London Subway Strike Snarls Traffic as Union Opposes Cuts
A two-day strike by London Underground employees over job cuts and ticket-office closures left commuters facing an arduous trip home as stations remained shuttered and roads struggled to cope with extra demand.
The Tube, which usually carries more than 3.3 million people on weekdays, will shut earlier than usual, with three lines and more than 40 stations completely closed, Transport for London said on its website. Frequencies on routes that remained open dropped to as low as one train every 20 minutes today, and buses filled quickly, leaving some passengers stranded.
Unions called the strike over Mayor Boris Johnson’s plans to scrap ticket booths with the loss of than 750 jobs, spurred by the introduction of Oyster travel cards that automatically open gates after being charged with credit. Labor leaders say that while less than 3 percent of journeys involve a visit to a booth, staffing stations is vital to guaranteeing public safety.
“The action is rock solid this morning and has reduced the network to a skeleton service with only a few ghost trains running through closed stations,” Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime & Transport union, said in a release.
London Underground said it operated more than one-third usual services today, serving 70 percent of stations. Some 86 percent of regular Oyster users traveled during the day, while use of a public bicycle-hire services rose more than 50 percent.
The Waterloo & City Line, which carries commuters from Britain’s busiest railway station to the heart of the financial district, is closed for the duration of the strike, together with the Circle Line that rings the center of London. The Bakerloo line was shut until this evening, when some services resumed. Stations on the Piccadilly Line and Central Line are open only at their eastward and westward extremities.
While the Northern Line, the system’s busiest, is operating a “good service,” according to TfL, which oversees the Tube, northbound trains didn’t start until 7:30 a.m., 30 minutes later than planned, causing a crowd of about 500 people to gather outside Morden station at its southern end.
Commuters were later shepherded by police to platforms, where an absence of indicator boards led to confusion over whether trains were bound for the City or a branch serving the West End retail zone and caused many to dash between carriages.
London Underground workers were instructed by unions not to show up for shifts between 9 p.m. last night and 8:59 p.m. tomorrow. TfL said it’s likely trains will be disrupted until Friday morning as services take time to return to normal.
Heathrow Express, DLR
Surviving Tube services were slated to start around 7 a.m. today and are due to finish early at about 11 p.m., staffed by managers and employees electing not to strike, TfL said.
Heathrow Express trains, the Docklands Light Railway and other surface rail services should operate as normal. Trains on the Jubilee line aim to operate between Waterloo and Stratford every five minutes, protecting services to Canary Wharf.
Crow and Manuel Cortes, leader of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, went to City Hall yesterday seeking face-to-face negotiations with Johnson, but were declined a meeting with the mayor, according to RMT spokesman Geoff Martin.
Johnson’s office said the mayor would engage in a dialog only if the walkout was called off first, and the mayor today joined other Conservative politicians in suggesting on BBC radio’s Today program that unions failing to secure 50 percent of member support should be barred from striking.
While the walkout was backed by 77 percent of votes cast, that amounted to 30 percent of those balloted, according to Johnson, who was chosen in a 2012 poll with the approval of 17 percent of the total electorate based on first-preference votes.
Crow said today in a statement from his union that Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives were “playing politics” and should compel the mayor to honor an election pledge not to shutter ticker offices.
Johnson’s plans, which include 24-hour services on some lines at weekends from 2015, would retain ticket offices at five central Tube stations plus Heathrow. Unions are also concerned that a project examining the viability of driverless trains could lead to elimination of many more posts.
TfL says more staff will be based on platforms and concourses in the future, using tablet computers to manage stations on the move. All stops will be manned while trains are running, though they’ll be classified as Gateway, Destination, Metro or Local to reflect staffing needs.
The RMT said Dec. 3 that a combination of 24-hour running with the redeployment plan could create the “lethal nonsense” of drunks “piling into unstaffed stations controlled by a member of staff three stops down the line with an iPad.”
A further two-day walkout is scheduled for the evening of Feb. 11, with the London Chamber of Commerce putting the cost to the city’s economy at 50 million pounds ($81 million) a day, or 200 million pounds over the duration of the action.
London’s subway network, dubbed the Underground in 1908, carries more than 1.2 billion people annually, with 57,000 passengers entering the busiest Tube station at Waterloo during the three-hour morning peak. The service employs about 19,000 people and has 270 stations, according to TfL.
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