A Look At The Reasons Behind The Tube Strike

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 51 months ago
A Look At The Reasons Behind The Tube Strike


If the imminent tube strikes were to be boiled down to soundbites – and they largely have been – we'd have Transport for London on one side shouting "modernisation!" and the unions on the other shouting "safety and job losses!". As always, things are a bit more complicated than that, so we've taken a look at what's going on behind the scenes.

Changing Roles

One of the most contentious issues is the loss of 953 front-line jobs driven by closing all ticket offices. TfL thinks it will need an extra 200 staff to run the 24 hour weekend tube, so we're talking a net loss of 750 roles. But it's not as simple as shifting 200 people from their current jobs into Customer Service Assistant (CSA) roles though, as it's unlikely that someone working during the day will fancy a midnight-8am Piccadilly Circus shift, and many of the jobs being cut are supervisory – moving roles would mean a hefty pay cut.

TfL says it can manage these job losses without compulsory redundancies (this isn't TfL being generous, however; that was a concession won by the unions some time ago). We spoke to one of the RMT negotiators in between ACAS talks on Monday afternoon. He'd just been told by London Underground that 400 people have applied for voluntary redundancy. On Tuesday morning TfL told us 1,000 staff have applied. If the latter is true, the job losses can be managed relatively smoothly for staff. Edit: it's being widely reported that in fact 450 staff have applied for voluntary redundancy so far.

But what of passengers? These 950 people work visibly in stations during current working hours (i.e. not the 200 who will be deployed overnight on weekends from 2015). TfL says that closing ticket offices and getting staff out among the travelling public will make them more visible. The unions say it's still 950 fewer people on the front line. We asked TfL for 'before' and 'after' figures – how many staff are currently available to the public outside of ticket offices and how many will be in the future. A spokesperson said:

"Although we believe we can operate stations more efficiently with a net reduction in staff of 750, far more of those staff in stations in future will be out in public areas where they can help and be seen by customers."

Which isn't really what we asked. We think this is important and have submitted a Freedom of Information request. We'll let you know when/if we hear anything back.

April update: TfL's response to our FOI request was that they couldn't provide the details, because "the details of our proposals, and how they would work in practice, are part of the ongoing formal consultation discussions with staff and trades unions,and are subject to change as a result". We see their point, that it could be unhelpful and misleading to release information while that information is in flux. However, we think it would be useful for Londoners to have a more concrete idea of the results of one of the biggest changes to the Underground in living memory.

It's also worth bearing in mind that London Underground agreed to a station-by-station review of the changes before the second tube strike planned for February, which led to the strike's last minute cancellation by unions. LU has now changed its mind and says that all ticket offices will close. What's up for review now is staffing levels within stations and the timetable for the closures.

How Might Stations Be Staffed?

How this affects you primarily depends on which stations you use. There are 270 stations on the network; lose 950 front line staff across all those stations, at existing hours (we're not comparing night running to existing staffing levels), and it's an average of 3.5 people a station. London Bridge, for example, has two ticket offices, one of which is open all day, the other most of it. Getting those staff out from behind glass would be extremely helpful – though, as we've said, without exact figures to say who's going from where, it's hard to say just how many of those currently bound to the ticket office will still be employed to help.

If, however, you use somewhere like Perivale, where the ticket office is only open for a couple of hours each day, is it likely you'll see increased staffing levels? Not according to the RMT, who recently published a newsletter for its members working on the Central Line. In outer London, station supervisors will switch from being responsible for one station each to running (in TfL's words) "a small number of local stations". The RMT says there will be a "lone CSA" on duty at stations where supervisors are 'roaming'. We asked TfL if there will be situations where stations are run by single members of staff (what happens when they go to lunch? To the loo?). The response:

"In the future we propose to change how we currently operate our stations, to more adequately reflect the different needs of our customers and to create a more personal service. This will result in more staff taking management responsibility for a lower number of stations, with more staff taking a greater level of ownership and responsibility at the local level at our stations."

Which again, you'll notice, isn't quite what we asked. You can see what status your local station will have with this map (PDF), and an explanation of what the new designations mean. Edit: the BBC's Tom Edwards confirms that some stations will be staffed by one person.

Balancing the Budgets

The elephant in the room with these changes is money. TfL is having its grant from central government cut. In 2015-16, £220m will go from the budget. The draft budget (PDF) for the coming year 2014-15 (if we're reading it right) shows the central government grant is £280m lower than this year (PDF). Income from other sources (this is one of the reasons our fares have gone up) is estimated to be £250m higher, but there's still a gap. TfL looks to be pulling £177m out of its reserves but still plans to reduce expenditure by £4.6m from this year to next.

The RMT tells us that TfL needs to save £50m from its station operating budget over the next nine years and suggests this is the driving force behind the changes. TfL denies this vehemently, saying:

"These changes are not about funding cuts, they are about adapting our service to what customers want from the Underground. The trend of ticket sales away from ticket offices has surged over recent years and today less than 3% of all tube journeys involve a visit to a ticket office."

It is true that TfL has been trying to close ticket offices for years. Here's a press release from 2007 (during Ken Livingstone's Mayoral tenure) citing that same 3% figure, heralding the closure of 40 ticket offices to "shift station staff from behind the plate glass windows in ticket offices to the platforms and in ticket halls". Sound familiar? Those closures were ultimately overturned in the run-up to the 2008 election. However, we'd be surprised if budget cuts didn't play any part whatsoever in the decision-making process. Edit: it's been pointed out to us by a City Hall staffer that 3% of all tube journeys equates to 100,000 people a day.

The RMT also told us that the changes on the table only add up to 6% of the savings needed to meet the cut in the government grant, and predicts more changes / cuts / savings to come. Again, we put this to TfL and asked how, if that's the case, they plan to make up the rest of the shortfall. Other than the response already given above, an answer wasn't forthcoming.


So how will this affect us, the travelling public? For most of us on an ordinary, day-to-day journey, the answer is: probably not very much. Without clear figures about where job losses will fall and how they counterbalance getting staff out of ticket offices, it's impossible to say. This makes it very difficult for outsiders like us to say definitively whether it'll be easier or more difficult to find a staff member at a station, or whether there'll be any effect on safety. There is, perhaps, a small clue in recent figures uncovered by Transport for All, where an increase in instances disabled passengers were unable to access stations because of staff shortages appears to correlate with a previous round of staff cuts. We asked TfL at the time but received no response.

We know the fares system is being significantly upgraded soon and we'll be able to do a lot more at ticket machines (for example, we've heard that if you forget to touch in or out, the system will be able to intelligently estimate where you came from / went to and charge accordingly. And, if you need a refund, there's talk you'll be able to do it at a machine). We asked TfL for more details on the improvements but we're going to be charitable and say the press officer probably missed the question as it came at the end of our email.

If you do end up having to make a transaction that needs a human being (maybe if your employer pays for your season ticket loan with a cheque?) you'll probably have to visit one of the Travel Information Centres. These currently exist at tourist gateway stations Euston, King's Cross, Liverpool Street, Victoria and Heathrow, though the Piccadilly Circus centre is due to be replaced by one at Paddington.

So there you go. This is an unprecedented set of changes even before we get into all-night running (which, despite TfL's attempts to combine the two, are really separate issues). We've only scratched the surface here – but we've got no doubt the debate will continue in the comments...

Photo by unslugged from the Londonist Flickr pool.

Last Updated 04 February 2014


So TfL once again didn't say how someone will be able to add a railcard (disabled, gold card, 16-25 year old etc) onto their oyster when offices close as its the only way right now? Or how to add travel vouchers to an oyster without going to a ticket office? Then there's the lack of tickets at machines. For years they have forced the buyer to get the most expensive travelcard.

Unless they confirm all this can be done at a machine, and machines will offer every single type of ticket, then closing offices is completely wrong.

Rob Lugg

I'm pleased to see a pretty well researched and balanced article from Londonist, in the past articles have been decidedly Evening Standard-esque (i.e. pro BoJo/anti-union).

The reality is that cutting staff is the last thing the tube needs, I find it incredibly difficult to find help outside of peak times, and I live in Zone 2. If TfL were talking about maintaining staffing levels but closing ticket offices then I might see the logic (if station staff were given the ability to genuinely help deal with any and all issues, and machines were overhauled to sell all ticket types and deal with refunds, etc). The fact that Boris promised to keep these ticket offices open, and is now breaking that promise whilst selling us a limited 24 hour service (bribery if ever I saw it) means we simply cannot trust TfL or Boris to maintain a safe staffing level on the tube. I support the TfL workers 100% and won't be crossing their picket lines, even though I have to be working at a hospital at 7:30am!

Andy Brice

In 26 years of living in London I'm pretty sure I've never once used a ticket office on the tube.

My local National Rail stations are often staffed by only one person, which seems to work fine. And the DLR gets by with no station staff.

Also, improving the design of ticket machines could avert a lot of problems. They're really not up to modern user interface standards.


@SPPP2 They're not getting rid of staff completely, they're getting rid of some and moving some from ticket offices to station concourses. The staff on concourses will be able to do the activities you describe with their tablet computers for you.


TfL needs to change its thinking. Although for the most parts the Tube is essential for Londoners it also plays a strategy role in the London economy. At particular times of the year it serves as transit for people from all over the world. It also serves as an essential part of planning for tourism, hospitality, events and other business sectors.

Soon we are told supermarkets and delivery companies will be using tube stations to deliver their promises to their respective customers.

This should convey the idea that TfL should consider the tube network not only as a mode of transporting commuters but also as strategic asset in the London economy. This I fear has not been the case for a while.


What, realistically, can be cut from the TfL budget in order to make up for those budget cuts? If the RMT's figures are correct and the staffing proposals on the table would only result in 6% of what's needed, what is even available to cut in order to find the remaining 94% while not only maintaining current levels of service, but expanding to 24-hour by 2015 while keeping fares reasonable? Ditch the Northern Line extension and station upgrades?


It's a business... Welcome to the real world... It's better they cut back and give voluntary redundancy than over stretch into administration and you ALL lose your jobs... In it together? You'll soon change your mind if the ship starts sinking!

Kevin Boyd

Wood Lane station opened from new without a ticket office. So there is a precedent for not having a ticket office at any station. I am not in favour of reducing the presence at stations with short opening hours like those at the suburban end of the Central line, but closing every office doesn't give much of a bolt hole for the person taken out of the office, does it? So, if there is nobody on duty at a station, presumably it means there is no way the ticket barriers can remain closed. For those comments about services that cannot be done without a ticket office, how does one do these at Wood Lane, does anyone know?


A very well written and researched piece! FACTS should be used to support arguments (for/against) unfortunately alot of feelings, half truths are being used in some articles and alot of online comments.

Alot of focus has been predominantly on ticket office staff but I've seen nothing mentioned of another important role that is evaporating with these cuts is the role of SCRA (Station Control Room Assistant) who monitor the CCTV throughout the station/stations, liase with all the staff via radio during incidents or routine tasks (hourly security checks, liasing with other stations to help customers with mobility issues). They are the eyes and ears on the station for both the supervisors and the rest of staff.
Station supervisors are trained and are safety licensed to carry out important tasks that CSAs aren't, if under LU's new proposals they are responsible for a group of 4-6 stations what happens when things hit the wall and they aren't there to deal with them but just a few CSAs who cannot deal with the situation fully?


I am sorry to say that ticket office staff currently do not provide any sort of assistance to anyone nor the staff outside the window. In more than one occasion I carried myself, with the help of other members of the public a prams and help people on wheelchairs people getting down to the tube, with several time 2 or more staff members standing like poles, when questioned the answer was "I am really sorry I will get told off if I leave the stairs unattended" (Victoria Station). Now I am paying a travel card zone 1-3, I am part time student so I do not get the discount since 2 years despite I apply and get funding from the government (that was enough to be entitled previously), struggling day by day to pay everything I also need to see daily what the station stuff does not do. I also have witnessed what seemed to be a trial of having people from the ticket office on the platform and around the gates few days ago. This poor people where scared to death to be asked, equipped with a tube map struggling to get around, couple of them sweating under pressure with the typical smile of who would love to say " I have no clue they put me here please ask me something easy like where is the way out". it is not going to work. I must say the ability of TFL to not provide answer to the questions asked is absolutely outstanding, even when you go to their head office, they do not know or pretend not, if you can get into the building of course. Maybe they should start to make cuts there instead of depriving the stations and passengers of service and security.


the main point that people are missing is the safety factor.although ticket office staff are predominately in the ticket office when there is an emergency they come out and help in overcrowding issues, people falling ill on platforms trains etc.when their jobs go there is no way the same amount of people will be put onto the gatelines .there is a shocking loss of death just waiting to happen on the overcrowded tube system .With cut after cut of the amount of people employed its not if , its when .


The monthly pass I have costs around 130gbp which to me sounds bloody expensive (in Milan I used to pay 26Eur for access to the public transportation network for a month). TFL should be damn inefficient if they need to charge so much money for any ride. It looks like a bloody rip-off


Perhaps TfL would care to consider making the Tube more disabled-friendly, and in a way which does not require staff assistance. Obviously, many of te older stations are difficult to upgrade, but there is no reason why newer stations or those with space cannot be rediesigned to allow less-abled travellers easier access.

As I've mentioned before, TfL seems to believe that some lifts require a trained staff member to access and use, which is ridiculous. The (new) lifts also appear to frequently be out of service - for some reason lifts in the UK seem to suffer failure at a much higher rate than elsewhere (in my experience). Or is it that we just can't be bothered to fix them?


TFL workers need to do something to save their jobs and be heard by Mayor of London!!

Although painful for commuters the strike seems necessary from the point of view of workers!

Though very small..this might help a bit for people facing problems in commuting during the strike? Download @Uber on ur mobile https://www.uber.com/sign-up , use code DREAM592359 & get £20 off!


Just saw this. Is this people power?; civil disobedience? or a bit scary?

Tube Strike Backfires As Commuters Steal Train Keys And Drive Themselves

THE London tube strike ended abruptly last night after commuters stormed trains and instantly mastered the controls.


Antony Hallmark

Would it not be more prudent as SPPP2 suggest in redesigning the ticket machines they have and also installing more machines before they even consider cuts.
I know first hand that prices are different from the machines to buying one directly from the office. I also i cannot buy the ticket i need to travel to work from a machine.
When they say 3 percent of people buy tickets from the counters and the rest from the machine that's ridiculous and another case of fiddling the results to suit. I always see huge cues all over London of people waiting to buy tickets from the counters and i only see this going up as more people are born from now until 2050 which means an unprecedented amount of people using these facilities.
On the other hand TFL workers no offense are way overpaid for the jobs they do against most Londoners and that's a very basic fact. They need to revise the wages they pay against the jobs done and this would help them cut there expenditure and allow more money to be put into expanding the network.

Michael Peel

Ticket offices in a modern metro system are redundant and the sooner drivers, on £52,000 per year for a 35-hour week plus 43 days paid holiday, get made redundant by automated trains the better.

There are myriads of ways by which one can acquire a season ticket, etc. and tourist guides will very quickly tell tourists how to travel by tube as they already do in Paris, Berlin and many other major centres.


it's 3% of transactions are carried out at ticket offcies not that 3% of people use them. this is still 100s of thousands transactions. tfl is a public service. it should meet public needs. these savings aren't even as high as the bill for the dangleway, the cycle hire subsidy and the vanity bus project combined


Once they cut staff and more barriers are opened up watch fare evasion go up. Then the savings from getting rid of staff will be lost.

With some stations having only 1 staff member after the reforms it will happen.

Ian Gibson

So if it's not about budget cuts (according to TFL), why not just employ more staff?


to SPP2 You will have to do this online. That or go to a travel centre


It appears that nobody has addressed the increase in fare evasion as a result of these proposals. When staff are attending station issues that require them to be away from the barrier, fare dodgers will have a field day, also the die hard will just push out and laugh at the lone staff member.


I see that despite their big cuts, TFL managed to increase the fares of the world's most expensive public transport!
If they don't stop this trend, oyster cards will be very soon massively cloned and CCTV won't help anymore.

Stations' staff is rarely there and the knowledge about technical and non-technical related problems has gone a long time ago I believe.
Have you tried asking them about delays and reasons? They always say: "There is a signal problem", which is a lie.
They always seem to be there by chance, not for the purpose and if you complain they complain too, as if they were customers too! :D
My friends, you are not customers! You represent the TFL to me!! So I'd expect an answer from you, not just, "well you're right, the delay is unbearable"......!

The only good value I see is to have helpful staff in those situations and for people who need any type of assistance.
For the rest, stations are baroque-esque and they need a restyling so bad.

TFL, now that you increased the fares once more, why don't you make an effort to reduce all those mysterious signalling problems, make the tube lines like district and circle line run faster, install proper panels with the REAL expected arrival time, run the tube 24h on the weekends like any other major city in the world and clean the black and polluted air in the tunnels?!

Oh and of course, this will require hiring more staff, not reducing it, so you might want to think about converting the jobs of those made redundant into all those nice activities I mentioned here above.


I'm at a station, I need to speak to a member of staff about something. I know there are three members of staff about somewhere. I can see two of them, because they are surrounded by a bunch of 20 people, all trying to ask a question. The other one I can't see, he could be anywhere in the station.
Imagine how chaotic and stressful this will be.
People will be exploding in rage and there may well be fights as people jostle to be 'next' when there is no proper queuing system. Will this have an effect on London's reputation and affect its tourist industry?

In a crowded city like London, where there are so many people, you need to have organised queueing systems. Having wandering staff will mean they end up getting swamped. If one person needs a member of staff for something that will take 10 minutes to resolve, its going to set everyone else back.

Andy Thornley

The tube is a service - not a business. We are passengers - not customers.

The sooner that this is realised, and that sometimes more vulnerable people - for example, older people or those with learning difficulties/other disabilities may not be able to use machines, and need extra help - the better.

Boris would like to treat LU as an 'essential service' to limit strike action. It's time he put that same description to the service itself. You can't just say that certain sections of society cost more than others, so bugger it - we'll leave them disadvantaged.

As I said earlier; it's a service, not a business. Thus, it should be treated as such.

Karim Govani

I was in Melbourne over Christmas and the only way to travel on public transport is using a Mykhi Card where everyone gets the same price travel depending where they go. Very easy to use and similar to an Oyster card. And I dont hear the people of Melbourne complaining either.


£52,000. Yes, really. Tube driver is one of the best paid and easiest jobs in London. That's the purpose of Bob Crow's union, to obtain (by threat, like mobsters) the maximum possible income for its members with the least work. Nothing else, don't believe any lies about "safety" the RMT actively fights safety improvements unless they come with either a pay bonus for its members or extra time off.


Just a quick point on that 3% equating to 100,000 people a day stat. I don't doubt the correctness of that stat - TfL website cites 1.229 billion people a year travel on the underground = 3.3 million people a day. 3% of that is your magic 100,000ish number.

3% figure was referring to how many people purchase a ticket at a booth though. Not everyone purchases a ticket on a daily basis for every journey they make, so saying/thinking that 100,000 people each day rely on a manned ticketing booth is a little misleading (and odd coming from a City Hall staffer).

The reality is, 3% probably equates to a figure FAR, FAR lower than 100,000 people. Considering about 7 million Oyster cards are used each day, and a massive number of people commute in from outside of London (and therefore tend to have already purchased daily/weekly/monthly/yearly tickets in advance of arriving into London), I think that 3% figure (however accurate/inaccurate it is) should be taken quite seriously in regards to understanding the logic behind the proposed closure of the ticketing booths and reallocation of staff to other parts of the station.

emma kaye

First, I'm in Seattle--just so you'll know. Here there is a safety rule (law?) that a minimum of two people must staff a public location, such as a library, community center, etc. It sounds as if TfL does not have to abide by a rule (law?) like this. How can this be?


Has anybody thought of the millions of tourists that visit london every year? How will they manage to use a ticket machine which will offer countless ticket options? and how many language options will there be? Will the staff be positioned by these same machines spending most of their time explaining how it works? and what about the duty of care of the staff on the frontline. I've travelled to over 50 countries around the world and used mostly public transport, underground systems. When faced by a machine, I found it difficult if not impossible to choose which ticket was right for me. I speak several languages and without the help of a local wouldn't have managed. With our fast pace of life can you imagine having to stop and help, especially in the rush hour. So i have much more experience than the average person and found that without a ticket office my journey had become more complicated. A compromise would be keeping the ticket office open in the main stations and increasing the staffing numbers. We earn millions of pounds from tourists, what do we give back in return? apart from the obvious. The least we can do is keep a ticket office open at our hub stations.

Colonel McFuckNugget

And they have to do this exactly when I have finals in uni?


This is got to be wrong? "it’s been pointed out to us by a City Hall staffer that 3% of all tube journeys equates to 100,000 people a day


"Front Line Staff" - it's not the frikking first world war.

Paying for x hundred staff for 3% of journeys now (which can come down close to zero if people plan in advance). Bizarre edge cases aren't a good enough reason to waste millions on un-necessary staff.

Pissed off Londoner

I'd like to make one point which I think is overlooked. If the ticket office closes, then the customers that would normally be there, will be joining the rest of the customers in the hall. So more people in the same place right? Now it's established that there will be fewer staff... So that's now more customers, less staff in a less organised manner on stations? Imagine it for just a moment... Now let's add the dilution of the controlling staff you don't see, the people who make announcements, answer phones, contact emergency services, reunite families, deal with complaints, monitor CCTV, liase with controllers, help regulate the madness and generally organise the station to good running; yeah, they'll be reduced too. So what have we got? It would seem it's the same amount of visible staff, with less support and three times the responsibility. Customers, who could have had a specific place for a specific scenario are now piling up in the same place, trying to travel, waiting for help, or perhaps engaging in less than civic behaviour?
Imagine the london bridge example;
It's busy enough with the ticket offices open no?
Well close them and dump those poor fellows slap bang in front of those gates and see how many people can get where they're going?

Let's see how quickly the regular commuter can get to work when their demagnetised gold card fails and they have to wait behind a line of tourists curious about Oyster cards before a gate can be opened?

How do those machines work? Surely they run out of tickets/cards/change right? Who will keep them stocked if there's no ticket office staff?

Who gains from these proposed changes? Staff? No. Tourists? No, definitely not? Regular punters? Theoretically ... No! because even if you know what you want/have or where you're going, they'll be more obstruction due to less management. And Lordy Lordy let's hope you don't suffer a mid journey malfunction?

Now should I bother talking about times of crisis? Okay, just quickly though... Imagine all that, with even less staff because an incident has occurred and someone needs to get an ambulance, someone else needs to be somewhere in the midst of the incident to manage it. Someone else needs to be on the phone to whatever authorities are necessary and the last guy in their little orange vest is trying to tell all the punters at... Station of your choice... That service is about to be delayed because of massive overcrowding, an inability to segregate customer needs and lack of staff to do anything but say at the top of their voices "for those who have lost or are about to lose money on incomplete journeys... call oyster or your bank. For those who need directions or assistance... There's a map on the wall and some leaflets over there. For those in pain, need, or require emergency services... If you are able to walk, go upstairs/outside and shout for help... Who knows, it might work? For those with a question... call travel information. For those who don't speak English, read or write... Good luck. For those in an immediate rush... Get a cab. For those with failed tickets... form a line and wait, I'll open the doors eventually. For those who have lost money in a machine.... They're better than offices and now I'm very visible. And for everyone else, enjoy your day, happy oystering and remember... World class tube for a world class city."


for me, the main issue might be safety in the tube.
Coming from Paris, if there is one big difference between the tubes in Paris and London, it is that London's tube is much safer, i.e. you feel safe on the platform and in the train. In Paris, it's often the opposite, and crime in the tube is quite frequent.
And the reason for that is that there is no staff at the tube's gates, so many people come in the tube without ticket.
If we get rid of staff in the stations, this might be a big risk of making London's tube unsafe.


Sack everybody and automate the lot of it.


I got as far into the article as - one person per station. Here in Seattle and I am sure other places throughout the states where the public is served, libraries for example, the staff minimum is 2--for safety reasons. I sure wouldn't want to be the only staff member in the tube station entrance area. There are some truly weird people in the world. Perhaps you folks don't have the capability of suing negligent employers? Cause that's what TfL would be with one-person manning of stations.


The other day at Victoria there were two TFL staff standing talking to each other. Five others were positioned doing no noticeable good along an empty side of the stairs to the Victoria line. Fact is many roles in TFL are unjustified and not cost effective. The morons spitting out what is on the inaccurate screens is also a pointless human. I say get rid of the lot of them and put the money saved into people who fix the ticket machines and prevent the constant "signal failures".