Transport for London has been closing ticket offices in tube stations since February, with the majority expected to be closed by December. This means passengers are reliant on ticket machines and staff who are now free to roam the halls, armed with iPads to help anyone with problems. We wondered how this was going in practice, and got in touch with TfL.
Obviously, they're keen to emphasise the positive aspects of what they call 'ticket hall improvement works'. A TfL spokesman told us there will be a 30% increase in the number of staff visible at stations by early next year. Right now, staffing numbers remain the same — although there are plans to cut 838 station jobs. This staffing programme is one of the things under dispute at the tube strike talks.
What's happening to the old ticket offices?
Various things; though one of uses will be as retail space or drop lockers for shops like Amazon or supermarkets. With money from central government being cut, TfL needs to find more income from somewhere and they can hardly put fares up any more. We're told that closing ticket offices (and presumably, saving on staff costs) will save £270m up to 2020-21, and that's without extra revenue from the new shops.
Where do I buy tickets now?
Ticket machines. At least, that's where you get most of your tickets from. If you want to get a refund of more than a tenner from an Oyster card, replace a broken/lost Oyster card that holds a season ticket or buy an annual ticket, you'll need to go to the website, call the helpline or visit one of the seven visitor centres.
One thing we'd wondered about was buying annual season tickets with a company cheque — for those companies who like to keep their staff perks old school. Turns out TfL is solving that problem in a different way: from 6 September, company cheques won't be accepted. You'll have to get someone to break out the company credit card, or claim the cost back on expenses, we guess.
What you can do, with recent upgrades, is sort out an incomplete journey if you haven't tapped in or out properly (no more calling the hotline, hurray!), replace a borked Oyster card — though you'll have to find a member of staff to help you — and refund any unused Oyster credit up to £10. We have heard rumours that pickpockets are now treating Oyster cards as cash because there's no ID requirement for small refunds, but we imagine Oyster cards have always been a useful five-fingered 'bonus'.
What happens if the machines break or I can't find anyone?
We did ask TfL what the average time taken to repair machines is; we didn't actually get an answer to that, but were told there's a team on standby ready to fix machines if they develop a problem that can't be fixed by station staff.
TfL insists that by closing ticket offices, staff will become more available. Is it working? This is something we'd like you to tell us. Offices at London Bridge, Waterloo, Charing Cross, Bank and Oxford Circus — to name a few busy stations — have closed already, and the final one at King's Cross closed this Sunday. Do you use these stations? How are you finding it?