Passenger safety will be put at risk at Hampstead and Belsize Park Tube stations if London Underground proposals to cut staffing levels go ahead.
Trade unions have called a public meeting yesterday (Thursday) to fight the plans, which will see travellers unable to seek staff assistance at crucial times of the morning and night.
The cuts will mean that station staff will clock off at 9pm in Hampstead, instead of midnight. And in Belsize Park on Sundays they will leave at 4pm. Linda Chung, chairwoman of new traders' group NW3 Hampstead, said the proposals were worrying.
"I've been into both Belsize Park and Hampstead Tube stations and found only one member of staff and broken ticket machines, so it's been impossible sometimes to top up your Oyster card or get hold of a ticket.
"It is absolutely essential in terms of customer service to have staff based at the stations.
"This diminishing service from TfL is just not good enough."
The changes could be in force by March next year. During weekdays, one hour of staffing will be lost per day. But it is the weekends when passengers will be most affected. Hampstead Tube station is currently staffed from 8.30am to midnight on Saturdays and 9.30am to 8.30pm on Sundays. But this will change to 9.30am to 9pm on Saturdays and 10am to 6.30pm on Sundays. At Belsize Park, Saturday hours will change from 8.30am to 9pm to 8.30am to 8pm and Sundays will change from 9am to 9pm to 9.30am to 4pm.
The RMT union's industrial rep John Reid said: "London Underground says because of the rise in Oyster Card use and the sale of travelcards in shops, there isn't the need for ticket offices to stay open in stations.
"But we are arguing that the expertise of station staff cannot be replicated by the corner shops and other places people go to buy tickets. Somewhere like Hampstead on a Saturday night is a busy place, with people arriving to visit the pubs or to go up to Kenwood House. There needs to be staff there to help people when they come off the Tube. Tourist information is also essential in the lead-up to the London Olympics.
"Not only are jobs at risk, but there will also be a loss of service to passengers and the loss of a safe environment.
"We hope London Under-ground will think again about these cuts, so that a good service can continue to be offered to the 4million Londoners who use the Tube every day."
A TfL spokesman said: "This consultation is continuing and London Underground will review the results of consultation and allow time for the full benefits of new ticket machines and the expansion of the Ticket Stop network, before determining the pace and redeployments appropriate in the light of continuously falling ticket sales from ticket offices."
Taken from the Hampstead & Highgate Express