LONDON: Millions of commuters in London faced delays and disruption on Wednesday after Tube staff went on strike over plans to close ticket offices on the subway train system.
The 48-hour walk-out on the network, which carries one billion passengers a year, led to three of the 11 Tube lines being shut and others operating a reduced service, while many stations were closed.
With hoards of commuters forced above ground in search of buses and overland trains, the streets of London were unusually packed with people walking to work during rush hour and the roads were thronged with traffic.
The transport misery, set to last until the end of the strike on Thursday evening, was compounded by delays on overland train services caused by rain and high winds.
The strike action, and another 48-hour strike planned next week, is being taken by the RMT and TSSA unions in protest at the closure of all London Underground’s 278 ticket offices, with the loss of more than 950 jobs.
Union leaders warn many stations will become “ghost stations” and feel unsafe, and say that services will also suffer.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson, a member of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative party, said the strike was “pointless” and the reforms were “essential.”
He noted that there would be no compulsory redundancies and the changes would save millions of pounds (dollars, euros) to reinvest in the Tube system.
“It’s appalling that a tiny minority of union members have sought to disrupt the working lives of millions of Londoners today,” he said.
Both sides claim public support for their position, and both Johnson and firebrand RMT leader Bob Crow accused the other of holding a gun to their heads.
The two held their first conversation for years on Tuesday when Crow called in to the mayor’s weekly radio show to urge him to act to suspend the job cuts.
He also pointed out that before being elected to his first term in 2008, Johnson promised not to close ticket offices, and repeated this vow two years later.
“That was six or seven years ago now. What’s happened since then are there has been massive investment in technology and fewer and fewer people actually use ticket offices,” the mayor replied.
He added: “When I started talking about ticket offices the iPhone wasn’t even invented, for heaven’s sake.”
Johnson urged the union leaders to call off their strike, and said he would like to change the law to ensure a minimum 50 percent turnout for strike ballots among members of key public services.