rectory Road, for example. At present its ticket office is open from 6.15am to 8pm daily, a total of 96 hours a week. From 30th January it'll only be open from 7.30am to 10am on weekdays, a cut of 84 hours a week.

All the new opening hours at the remaining 45 Overground stations are listed on a separate webpage (which cunningly isn't linked from the press release). It's quite eye-opening in itself. But the list doesn't show what the opening hours are now, so I've had to trawl through a lot of other webpages to try to work out what the changes actually mean. Spoiler - they're savage, but not quite a knockout blow.

Open seven days a week: 22
Open six days a week: 10
Open five days a week: 13
Open seven days a week: 6
Open six days a week: 7
Open five days a week: 32

Three-quarters of these 45 stations are being cut back to opening weekday mornings only. Only 13 are being kept open at weekends - previously it was 32.

Open over 60 hours a week: 24
Open 15-60 hours a week: 14
Open less than 15 hours a week: 7
Open over 60 hours a week: 2
Open 15-60 hours a week: 14
Open less than 15 hours a week: 29

Only two of these 45 stations - Homerton and Dalston Kingsland - will still have ticket offices open at least 60 hours a week. Previously it was over half. Two-thirds will open less than 15 hours a week.

Rectory Road and Stoke Newington stations have the biggest cuts in opening hours (84 hours), closely followed by Hampstead Heath (80), Hackney Downs (77), Clapton (77), St James Street (77), Gospel Oak (76), Acton Central (72) and Dalston Junction (71). All these have lost the equivalent of ten hours a day. Another 12 stations are being cut by over 40 hours a week.

I thought it might be informative to summarise Overground ticket office opening hours on a map, so here's one. Green means open 7 days a week, blue means open 6 days a week, red means open weekday mornings only, and black means no ticket office at all.

» Stations without coloured blobs are run by National Rail, so TfL has no control and they still have ticket offices.
» If you'd like to see a map showing just the upcoming changes, here's one.

Most of the stations between Stratford and Richmond have red blobs, i.e. will be open weekdays only (and closed by 10am). The core stretch of the East London Line is similarly affected. The Goblin is a string of black blobs, indeed it's long been ticket-office-free. The other concentration of black blobs follows the Bakerloo line from Queens Park to Harrow. The best chance of finding a ticket office open is between Brockley and West Croydon, where only Honor Oak Park, Penge West and Anerley won't be open seven days a week. Chingford and Highams Park are the only other neighbouring stations with daily opening. More stations are red or black than blue or green.

You could argue that cutting back opening hours to just 2½ hours in the morning, weekdays only, is disgraceful and fails to "ensure ticket offices are available when customers need them." Or you could ask why some of these stations needed a ticket office open 14 hours a day in the first place, given that the (busier) Underground copes happily without. Whatever, this is almost certainly a prelude to TfL closing almost all their Overground ticket offices in a few years time. The miracle is that they haven't killed them all off yet.

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