In this regular series, Londoners speak freely and honestly about their occupations, under the cloak of anonymity
I’m a customer service assistant for London Underground, generally dealing with customer enquiries. Many people think we get a lot of money for what we do on a daily basis, but it’s not what we do: it’s what we have to know and what licenses we have to carry. You need licenses for escalators, traction current; it’s a safety critical position. You need to know what to you do if you have a breakdown in a lift, for example. If you need to get passengers out you’re going to need to do a hand wind, or a power wind up in the machine room. You might have to jump in the other lift, do a lift transfer, using the emergency hatch and stepladder to lead people from one lift to the other.
The only shift I like is the middle one; I hate the dead earlies and dead lates. The earlies start at 3:55am and the lates finish at 1:20am. The worst parts are the boredom, the weather when you’re in open sections of stations, and old stations that are tiled up. I can tell you what I don’t like doing: the announcements. It becomes tedious, constantly saying “stand behind the yellow line”, doing that for three hours solid, that’s a bit much. I do enjoy the other aspects of the job, like meeting people, trying to deal with their queries.
They do look after us, TfL. They provide full uniform, allowances, a staff and nominee travel card worth about £4000. You get your bonuses, plus a better pension than the police – they times your contribution by three. We’ve also been getting pay rises every year. I like the uniform that I have now, but they're changing it soon, some fashion designer’s done it. It looks like McDonalds to me. I'm not happy about that.
We have a regular clientele who get to know you on a first-name basis, they ask how you are, and you get chocolates at Christmas. And you also get people who are very quiet who you’ve seen for years and years and they don't say anything to you.
London Underground drivers don't actually drive the train; it’s all automatic, all they do is open and close doors. But obviously you need to know how to drive a train because if there is a problem, you have to be able to override the signals. If you look at some lines like the Central or Jubilee, sometimes when the trains are coming into the platform the driver’s completely fast asleep, because there’s nothing for him to do.
We also have “plungers” on the platform, little red knobs on the walls, about five of them. You wouldn't know what they are because it’s for staff use only. By hitting those plungers, you break the signals that are on the track, which stops the train from moving. Quite often someone drops a handset or something on the track, and we try to take it off there and then rather than leave it until the end of traffic. It’s a danger: people might see something like a wallet and take the risk and jump down themselves. In situations like that we have to stop the train. It takes two people, and if I'm going out on a track, I will stop the train halfway, then go to the driver and take his key to the train before going down.
I’ve had a few hair-raising experiences and it’s usually at the platform edge; a person falling in or under a train which is quite common, unfortunately. Now they’ve changed the procedure: before, we used to say “a person under a train”, now we say “a person on the track”. It’s so common and people prefer the newer wording. Especially for tourists it’s quite hard to hear someone’s actually under a train; we had quite a few complaints about that.
We have a no-hands policy now because a lot of staff have been sacked for stopping people and it turning violent. We’re not revenue (ticket inspectors), and even they’re not allowed to restrict you. If you’re stopped by them they can only ask you things.
When you’re on a station and you hear the announcement “Would Inspector Sands please come to the station managers office,” that is a possible fire that needs to be inspected. Also, there's a little known ticket on the machines called a platform ticket. It is only a pound and is to let you on to the platform. But it gets misused as you then have access to the trains and as long as it's open on the other end its a trip for a pound.
Platforms are a haven for dodgy stuff, especially late at night. There’s always few people trying to do stuff, using the passageways to urinate, to make out, or bouncing up and down on each other on the benches. You get a lot of intoxicated people in the night, people coming back from clubs and bars. They fall in, they lose their balance. I’ve seen it two or three times. They get nasty burns but obviously the big juice is right up against the wall, 360 watts. The running rails, though, you can stand on those. I have been in the tunnels, they’re long, dark and very eerie, depending on what station you work at. There are lots and lots of rooms, very spooky – you walk along the corridors and through toilets, and certain back rooms that are very dark, have very pungent smells; your hairs just stand up on the back of your neck when you’re doing your station check.
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