Are Tube ticket offices a necessity or outdated in the 21st century?

Gants Hill, Central Line station

Gants Hill, Central Line station - Credit: Archant

Boris Johnson says modernisation has sounded the death knell for Underground ticket offices.

Ticket office transactions at Redbridge Tube stations in 2013.

Ticket office transactions at Redbridge Tube stations in 2013. - Credit: Archant

The Mayor of London has announced his intention to axe them at all stations in Redbridge next year, sparking fierce debate on their value, culminating in February’s Tube strikes.

So are station ticket offices outdated and irrelevant in the age of the Oyster card or a vital means of reaching staff?

London Underground bosses focused on “modernisation” of the network and used the statistic that just 3 per cent of journeys involved a ticket office purchase to make their case.

But the number is a misleading one, as most people make few purchases because they use Oyster cards or Travelcards for several days or months at a time.

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Figures obtained by the Recorder show that more than 533,000 purchases were made at Redbridge ticket offices last year – an average of 1,460 every single day.

About 15pc of transactions at Tube stations in the borough happen at a ticket office – 30pc of ticket purchases and 10pc of Oyster top-ups.

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Machines will replace them when they shut, but concerns about accessibility and security have been raised by disability groups, the elderly and people who have difficulty reading English.

Disability campaign group Transport for All is among those fighting the closures.

Member Jeff Harvey uses the Underground frequently in his powered wheelchair and uses a ventilator.

He said: “Often I cannot speak loudly and I cannot reach out to operate a ticket machine or swipe my card to open a gate.

“If a member of staff is dealing with something and isn’t right by the barrier, getting their attention can be difficult for me.

“With a ticket office, there is always a person in a known location, who I can communicate with.”

Even now he sometimes has a long wait for help and fears it will be difficult for him to find staff.

Redbridge Pensioners’ Forum chairman John Coombes said most older people used Freedom passes and rarely needed to buy a ticket.

“It’s not going to affect them in that sense, but there is a security aspect,” he said.

“I think there are going to be problems.”

Critics have pointed out the plans go against Mr Johnson’s pledge from his winning manifesto in 2008 that there would always be a “manned ticket office at every station”.

The Mayor of London has changed his tune, saying the changes would make the network “fit to serve London in the 21st century”. He promises more staff will be “visible”.

The closures are part of a raft of more palatable changes, including the “night Tube” running for 24 hours on the Central Line on Fridays and Saturdays from 2015.

Stations will still be staffed at all times and new visitor information centres will be opened in a few central London stations.

Some will see a boost in staff but the exact plans for Redbridge’s 12 Underground stations, including Hainault, Gants Hill, Wanstead and Woodford, have not yet been revealed.

The changes are part of £270million spending cuts that will result in the loss of about 750 posts, although London Underground is trying to limit redundancies.

Phil Hufton, chief operating officer of London Underground, said the trend of ticket sales away from ticket offices has surged over recent years.

He added: “We will continue to prioritise personal assistance and to make the Tube more accessible across the network.

“There will be more visible staff available in ticket halls, at ticket machines, on gate lines and on platforms to help all customers – including those with disabilities –buy the right ticket, plan their journeys and keep them safe and secure.”

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