NEW proposals by London Overground operator Arriva to close 65 ticket offices have triggered a warning from the RMT.
The union said the plans would be fought ‘with every tool at its disposal’, partly because the number of assaults on station staff in connection with fares and tickets has been rising.
When the first routes of London Overground were transferred from the Silverlink franchise in November 2007, Transport for London promised that stations would be staffed throughout traffic hours. The Mayor at the time was Ken Livingstone, who said: 'Our aim is very simple, to raise standards to levels similar to the rest of the public transport system in London, with Oyster ticketing and stations staffed at all times while trains are running.”
Since then, however, Underground ticket offices have been closed and staff levels reduced, particularly on quieter stations in the outer suburbs. Transport for London has said 97 per cent of journeys are being made on contactless cards, including TfL’s Oyster smartcard, and that Underground ticket offices are no longer justified. Instead, it increased the number of staff on concourses and platforms to give direct assistance to passengers instead. Until now, however, ticket offices have been retained at Overground stations.
Arriva took over the Overground concession in 2016, and says that contactless payments are reducing the need for staffed Overground ticket offices in the same way.
The company said a consulation has now been launched, but added: “Before any ticket office closure is permitted, as is common across the rail industry, we would have to adhere to a consultation process which involves the Department for Transport, train operating companies and passenger representatives.”
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “These are appalling cuts and closures across the London Overground network that would have dire consequences for safety, services and accessibility. RMT fears that the proposed closure of ticket offices and the application of a multi-disciplinary approach to existing grades will be used to continue to manage the shortfall in safety critical staff employed to the detriment of both the travelling public and staff.
"Furthermore, the removal of ticket offices directly impacts other grades in that one of the most common safety incidents faced by staff are physical/verbal assaults arising from ticket related matters. In these incidents, the ticket office can provide both a point of refuge for staff and also a point to which the passenger can be referred to discuss any issue but where the member of staff is safe. Assaults on rail staff have increased by 27 per cent in the past five years.
"The union is approaching MPs and Councillors to start building political support. We will be fighting these plans tooth and nail with every tool at our disposal."