Commuters wait for buses outside Victoria station in London, Britain, 29 April 2014

Transport for London said half of Tube services were running and two-thirds of stations were open on Tuesday, the first full day of a 48-hour strike by the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union.

TfL also said 87 per cent of the Oyster payment cards that are usually used had been used, a record number of buses were running and the number of cycle hire journeys was up 70 per cent on an average weekday.

Disruption has been worst in the heart of London as the Waterloo and City line was closed and no services ran through the city centre on the Central and Piccadilly lines.

The RMT, which is striking over London Underground’s plans to close 254 ticket offices and cut 950 jobs, said the strike was being “solidly supported”. Three other unions, including the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, which joined a similar strike in February, are not participating in the industrial action.

They are continuing to discuss the modernisation proposals after accepting guarantees of no compulsory redundancies.

Trains on lines that are operating are not running as frequently as usual and not stopping at every station, apart from on the Northern line which was operating a good service, so passengers have been advised to check TfL’s website for details. Trains will stop running at 11pm on Tuesday and the strike ends at 9pm on Wednesday.

A further three-day strike is planned for next week, beginning on Monday May 5 at 9pm.

The Docklands Light Railway and Overground services were running but some severe delays were reported on the latter network.

Commuters at London Bridge and Waterloo experienced severe delays, while passengers on lines where some stations were closed reported quicker-than-usual journey times.

Managers say only 3 per cent of journeys begin with a visit to a ticket office and want to redeploy staff to ticket halls and platforms to be more visible and save money. The RMT said on Tuesday that ticket offices have “responsibility” for 23 per cent of “ticket transactions” and that in 2013 this was 7.6m transactions.

The RMT says the modernisation programme will affect safety and efficiency but TfL disputed this, saying safety is not controlled from ticket offices but by station supervisors.

Mike Brown, London Underground’s managing director, said: “We will not be diverted from doing the right thing by our customers and staff. The [RMT] should call the strike off and instead work with us to help shape the future of the Tube.”

Boris Johnson, mayor of London, said in an impromptu walkabout at London Bridge station that the authorities did not “necessarily see the reason for this strike going ahead. We are going ahead with our programme of modernisation”.

“New technology means we can get our stations to operate more smoothly; we can get staff to help people better at stations,” he said. “People have not fully understood the benefits.”

The mayor recognised that people had concerns about moving away from staffed ticket offices. “I understand the way that people have an attachment with old ways of doing things,” he told the Financial Times. “But look at the way we shop today and how we operate in a retail environment: we use technology.”

John Leach, the RMT’s London transport regional organiser, wrote on the Left Foot Forward blog on Tuesday that the union’s proposals – including asking the government for more money, capping salaries at £100,000 and bringing all contracted-out services in-house – had been rejected.

“London Underground Ltd has shown emphatically that when we stop taking action, it stops backing down,” he wrote. “The company could not have made it clearer that if we want to stop these cuts and closures, we have to strike.”

David Cameron tweeted that it was “unacceptable that millions of people are having their lives disrupted” by the strike.

Mary Creagh, shadow transport secretary, did not openly support the strike. “It is wrong millions of Londoners are facing travel misery today,” she said. “Strikes are always a sign of failure and both sides must get around the table urgently and sort this out as quickly as possible.”

TfL said it was running 7,961 buses, 266 more than usual – including some of its old Routemasters, and more Thames boat services.

The Federation of Small Businesses claimed that further strikes would cost companies hundreds of millions of pounds.

John Allan, national chairman, said: “The cost to small businesses for just two days of strike action earlier this year was estimated at £600m. Many businesses will be naturally concerned about the potential impact five days will have.”

Small enterprises, which make up the vast majority of London’s business, would be hit hardest as they are least able to recover any lost business, according to Colin Stanbridge, chief executive of London Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Many will find it difficult to understand why the strike is happening given London Underground’s public assurances that no one will be forced to leave.”

Lady Valentine, chief executive of business lobby group London First, said the latest strike would “baffle” millions of Londoners. “Everyone was led to believe that all of the outstanding issues had been resolved in February – otherwise, why did the unions call off their strike action then?”

She added: “Revamping the Tube so that it meets the 21st century needs of the world’s leading city is vital. But surely this shouldn’t yet again be at the expense of Tube users – as ever, the innocent victims, particularly those who don’t get paid if they can’t get to work.”

Thousands of people took to social media to give their views on the strike and their struggle to cope with the reduced service. Most opposed the strike but some supported the action, echoing the strikers’ view that safety and efficiency are likely to be affected by fewer staff.

RMT workers on the Heathrow Express service to Paddington were also taking industrial action, leading to a reduced service.

Get alerts on UK business & economy when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Follow the topics in this article