Union chiefs came under fire on Friday after a Tube strike prevented thousands of commuters from getting to work and dealt a heavy blow to the London economy on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
The RMT walk-out shut the Piccadilly line – including no Tube services to and from Heathrow – and the central section of the Central line that serves Oxford Street and Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.
Businesses said the strike was “disgraceful” while Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “This is the last thing that Londoners need.”
Services did run on the Victoria, Jubilee and Northern lines, which were also targeted by the RMT, though not as frequently as normal.
There was a normal service on the sub-surface lines such as the District and Circle, which were not subjected to union action.
Transport for London said that by 9am it was running 58 per cent of normal services on the Tube. Passenger numbers were down by about 30 per cent on last Friday but bus journeys were up four per cent.
This is likely to mean about 600,000 fewer Tube journeys throughout Friday, a total of 2m compared with about 2.6m last Friday.
There were pickets outside some Tube stations and the RMT declared the walk-out – over the drivers’ rosters for the Night Tube - as “rock solid”. But TfL bosses said the RMT had not been as successful as hoped and believes some members turned up for work.
Andy Lord, managing director of London Underground, told the Standard: “I’m disappointed that we have got the action in the first place but quite pleased with the level of service we have provided. Clearly it’s disruptive and we wanted to avoid it if we could.
“The Piccadilly line and the Central line are the most impacted. We have a full end-to-end service on the other lines, but with reduced frequencies.
“I’m very, very sorry for our customers and businesses in London who are being impacted and inconvenienced by the strike. I’m truly sorry that anybody has been impacted by a completely unnecessary piece of industrial action.
“Not a single driver has lost their job and not a single driver has been forced on to new rosters.”
The strike is due to continue until 430am on Saturday.
On Friday morning a small number of trains ran between Arnos Grove and Cockfosters on the northern end of the Piccadilly line.
But Mr Lord said it was “unlikely” further sections of the Piccadilly line would reopen. Nor did he expect the restart of Central line services between White City and Liverpool Street.
The RMT’s next strike will begin on Saturday on the Victoria and Central lines, in a bid to derail the restart of the Night Tube.
A dress rehearsal on Friday night will indicate how many drivers will be expected to turn up for work on Saturday night. TfL expects to run a reduced Night Tube service on the Victoria line but is uncertain about the Central line, which has more RMT members.
Strike ‘harming’ London
Commuters, business leaders and politicians rounded on RMT, saying they were harming London.
Simon French, chief economist at City brokers Panmure Gordon, said the strike could cost central London about £10 million in lost sales.
Mr Shapps told LBC: “I absolutely appeal to the union to not disrupt everyone’s lives. We have had enough disruption through coronavirus.”
Nickie Aiken, the Conservative MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, said: “It means that visitors cannot come in and nor can workers and they are the two sets of people who keep London running.”
Jace Tyrrell, chief executive at New West End Company, said: “The Tube strikes are a devastating blow to London’s West End as businesses were looking to capitalise on what should have been a phenomenal Friday in the run up to Christmas.”
London First chief executive John Dickie said it was “disgraceful” for the RMT to strike at a time TfL was desperate for cash. “In the run-up to Christmas, as London’s businesses and Londoners try to recover from the pandemic, it is also self-indulgent,” he said.
Passenger Costas Rico, 25, who was heading to work at Heathrow but was forced to make other plans when he discovered Northfields station was closed, said: “It’s ridiculous. We are trying to recover economically from a pandemic and now this. It’s not right.”
Miles Chapman, 22, who works in publishing in central London, was met with a locked gate at Bounds Green.
He said: “I’ve been enjoying going back to the office after the pandemic and this strike is stopping people going in, it’s very frustrating.”
Leanne Smallman, 30, a retail worker said: “I’m really cross. Now I have to get a bus and will be half an hour late. I think it’s terrible that the Tube workers are stopping the public going about their business over petty grievances.”
Simon Thomas, chief executive of the Hippodrome casino in Leicester Square, said: “Hark the Herald Angels sing, the Tube’s on strike, the usual thing.
“Given what the West End has been through in the last 18 months this is a cynical gesture to cut off Christmas cheer to Londoners and the business community.”
Des Gunewardena, chief executive of restaurant group D&D London, said many diners were cancelling reservations.
He said: “It is deeply insensitive of both the unions and TfL to subject the public to this strike... especially on what is going to be a very busy Friday in the West End.”
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “Our members have spoken this morning and it’s time for London Underground to start listening.
“This is just the start of a programme of action and the Mayor and his officials need to recognise our determination to defend progressive and family friendly working practices. We remain available for talks.”