After several months, quite a few emails, a few phone calls and with the assistance of one London Assembly member (Caroline Pidgeon, of course), last week I finally meet a couple of the Transport for London staff at Finsbury Park station to talk about what happens when they temporarily close the station.
Typically when there is a problem with overcrowding, crowds build up on the concourse next to the Arsenal shop (on Station Place, the south-east facing side). However, no information is given out. There may be a member of staff by immediate entrance to the tunnel, but the crowd that builds up means only the lucky few at the front have a chance to talk to them to ask what is happening. The crowd too obscures the electronic notice board (and things aren’t helped by it listing all the lines in alphabetic order, putting the Piccadilly and Victoria lines near the bottom of the board). There are no announcements over the PA system and not even a loudhailer put to use.
After once again being stuck in ignorant limbo a few months back, I tried asking TfL about this – cheekily suggesting that, if nothing else, a £15 or less loudhailer from the internet would surely be enough to fix the communication problem.
When I finally got to meet the staff on site, they were good at explaining some of the difficulties they face. The public address system for the outside of the station only gets used in emergencies because of the closeness of nearby residential properties – and looking up at the flats I can appreciate people in them would not welcome 8am updates booming out. Often only one member of staff is on hand at the entrance where crowds build up, due to tight staffing limits, and they have to be by the gate and their little hutch so they are in the right place to control access – and can nip into the hutch for protection if a crowd surge gets out of control.
But we then got onto the question of loudhailers. Why couldn’t the member of staff use a loudhailer so those at the back of the crowd get updates? They have loudhailers, but they are stored elsewhere I was told. Ah, but back to the £15 loudhailer – could they not get an extra one and keep it in the hutch so it was ready for convenient use?
That was a very good point, they agreed – and on having had my first hand explanation of the problems you face at the back of crowds, they promised now to go away and think about what could be done.
All in all, a good meeting. I went away with a better understanding of some of the constraints the staff operate under, and they went away with a better understanding of a problem that should be fixable. The only shame is that it took so long and such persistence to get to that point.
Regardless of what happens, at some point in the future the problem should go away as ticket gates are still due to be introduced at Finsbury Park station, delayed though the plans may be. That would mean the crowd mills in a different place where well-placed signs, if sensibly located and used, could be seen by far more people. It would also mean more staff being to hand by the gates and so more opportunity for them to communicate.
The planned introduction of the gates also holds the answer to my much delayed query about why one of the Oyster check in/out machines on the Wells Terrace exit is so poorly signed and hence under-used. Even as queues build up for the neighbouring machines it is barely touched.
Ignore the reply I was given that they were going to make announcements over the station’s internal PA system to encourage people to use the ‘hidden’ machine. Having never heard any I asked what had happened to them. And asked again. And again… before finally getting the answer that no such announcements had ever been planned or were taking place. But all will be good when the gates finally come.
Oddly in response to my emails TfL passed up on the opportunity either to explain why I was given wrong information or to apologise for having come up with the phantom announcements claim.
As with the other issue I had raised, TfL’s communications are frequently so poor you would have thought they are designed by the person who did the doors on the Victoria line’s new trains. Great in theory, frequently faulty in practice.