Not long ago my fellow passengers on a bus journey were school children, boys and girls from 11 to 16 or so. They sat still, talked to each other quietly and most thanked the driver when they got off. I was so impressed that I toyed with the idea of writing to their head to congratulate him on their impeccable behaviour, with a request that he should not identify them publicly or it would destroy their "street credibility." Unfortunately, as with many generous impulses, I never got round to this.
Some weeks later I travelled on the same bus and the school children yelled loudly, insulted each other, used offensive language, horsed around and were generally an intimidating nuisance.
It was then that I realised that on the first bus was, in addition to the driver, a second bus company "official." He didn't inspect the tickets so I think he was carrying out some sort of survey. Whatever, it was clearly his obvious presence which accounted for the different behaviour of the young people.
Of course, in the high and far off times when most people behaved well on buses, and few, adults or children, put their feet on the seat opposite and if they did were promptly asked to take them off again, all buses had that second official, the conductor.
This incident came to my my mind yesterday when I read of proposals to close the ticket officers in a further 675 railways stations, and therefore leave them unstaffed. This will surely lead to more vandalism and hooliganism.
I do not feel it is illiberal or an advance of the police state to want more bus conductors, station masters, park keepers, concierges and other semi-official figures, with or without peaked caps, to keep a friendly eye on our public property and improve the quality of life in our public spheres. CCTV cameras are no substitute for the personal touch. At a time of high unemployment it is an obvious step to begin to re-introduce real live guardians of our public spaces.