Harlington station ticket office
So, the thus-far ill-fated Thameslink 2000 Programme (am I the only one who finds the colour scheme on that website absolutely shocking and gets eye-ache from it?) has finally started, meaning that on my train line, which usually runs from Bedford all the way down to Brighton with an extra loop going around the Sutton and Wimbedon areas, has no cross-London service (St Pancras to London Bridge) every weekday evening past 10:30pm, and every weekend.
I understand the need for engineering works, and I can appreciate that evenings and weekends are the times that affect the less travellers. The benefits, rolled out in stages up to 2015, include badly-needed new rolling stock (the carriages currently date from 1981 and 1987), station improvements in and out of London, including a new south bank entrance to Blackfriars station, more interchanges with the Tube and the new Crossrail line, and the biggest advantage – 12-carriage trains. Some stations have already been extended to accommodate the longer trains, and the work is in progress at many more. Farringdon station is already being restructured to allow eventual interchange with Crossrail, and for better access around the station. It all sounds good.
Of course, all this work requires 6 years of disruption and patience from First Capital Connect’s customers. The people most affected by this are shift workers, whose journey home may change from one shift to the next.
Three weeks in, the changes have run relatively smoothly. Apart from one weekend when trains were terminating before my station, and no-one in London could tell me whether or not there would be a replacement bus service, it’s been OK. As I happen to live in a small village towards the end of the line, with not many people passing through the station outside of peak hours, First Capital Connect do not exactly consider journeys affecting Harlington station a priority. Therefore advanced information is not always available, or at least publicised as well as it should be.
However, they’re trying to go one step further by proposing to change the ticket office opening hours to just four hours a day, from 0645 until 1030 in the morning peak, with no service at all at the weekends. If you live in London, you may already be familiar with ticket offices whose opening hours have been reduced, or even completely unstaffed stations. However, there is one important difference: they have an Oyster option, and/or a ticket machine. As Harlington is outside the Transport for London zonal system, Oyster cards are not accepted. And, the single ticket machine provided for Harlington, facing the car-park, was stolen in summer 2008 using a big van and strong ropes, and has so far not been replaced.
This has meant that, for the last four months when working night-shifts, I have had to board trains without first buying a ticket. It was simply impossible, save for getting off at the next station, using a ticket office or machine, and then waiting 25 minutes for the next train. Mostly, this was fine: if a ticket inspector ‘revenue protection officer’ was on the train, they would sell me a ticket. If not, I jumped off the train, touched my Oyster card, and straight onto a Tube at Farringdon. Yes, this means that I wasn’t paying for my journey: my reasoning was, if they can’t be bothered to replace the machine, it’s not my fault that I couldn’t buy a ticket.
Problems started when the Thameslink Programme kicked in, meaning that all trains from the north terminated at St Pancras. With barriers seperating the FCC platforms and the Tube platforms, there was no way I could get away without paying for a ticket. But, when I volunteered to pay for a ticket to the barrier staff there, they wouldn’t believe that there was no way I could have bought a ticket before I travelled. They found the idea that a ticket office was closed amazing, and the fact that there wasn’t a ticket machine in place of a closed office absolutely incredulous. Despite my protestations, I was often charged the full price ticket (without my valid young person’s railcard discount) as a ‘compromise’, and twice I was charged the full amount plus a penalty fare.
My letter (Google Docs) registering my objections to the proposed new ticket office opening hours was sent to FCC this week, and they replied within 24 hours:
…It is proposed to change ticket office opening hours at stations to better meet passenger demand and as an improvement on current arrangement in terms of cost effectiveness. There has been no significant review of ticket office opening hours on the Thameslink route since privatisation, during which time passenger buying habits have changed with off site and web sales technology and greater opportunity to purchase tickets at stations through improved self-service ticket machines.
How will you meet passenger demand by only opening 4 hours a day? Also, there’s only one ticket terminal inside the office, meaning that still only one person can buy a ticket at a time. Yes, you can now buy train tickets online, but you still have to collect them from a ticket machine, which doesn’t exist at Harlington.
Though I do note your comments in respect of the ticket vending machines at Harlington. The machines are a valuable facility and it is disappointing when they are not available. Whenever staff are advised of a fault, we are often able to rectify the problem immediately…
Not without members of staff at the station, you won’t.
If the machine is damaged and there is no other facility for you to pay for your ticket or permit to travel, you can board a train and pay at your destination.
I know that. Why don’t your staff?
Furthermore, it is also clear that customers should not be penalised by any failure on our part to provide working ticket purchasing facilities. If no ticket purchasing facilities exist at your departure station, it should be possible to purchase your ticket either onboard the service or at your destination. If you are issued with a Penalty Fare, you may appeal by writing to the Independent Penalty Fare Appeals Service (IPFAS) as below. This is an independent body that will check whether ticket offices were open and ticket vending machines were working at the time a Penalty Fare was issued.
…except, of course, you have to write to them within 21 days of receiving the penalty fare, including your original tickets and receipts and therefore sending them as registered mail. Sometimes it’s just not worth the extra hassle and cost, especially when you can just make back the cost by not paying on purpose next time by travelling into a station without barriers…
First Capital Connect train with Thameslink Programme livery at Luton station in the snow, taken by myself.