Londoners managed to move around the city Saturday to celebrate the New Year despite a 24-hour subway strike, which slowed but failed to cripple the capital’s transport system.
An estimated 200,000 people crowded into central London on Saturday night, police said, 50,000 more than the year before, after a 24-hour strike by the RMT union failed to shut more than a handful of underground stations.
“The Tube strike hardly materialized,” said London Mayor Ken Livingstone.
“The majority of London Underground staff did not agree that it made sense to punish ordinary Londoners on New Year’s Eve.”
The RMT union called the strike over the introduction of new work rosters which it says will reduce safety levels on the underground.
London Underground denies the rotas were unsafe and says there will be no reduction in station staffing.
On Sunday, London continued its celebration of the New Year with a parade through the center of the capital featuring 10,000 performers from around the world.
“It has put a real downer on New Year’s Eve,” said Colin Munsie, 50, ducking into Baker Street station. “For one of the biggest cities in the world not to have a proper transport system working on a night like tonight is a disgrace.”
“This whole strike has been very inconvenient and I think has lost the Tube workers some support from the public,” said Jodie Schaffer, 28, heading by subway to a party in north London.
London Underground said it was the first ever subway strike over the New Year period, although unions have threatened Dec. 31 stoppages since 1999. The strike echoed a three-day walkout by New York transit workers over pensions that shut down the city’s subways and buses just before Christmas.
The RMT union is protesting against new staff assignments and schedules which they say they spread workers too thin and threaten safety — a complaint denied by managers. Some 4,000 of the Tube’s 6,000 workers belong to the RMT union. London Underground said workers not belonging to the union plus managers had managed to keep open the network that handles up to 3 million passenger journeys a day.
“We are running train services on all lines. The vast majority of our stations are all open,” said Mike Brown, London Underground’s chief operating officer. Subway drivers were not taking part in the strike.
At London’s Victoria Station, a major subway, bus and overground rail terminal, French tourist Matthew Lapalus, 22, summed up the mood of defiance among partygoers. “I am not worried about the strike, I’m just going to take a cab or use the buses,” he said.
Another strike is planned for Jan. 8.