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London's Underground system at standstill due to biggest strike in more than a decade
Extra buses and river boat services laid on, but people urged to travel outside peak hours
Millions of Londoners were forced to find alternative ways to travel on Thursday as the UK capital’s Underground network was in the grip of what may be its biggest strike in more than a decade.
Commuters packed on to buses or walked to work, with Tube services set to be disrupted until Friday morning. London Underground’s boss Mike Brown warned that the strike – called in a dispute over working hours – will cause “big disruption” and branded it “totally unnecessary.”
About 4 million journeys are typically made on the Underground each day, so when the system is down, the city comes close to grinding to a halt.
Without the trusty Tube, as the Underground system is widely known, commuters and tourists alike were forced to find their way to their destinations by bus, train, bicycle, taxi or on foot.
A time-lapse video posted to Instagram Wednesday evening, when the strike started, shows commuters climbing over the walls surrounding the steps of the Oxford Circus station to try to catch the last trains home.
Abbie Morrow posted a photo to Instagram showing the clogged streets of London as seen from her view on an hour and 15-minute bus ride.
For those who preferred to trust their own feet, Britain’s Independent newspaper tweeted an image of a pedestrian-friendly map showing walking times between stations.
Many subway trains were packed with people who left early to avoid the strike, and were exceedingly hot.
John Thumwood, interviewed near the end of the Northern Line, when the number of people in the carriage had thinned, said he planned to work virtually Thursday, even if he’d have to cancel some meetings.
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“When you’re living in London that long, you just have to learn to live with it,” said Thumwood, a 64-year-old systems consultant who works in the center of London.
Then he paused and added, “Of course, I think it’s bloody inconvenient.”
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Extra buses and river boat services were lined up in anticipation of the strike, according to Transport for London, the body that oversees public transit across the city. But all services and the road network were crowded on Thursday morning, with long queues for the capital’s famous red buses.
Speaking on phone-in radio station LBC on Wednesday, London Mayor Boris Johnson said residents were “understandably furious” about the strike.
“The thing is ridiculous, and it is not a well-founded strike,” he said, adding that he hoped “common sense will prevail.”
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The strike action was called after unions and the London Underground failed to agree on a pay deal over a new “Night Tube” service due to start in September.
Beginning September 12, when the Night Tube rolls out, there will be round-the-clock service on part of the network on Fridays and Saturdays, meaning shift workers and late-night revelers will find it much easier to get home.
But the unions say London Underground has done too little to meet its members’ concerns about pay, health and safety, working conditions and promises about job cuts.
Not all Londoners are against the strike though. Emilie Goldfinger waited in line for 20 minutes to get on a bus to go to work, but says she still fully supports the tube strikers and doesn’t mind the long commute.
Others were furious at the waste that was created due to the strike. Mike John expressed his anger on Instagram about the many newspapers that will go to waste by sitting outside the empty Bank Underground Station.
While some are angry about the strike, others are using it as an opportunity to get some exercise. Joe Vail made a 7.1 mile bike trip to work on Thursday.
Union: We want a ‘sensible solution’
One of the four unions involved in the negotiations, the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, blamed “intransigence” on the part of London Underground for the strike action going ahead, despite months of talks.
“We work to keep London moving day in, day out. We’re already often at work before 5 a.m. or can be found helping passengers get home safely in the early hours. We cope with an ever-increasing numbers of passengers – 100 million more in just the last five years – and are happy to do so,” said a statement on the TSSA website.
“We don’t object to working these hours, or the even longer ones due to the Night Tube. All we ask for is a sensible solution to the safety implications of the Night Tube, honest negotiations and a reasonable settlement on pay and hours.”
Johnson, on the radio show, said that the Night Tube was “something that millions of people have wanted for a long time” and that Underground workers had been offered “a very, very fair deal” in exchange.
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CNN’s Don Melvin and Alyssa Jackson contributed to this report.