Yesterday, Labour and the TSSA started making a huge song and dance about leaked plans that most of London’s tube station ticket offices are to be closed and replaced by 20 ‘travel centres’ in the major hub stations. Ominously, we’ve been told that – horror of horrors – ‘passengers would have to use automatic machines instead’. Labour’s London spokesman (and rumoured 2014 Mayoralty hopeful) Sadiq Khan told us that this will have a ‘devastating effect’ on commuters.
|Old London Transport ticket machines (wemadethis.co.uk)|
Of course, this ticket office hoop-la is another example of Labour's inability to stand up to the transport unions. It is madness to be arguing for the value of a chap in a cubby-hole when in most instances a machine will do the same job better. Mick Carney’s predecessors at the TSSA must have felt the same way about automatic ticket barriers – ‘dreadful things that don’t offer the certainty of a ticket clipped by a friendly conductor’ – or something like that, I imagine. Certainly, the failure to embrace modern staffing practices across Britain’s railways in the 1960s did irreparable damage to the economics of operating trains and stations, for which Harold Wilson’s governments need to shoulder a lot of the blame.
These days budgets are leaner, and failing to take advantage of modern ticketing technology ties up funds that TFL would otherwise invest in new trains, signalling and step-free access to stations, all of which are essential to the bothersome business of moving people around. And wasting money on keeping the unions happy pushes up fares – hitting those on the breadline disproportionately hard, which makes Labour’s stance all the more puzzling.
First published by Coffee House on August 13th, 2013