The Slatest

Londoners Break Out Skateboards, Scooters, Penny Farthings as Tube Strike Snarls City

Two skaters take part in a promotional event by Penny Skateboards, giving free boards to stranded commuters during the morning rush hour at Victoria Station in London on Aug. 6, 2015.

Photo by Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

With London traffic slowed to a crawl Wednesday and Thursday by a strike that shut down the city’s subway system, commuters scrambling to get home turned to novel forms of alternate transportation.

Angered by plans pushed by London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, to launch a new late “Night Tube” service in the fall, four unions shut down service in the London Underground Wednesday night to demand greater concessions in pay and assurances that employees will not be asked to work unreasonable schedules. The work stoppage is set to run through the first service Friday morning.

It’s the second interruption in less than a month for a system used for around 3 million trips on the average workday. With commuters forced above ground and the extra buses brought in the by city overwhelmed at times, many simply set off on foot or on self-powered wheels.

The city attempted to ease the chaos, deploying hundreds of transit ambassadors to help direct passengers to buses and bringing out extra rentable “Boris Bikes,” named for the city’s mayor.

Johnson himself brushed off a demand from one of the unions demand for an “urgent meeting” with the mayor, saying that labor leaders should instead work on convincing workers to accept the terms they’ve been offered and get back on the job. From the BBC:

London Underground (LU) has apologized for the disruption, saying the latest offer—a 2% salary increase this year, an extra £200 per night shift for drivers for a limited time, and a £500 bonus for Night Tube staff—was aimed at improving work-life balance.

Mayor Boris Johnson called the latest offer “incredibly generous,” and said he would not authorize any more money or negotiate while unions were “holding a gun to Londoners’ heads.”

He said: “The way forward is to get this excellent deal to their membership. They should call off this stupid strike and put the deal to their members.

“No driver is being asked to work more hours than they do today.”

Some workers have come out in defense of the strike and their concerns over the expanded service, which the mayor has promised will be online in the fall. One employee, who gave his name only as David, wrote on a union blog that the new scheduling could be detrimental to safety on the tube:

My colleagues and I are worried about safety, and what it’ll mean for the tube service itself. Depending on rotas, we may have to work 7 shifts in a week, and only be guaranteed a 12 hour gap between an all-night shift and our next shift. If I’m the only one at the station, that responsibility is worrying if I’ll be tired – what if someone’s taken ill on the platform, or a drunken disturbance, if I’m tired-out and working a station alone? 

The Secretary-General of one of the affected unions, RMT, released a statement to stress that the workers’ dispute was “not with the travelling public. It is with those who have botched the introduction of Night Tube and who are trying to plug staffing gaps by wrecking any chance of a decent work/life balance for our members. It really is as simple as that.”