Tube strike: why you should be thankful for transport walkouts

Sep 15, 2015

Research suggests that London Underground strikes help some commuters find more efficient routes

Public transport strikes produce a "net economic benefit" and might even save some travellers around £100 a year, according to surprising new research from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

Commuters have faced much disruption over the summer, with walkouts on the national railway networks and London Underground.

But according to researchers, travellers might actually benefit from the strikes as they are forced to find alternative ways to work. The study found that one in 20 people find "superior journeys" that are quicker and less expensive than their normal commute.

"For the small fraction of commuters who found a better route, when multiplied over a longer period of time, the benefit to them actually outweighs the inconvenience suffered by many more," said Dr Shaun Larcom, a co-author of the study, from the department of land economy at Cambridge. "The net gains came from the disruption itself."

Larcom and his colleagues examined the effect of the 48-hour London Underground strike by RMT union members in February 2014, when more than half of the capital's Tube stations were closed.

Using 20 days of anonymised Oyster card data, the researchers analysed more than 200 million entry and exit readings for London's transport system to assess travel patterns before and after the strike.

They found that five per cent of commuters stuck with their new route once the strike was over, reports The Times.

The Oxbridge academics suggested that the strike had encouraged people to experiment with different Tube lines, which can vary in speed, and forced passengers above ground, where many discovered quicker alternatives. They believe this might be because of flaws in the Tube map, which shows a distorted view of distances between Tube stops in the capital.

Larcom said the findings seem to indicate that a "decent proportion of people are not optimising their journey" and that individuals tend to "under-experiment" with their route on normal days.

Tube strikes suspended as retailers count the cost of summer standstill

7 September

London Underground strikes due to take place this week have been suspended,but commuters have been warned that the dispute is not yet over.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union has suspended two 24-hour strikes, due to begin on 8 and 10 September, after it was announced that the Night Tube would be postponed.

The union said the implementation of the new 24-hour weekend Tube service had been suspended "until we reach agreement" and said it would continue to negotiate with London Underground.

"However we remain in dispute and all industrial action called to not co-operate with Night Tube at local level, including modelling and trials, remains in place," it said.

RMT warned that if the negotiations "prove negative" then further industrial action will be organised so members can defend their agreements, pay and conditions.

Two 24-hour strikes were held in July and August, causing disruption for commuters and tourists attempting to travel around London, while another two strikes pencilled in for the end of August were called off at the last minute.

Unions have accused London Underground  bosses of drawing up "rosters from hell" for workers so it can go ahead with its Night Tube plans. RMT General Secretary Mick Cash warned that running Tube services with "fatigued and burnt-out staff" was a "recipe for disaster".

However, the employer says it has put forward a "very fair" offer and claims unions have simply been demanding more money.

A monthly bulletin by London Underground tube workers has claimed the September strikes were never actually on as "the usual text and email notifications for striking were not sent out", City AM reports.

The bulletin also questioned Union leaders' decision to postpone the strikes saying: "It is not clear what progress has been made to warrant this further suspension of action. We know that Night Tube has been postponed, but with management and the Mayor saying they still intend for it to start in the Autumn, it has not been postponed for long."

The uncertainty surrounding the Night Tube is also making it harder for unions, the workers claimed, as it "can drain the morale of members and make it harder to hold solid action when the union leaderships eventually feel that the time is right for it."

Retailers have also been counting the cost of the uncertainty, with The Telegraph reporting the number of shoppers in the capital and its suburbs "tumbled by 9.5 per cent in the first week of August".

Though the summer always brings a dip in fortunes for Britain's retailers, August's 24-hour strike was reportedly a large factor in this year's downturn. "A dip during August is always expected, with many people away on summer holiday, but not to the extent that we saw this month", Tim Denison, director of retail intelligence at Ipsos said.

Tube strikes still on as Night Tube delayed until 'later in autumn'

01 September

London Underground has confirmed that it will delay the new Night Tube until later in the autumn to allow time for more talks with unions.

The 24-hour weekend service was due to begin on 12 September on the Jubilee, Victoria and most of the Piccadilly, Central and Northern lines.

However, London Underground workers have been involved in an ongoing dispute about the new service. Unions staged two 24-hour Tube strikes in July and August, causing huge disruption for London commuters and tourists.

Another two Tube strikes, planned to take place across four days this week, were called off on Monday, but are now expected to take place on 8 and 10 September.

A new date for the launch of the Night Tube is yet to be announced, but London Underground expressed hope that it would be "later in the autumn", reports the BBC.

"Further to the progress made in recent days with the trade unions and the suspension of strike action, we believe we are not far from an agreement that protects the work-life balance of our employees and is affordable, sustainable and fair," said Nick Brown, London Underground's managing director.

"As such, we have decided to defer the introduction of Night Tube to allow more time for those talks to conclude. Our objective is to reach an agreement that ends this dispute and delivers the Night Tube for Londoners this autumn."

Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, the train drivers' union, welcomed the "common sense" decision, but criticised London Underground for initially trying to introduce the new service "without consultation, and without negotiation".

The FA has temporarily suspended ticket sales for the European Championships qualifier so that transport providers can ensure they can manage current ticket holders' journeys to the stadium on the night of the game.

The Evening Standard points out that there were "chaotic scenes" last November when an England Women's game clashed with planned works at Wembley Park tube. The capacity for the England v Germany match was capped at 55,000 because the tube station had to be closed, but almost 10,000 ticket holders were still unable to make it to the stadium on the day.

London Mayor Boris Johnson has put the Night Tube delay down to "Corbynmania". He told LBC radio that the unions were taking advantage of Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn's popularity to "make a political point".

He said: "What is really happening is the union leadership, particularly the RMT, feel that the country is being gripped by a sort of Corbynmania. They feel that everybody is going to the left and this is an opportunity to make a point to the awful Tory government that they don't accept trade union reform."

Tube strikes called off - but two more announced

24 August

Two 24-hour Tube strikes, which were expected to disrupt services for four consecutive days this week, have been called off by unions "as a gesture of good will".

The decision was taken in order to allow talks at the conciliation service Acas to continue.

However, the threat of further industrial action has not been lifted, and the unions involved in the dispute have proposed two new Tube strikes on 8 and 10 September.

"Leaders from the three unions involved in the proposed strike action, Unite, the RMT, and the TSSA, agreed to suspend the action following last-ditch talks with London Underground bosses at Acas," says the London Evening Standard.

The train drivers' union Aslef had already decided not to participate in this week's Tube strikes, which would have been the third and fourth of the summer.

Unite regional officer Hugh Roberts told the BBC that sufficient progress had been made to justify suspending industrial action, but he also spoke of "remaining sticking points".

No further detail about any progress has been released.

The dispute relates to the introduction of the Night Tube, a 24-hour service on key Underground lines due to begin on 12 September – two days after the second of the newly announced Tube strikes.

However, many commentators expect that the all-night service will now be delayed.

"The key question is: is the Night Tube going to go ahead on 12 September?" says the BBC's London transport correspondent Tom Edwards. "It doesn't look too hopeful at the moment."


What is the row about? 

The long-running dispute was triggered by the decision to launch a 24-hour weekend service on several Tube lines beginning in September this year. Job cuts and a lack of proper consultation have also contributed to the row. Unions accuse bosses of drawing up "rosters from hell" to plug the staffing gaps in the Night Tube plans which will affect employees' work-life balance and force the public to pay in terms of safety, reliability and quality. “Running tube services with fatigued and burnt-out staff is a recipe for disaster," says RMT General Secretary Mick Cash.

Bosses contradict these claims, with managing director Nick Brown saying the unions were simply demanding more money. London Underground says it has put forward a "very fair" revised offer to unions which includes a pay rise for all Tube staff and bonuses for those working on the night service as well as a guarantee that employees will not be required to work anymore weekends than they currently do.   “You can’t have London being held to ransom forever," Transport for London's interim commissioner Mike Brown told the Evening Standard."We will bring in these changes."


Tube strike: how will your journey be affected?

24 August

London Underground managers are meeting union leaders today in a bid to avert Tube strikes due to take place later this week.

Members of three unions – the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), Unite and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association – are threatening to stage two 24-hour walkouts, which will affect services from Tuesday 25 August until Friday 28 August. The drivers' union Aslef has said it will not be taking part.

The unions are in dispute over pay and conditions for the new all-night Tube service, which is scheduled to begin on the Jubilee, Victoria and most of the Piccadilly, Central and Northern lines on 12 September. There were suggestions earlier this month that the launch date might be postponed.

Transport for London (TfL) has said it will run as many services as it can over the next four days, depending on the number of staff who show up. Nevertheless it has advised all customers to allow more time for their journeys.

Here's what to expect if this week's strike goes ahead:

Tuesday 25 August

Tube services are due to stop running from around 6.30pm, with an "exceptionally busy" period between 4.30pm and 6.30pm.

Wednesday 26 August

"Most Tube services are unlikely to run at all and those that do will be less frequent than normal," says TfL. Any services that do operate may only stop at a limited number of stations and/or run for a limited number of hours.

Thursday 27 August

Tube services should be running again in the morning, although travellers have been warned that there may be some "lasting impact" from Wednesday's strike action. The Tube will then stop running at 6.30pm – again with an "exceptionally busy" period expected between 4.30pm and 6.30pm.

Friday 28 August

Friday's strike action is expected to be similar to Wednesday's, with Tube services "unlikely to run at all". Those that do will be less frequent than normal, may only service some stations and may only run for part of the day.

Saturday 29 August

London Underground services will open at the usual time, although scheduled engineering work will go ahead as planned.

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No rail service of any sort west of Exeter, so England cut off from Cornwall and likely to be for weeks; but that is obviously much less important than a few people having to get a bus rather than the tube in that London...

Economically it is.