LONDON (REUTERS)– Millions of Londoners faced misery as they tried to get to work on Thursday as a 24-hour strike by staff and drivers brought the British capital’s underground rail network to a complete halt.
London Underground bosses said no trains would run all day on the “Tube”, as the world’s oldest underground passenger railway is known, because of the stoppage which follows a dispute over plans for new night services.
Commuters who usually use the underground network were forced to walk, cycle, battle to find taxis, or cram onto crowded buses while many simply stayed at home.
Transport bosses said they had put on extra river boat services and 200 more buses to cope, and marshals were positioned at rail stations to help manage extra demand as long queues snaked down nearby streets.
“There are plenty of industries which have to work nights and London is a 24/7 city,” said Mark Crosby, waiting for a bus at Epping station in northeast London.
“Everyone has a right to their own view, but I don’t think they should have gone on strike.”
Members of four rail unions representing staff from managers to drivers have joined the walkout, unhappy with the pay and terms offered by London Underground (LU) to implement a 24-hour service at weekends on some lines which is due to begin in September.
“They should stop playing games and start talking to us in good faith to get a sensible solution to this dispute,” said Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA union. “It is time to end the blame game and agree a solution which keeps London moving.”
London Underground has said it has hired an extra 137 night drivers, offered a fair pay deal and said most staff would be unaffected by the changes while no one would have to work more hours.
“A night time Tube service is something Londoners and businesses have been requesting for many years,” said Steve Griffiths, London Underground’s Chief Operating Officer, accusing the unions of failing to engage in negotiations.
London Mayor Boris Johnson said the action was political and accused the unions of having no interest in doing a deal. He told BBC radio that union leaders should “cut the cackle, stop the misery for Londoners and allow the Tube workforce to get on with their job”.
A spokeswoman for Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday the strike was “unacceptable and unjustified”.