Tube Strike Chaos – is Boris to Blame?June 11th, 2009 by Barry Potier
London endured its most disruptive bout of industrial action for nearly two years yesterday as a tube strike hit thousands of fans attending the England World Cup qualifier at Wembley and threatened to cost the UK economy up to £100m.
As many as 12,000 fans were estimated not to have been able to reach Wembley for the match, or decided to remain at home and avoid a difficult journey, while afterwards those who had attended and gone by car said the traffic was still gridlocked at midnight last night.
Millions of commuters face a second day of disruption tomorrow despite an offer of peace talks to halt a 48-hour strike by London Underground staff. Tube users queued at heaving bus stops and rail platforms as they sought alternative routes into the office, with complete or partial shutdowns on nine of the tube network’s 11 lines.
Cycling campaigners escorted hundreds of amateur riders into central London on five routes. Extra riverboat services were also laid on, with the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, among those trying out one of the capital’s least-used modes of transport. Despite thousands of Londoners donning cycling helmets or trainers to walk to work, business leaders warned that the strike could cost the economy up to £100m in lost productivity.
The walkout affected 1.5 million commuters, with an estimated one in 10 staying at home, and brought recriminations on both sides. Boris Johnson condemned the “ludicrous and unnecessary” strike by members of the RMT union following the collapse of negotiations over pay and conditions at the 11th hour.
The RMT leader, Bob Crow, accused the mayor’s Transport for London body of sabotaging talks when it appeared that a deal over protection from compulsory redundancies was within reach. RMT offered to reopen talks this evening but there was still no sign of a deal to avert a second day of industrial action.
The Football Association faces the prospect of paying more than £1m to supporters who had bought tickets for game against Andorra. Wembley Way, normally heaving with fans well before kick-off, was fairly quiet two hours before the game against the side ranked 196 in the world. Roads around the stadium were choked with traffic as kick-off approached.
Fans travelling into London Euston from the north found the No 18 bus from the station took over two hours to crawl to the national stadium through the traffic, a journey that should take 45 minutes. Perversely, those who took the tube found the trains running virtually as normal. The Jubilee and Metropolitan lines both ran to Wembley Park, albeit on a slightly reduced service. Chiltern Railways, which usually takes around 7,000 fans to Wembley on match days, closed Wembley Stadium station due to overcrowding fears.
The FA’s chief executive, Ian Watmore, pledged to refund supporters who decided against attending. Some 70,000 tickets for the fixture had been sold before it became clear the strike was likely to take place.
TfL claimed a partial victory today as it became clear that the RMT had failed to shut down the entire network. Three trade unions refused to back its walkout. Two key transport arteries, the Jubilee and Victoria lines, were operating and there were services running on sections of seven other lines, allowing TfL to run a third of all its trains by this afternoon. Peter Hendy, the London transport commissioner, said most workers would be able to reach their offices by public transport tomorrow.
Despite repeated claims by both London transport bosses and the RMT that they were ready for talks, there was no sign of negotiations taking place to break the deadlock and allow normal transport services to resume tonight.
The RMT claimed it had made four attempts to “get talks going” again at Acas yesterday, including a direct written appeal to Boris Johnson which the union said was turned down. The mayor’s office confirmed he had responded to a letter sent by Bob Crow, but declined to reveal its contents. It also emerged that Boris Johnson tore off his microphone and refused to take part in a pre-recorded interview with Channel 4 News after learning that Bob Crow was also taking part. Boris ohnson’s spokeswoman confirmed that the mayor was interviewed separately later.
Is Boris Johnson to balme for this, could he have circumvented the strike? do you have stories of you experience in getting into Wembley for the Game or to work, if you do we would really like to hear from you.