London Tube Union Prepares for Strike, Says Talks Broke Down

Talks aimed at averting a London Underground strike starting May 5 broke down last night, the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union said.

Negotiators had reached a “workable framework” on an agreement to avoid the strike late yesterday afternoon, the RMT said on its website. That fell apart when London Underground, which runs the city’s subway network, sought “not just a suspension of the action but that the entire dispute be called off,” the union said.

The negotiations over proposed ticket-office closings started yesterday morning, less than 48 hours after the end of the most recent two-day walkout, which drove away almost half the passengers who typically make 3 million daily journeys on the world’s oldest subway. The strike set to start at 9 p.m. on May 5 would last 72 hours, making it the longest strike yet in the current dispute.

Transport for London, which manages the capital’s transportation network, says its proposed measures will save 50 million pounds ($84 million) a year with no compulsory job cuts, and that 650 people have already applied to leave. Some 750 positions may go, though the RMT puts the number at 1,000.

“London is being held to ransom” by the RMT, London Mayor Boris Johnson, who oversees TfL, said in a statement cited by the U.K.’s Press Association. The union “is digging in its heels and refusing to play its part in shaping the future of the Tube,” he said. A TfL spokesman couldn’t be reached for comment via mobile phone or e-mail late last night.

Tube Disruption

The union, which says stations would be left understaffed and unsafe, yesterday called on London Underground to shelve its plan and open a public consultation, citing a poll this week it suggested had shown six out of 10 Londoners backed that approach. The RMT halted the second of two February walkouts for earlier negotiations that ultimately failed to produce a deal.

Londoners relying on the Tube to reach work saw disruption ease on April 30, the final day of this week’s strike, with trains running on all 11 lines to about 80 percent of stations, and 90 percent of regular swipe-card holders riding the network.

All the same, trains began running about 1 1/2 hours later at 7 a.m. and total passenger numbers were 43 percent below the usual level, according to TfL.

Buses were also stuffed full, even with extra vehicles deployed, while roads were clogged and docking bays for London’s 10,000 rental cycles were full from early morning in central areas amid demand higher even than during the Olympics.

TfL said that while the city was “open for business,” conditions for its customers had been “tough.” The RMT said London Underground had resorted to running skeleton operations in order to claim an exaggerated level of available services.

Retailers, restaurants, theaters and tourism-focused businesses also said that footfall plummeted during the strike. Next week’s walkout is scheduled to begin on a public holiday, when far fewer people generally travel, though the action could disrupt leisure activities, TfL spokeswoman Ann Laker said.

The Tube has 270 stations, with 57,000 people using the busiest, Waterloo, in the three-hour morning peak.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.