LONDON, United Kingdom (Reuters) – Millions of Londoners struggled to work on Thursday as a strike brought the Underground rail network to a standstill for the second time in a month, leading to traffic gridlock across the British capital.
Commuters turned to cars, boats, bicycles and heaving buses to cope with the 24-hour walkout by rail unions over plans for a new all-night service. No trains were running on the network, which usually handles some four million journeys a day.
“When you get into the central stations, it’s carnage,” said James Isaacs, who works for aprivate bank and was struggling with two large bags in the City of London financial district. “It’s hot, it’s sweaty and someone’s going to lose their temper soon.”
Congestion brought vehicles across the city to a halt, with traffic analysts TomTom reporting more than 200 jams causing tailbacks amounting to some 100 miles.
The action follows a dispute over planned 24-hour services at weekends due to start on Sept. 12 on the “Tube”, as the world’s oldest underground passenger railway is known.
Nick Brown, managing director of London Underground, said it had offered unions an above-inflation 2 percent pay rise, a one-off payment of 500 pounds ($776) and a promise that drivers would have the same number of weekends off. Annual leave would remain the same – 43 days for a train driver and 52 days for station staff.
“We listened to their concerns over work-life balance and put forward an extremely fair, revised offer,” Brown said.
All four unions involved said they supported night services and that their concerns centred on safety an staffing levels rather than pay.
“Our dispute is not with the travelling public – it is with those who have botched the introduction of Night Tube and who are trying to plug staffing gaps by wrecking any chance of a decent work/life balance for our members,” said RMT General Secretary Mick Cash.
Many of those who had to find alternative ways to get to work were unimpressed.
“They get way more holiday than me,” said Marie Kelly, 27, who was walking to her job in a central London restaurant. “They should just get on with it. It is annoying, it’s disruptive.”
However for some who opted to work from home, the strike had an unexpected bonus, allowing them to watch England’s rampant cricket team skittle out fierce rivals Australia for just 60 on the first day of their fourth Test Match.
“What an amazingly timed tube strike. Come on England!” one fan, Luke Tansley, tweeted.
By William James and Kylie MacLellan (Editing by Stephen Addison)