[LONDON] Millions of Londoners were forced to walk, cycle or take packed buses to work Thursday as Underground staff staged their second strike in a month over plans to run trains all night at weekends.
London Underground staff walked out on Wednesday evening and will not return until Friday morning, causing a shutdown of the subway network that has severely disrupted transport in the capital.
Four trade unions are locked in a months-long dispute with management over London Mayor Boris Johnson's plans to run a 24-hour Tube service on Fridays and Saturdays from September 12.
An extra 250 buses, additional rental bikes and increased river boat services were laid on to help ease the disruption, while overground trains were operating as normal.
But the Tube handles four million journeys every day, meaning many trains and buses were overcrowded Thursday, while roads were clogged with cyclists and pavements filled with pedestrians who decided it was quickest to walk.
It is the second time the Tube has shut down in a month, after a similar strike on July 8 and 9 caused the first network-wide closure for 13 years.
While some commuters railed against the unions and their members, many of whom are paid well above the average wage, most were resigned.
"I took the bus, it was really crowded and took 45 minutes instead of 20 minutes," Amal, a 21-year-old accountant, told AFP in the City of London financial district.
Tamara, a 43-year-old German tourist visiting London with her husband and two children, added: "We didn't know about the strike. So today we only walk!" Many workers were expected to work from home, and others tried to see the positive side.
"Making the most of the tube strike by running into work today!" blogger Hannah Cox said on Twitter.
At the Victoria railway terminus, where huge lines of commuters formed waiting for buses, one enterprising company handed out free skateboards.
The latest round of negotiations broke down on Monday, when union leaders rejected an offer of a two per cent salary increase and bonus payments for night shift workers.
RMT union leader Mick Cash said it was "just a rehash of an earlier package and does nothing to tackle the fundamental issue of our members being called into work at the beck and call of management to plug staffing gaps in the mayor's botched Night Tube plans." The unions have called for the launch of the service to be delayed pending further talks.
Mr Johnson, a member of Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative party, said he is "not fussed" about exactly when the Night Tube starts, but said there would be no more money on the table.
"I want it starting in the autumn," the mayor said, adding: "I am not going to authorise any more money. Most people would recognise that this is a very generous deal." London Underground says it is hiring 137 more train drivers and 245 new station staff to work on the Night Tube, and says that no existing employees will be working more hours than they do at the moment.
Steve Griffiths, the company's chief operating officer, said: "We have made every effort to reach agreement with the unions and avoid this unnecessary strike action." The mayor says that the new service will benefit not just revellers but also many night shift workers, insisting: "They are the working people of London." Currently trains depart the outer edges of London some time after 5:00am and the last services leave the centre about half past midnight.
The new 24-hour service on five lines would bring London in line with other cities such as New York, Berlin and Sydney.