The BBC reported recently that Staffing at Tube ticket barriers [is] 'inadequate' according to research by London TravelWatch. It's an interesting point of view which Transport for London (TfL) doesn't agree with; they claim that their own internal research (which I can't find published anywhere) conflicts with this. Spokesperson Nigel Holness is quoted in this article as saying LU "...does not recognise the picture painted in this report...". Publish your own study then, Nigel.
In the days before the trusty Oyster card was introduced, Londoners enjoyed the still possible but now vaguely antiquated experience of thrusting their ticket into a card reader, in the hope that they would be continuing their journey broadly unhindered. This was usually what happened (occasionally the Rottweiler Gates would bite-yer-bum on the way through, but your average Tube-weary commuter regarded this as an occupational hazard).
But on more than more than one occasion my ticket had been somehow rendered unreadable in the period between purchase and use. This would then require negotiating with The Gatekeeper, one of the uniformed barrier-watchers referred to in the previously mentioned research. I have been refused point-blank when the ticket was also illegible; annoying because both the magnetic strip and the printing were produced by a poorly maintained ticket machine. I must confess I've never deliberately evaded paying my fare, but it's times like these which make you squeeze through with a friend (well -- I had paid, I just couldn't prove it). Sometimes we did this anyway, just for fun, mainly because it annoyed The Gatekeepers -- sorry if you're one of them now reading this; I've matured in recent times, honest...
These days the illegible ticket is less common, as the Oyster has replaced it. Now, TfL have new tricks to exploit the unwary Londoner (or tourist). Try these for size:
- Failing to touch out having touched in -- this will result in TfL debiting you as much money as they think they can get away with based on some idea of a maximum fare, or something... This usually occurs when you absent-mindedly walk through an unmanned gate on which the barriers have to be left open for safety reasons.
- Failing to touch in but remembering to touch out. This is also infuriating because it is caused by and results in a similar effect to the first bullet above. You try to be honest, and TfL says, "thanks very much, we'll now take lots of your cash".
Against a backdrop of all this, who would want to be A Gatekeeper? They must get endless pain. Most of them at the station I use regularly are pretty decent (if world weary) people just trying to help. What a pity TfL puts them in this position.
Footnote: Is Oyster data being used as a surveillance tool? A discussion for another day, but have a read of this article at The Register and see what you think.