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Subway strike a headache for Londoners

(Agencies)
Updated: 2004-07-01 14:08

A 24-hour subway strike made an exasperating mess of London transportation Wednesday, tangling traffic and forcing millions of commuters onto overcrowded buses that took hours to crawl through the city.

Those who could took to bicycles or walked to work, and while most were frustrated by the delays, a few said they were glad to they had to exercise.


Commuters in London walk across Waterloo Bridge during a 24-hour strike by thousands of London Underground workers. [AFP]
"I'm enjoying it," said Ade Adeyemo, a lottery worker. "Seeing all the people walking around, the weather's nice, jumping from bus to bus. ... I just find it hilarious."

Adeyemo said his morning commute from north London to the capital's center took about 45 minutes, just a little longer than usual. He repeatedly got off buses that were stuck in traffic and walked or ran until he found others that were about to move.

If he hadn't been so aggressive, he said, "it would have taken me another hour on top of that, maybe two, because it just wasn't moving."

Most didn't find the going-nowhere-fast conditions so much fun.

"Yes, it's a nightmare," proclaimed the Evening Standard newspaper.

Henry Dunyo, a 25-year-old technology consultant, agreed.

"Getting to work took two hours instead of an hour or 45 minutes," he said, waiting for a bus in central London. "It's just the inconvenience of being in there like sardines, the bus was very crowded. ... Really, I wish I'd taken the day off."

The strike by subway drivers, signal workers and maintenance staff ended at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, but London Underground said only around 20 percent of the service would be operational for the rest of the evening and advised passengers to find other transport home.

Some trains provided limited service on a few subway lines, but the majority of the massive Underground network was at a standstill, leaving the roughly 3 million people who use the system every day to scramble for alternative ways of getting around.

Traffic was very heavy and overland train stations were jammed with people. Sidewalks were packed with pedestrians and many buses were so crowded they passed by stop after stop without letting anyone on.

The Automobile Association said the morning rush on the roads started an hour earlier than normal and that many people who live outside London had driven in.

Transport for London said about 7 million people were expected to ride the buses Wednesday, which would be a million more than the average and the highest total in 50 years.

Outside the King's Cross station in north London, hundreds of people waited at bus stops or just decided to walk, clutching maps handed out by subway staff.

For many, the aggravation depended on where they had to go and when they had to get there.

"It's not too bad, actually," said Richard Page, 22, heading for London's financial district a couple of miles from King's Cross. "It's only a 45-minute walk. I'm from the country, so that's an acceptable distance to walk for me."

But Denise Ames had a sore back and wasn't pleased that she had to stand for her bus ride into work at 6:30 a.m., when she said it's normally easy to get a seat.

She decided to head home around 2 p.m. in hopes of beating the rush, and declared herself "fed up. It is annoying. London transport's not brilliant at the best of times."

The capital's ailing Tube network often suffers breakdowns and delays and has been beset by labor problems in recent years, particularly as a much-disputed partial privatization goes ahead.

Two daylong strikes paralyzed the network in 2002 before Mayor Ken Livingstone made a temporary peace with the unions, and a strike in March wrecked service on six Underground lines.

The current dispute between London Underground managers and the Rail Maritime and Transport Union was over a pay proposal that would give the workers a two-year raise worth 6.75 percent.

The union has complained about conditions attached to the deal, including technology upgrades that it says could cost 800 jobs.

Management has called the strike "completely unnecessary."

Livingstone, who walked to work instead of taking the subway as usual, said the proposed pay deal, which cuts workers' hours to 35 per week, was "incredibly generous."

London Underground said workers who crossed picket lines operated about 100 trains during Wednesday's morning rush, compared with 500 on a normal day.



 
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