LONDON – The choices Thursday in London: take a hike, ride a bike, try to find a bus you like.
Millions of commuters jammed buses, rented bicycles or simply walked for miles to and from work as a 24-hour strike shut down the British capital’s famed subway system and threw public transport into chaos.
Train drivers on the London Underground solidly supported the strike in a dispute over pay and schedules that take effect when 24-hour service is introduced on some lines later this year. That unanimity has made this strike more severe than previous ones in which management was able to keep a few Tube lines operating.
Business groups say the strike will cost this city of 8.6 million people tens of millions of pounds (dollars) in lost productivity.
“I have to file a statement for today — I don’t know how I am going to do it. I am utterly fed up,” said distraught attorney Susan Miller, 48. “I just don’t think (strikers) have seen the big picture here.”
London’s subway system, with 4 million journeys a day, normally shuts down shortly after midnight, with the overnight shift reserved for track maintenance. While it has operated all night on New Year’s Eve, the move to have some lines running 24 hours on weekends marks a huge shift for a 152-year-old system.
London Underground’s managing director Mike Brown apologized for the disruption but insisted it was a “remarkably fair” pay offer.
“This strike is unnecessary,” he said.
Transport officials say the offer included a 2 per cent salary increase, a 500 pound ($770) night Tube launch bonus and an additional 2,000 pound ($3,080) one-off bonus for night Tube train drivers.
Unions say management is trying to bulldoze new work patterns that will cause stress and wreck the work-life balance of people in critical safety jobs.
“We’ve wasted three months in negotiations that failed to address staff concerns,” said the RMT union’s general secretary Mick Cash.
Taxi company Uber said their prices — which fluctuate based on supply and demand — were nearly three times higher than usual at one point. Uber spokesman Harry Porter said the demand was on par with New Year’s Eve but he stressed that their cost is comparable to other providers.
The one thing everyone agreed on is that the city’s commuters took it on the chin.
Lida Fallah-ardakani, 53, tried to attend a medical appointment she had scheduled five months ago. The journey normally takes an hour, but three hours into her trip Thursday she was still trying to get to St. Mary’s Hospital.
“I came out of the house at 6 in the morning. But I am still in the bus to the hospital and I am not sure if I can be seen,” she said.
Some commuters supported the strikers.
“You have to take action sometimes when you are up against the … forces of capitalism,” said Tricha Passes, a 58-year-old university lecturer.