The walk-out by more than 20,00 bus workers from 18 companies in a strike over drivers’ pay caused travel paralysis as huge crowds descended on underground stations and massive traffic jams clogged up the roads.
The BBC – making their calculation from figures on the Transport for London (TfL) website – suggested that only 44 of London’s 673 bus routes were functioning normally.
Thousands of commuters attempted to beat the strike by either walking or cycling to work. Others opted for the Tube, but the system was in danger of becoming overwhelmed by thousands of extra passengers as scenes at Brixton underground station – already suffering disruption as a result of escalator repair work – were described as “apocalyptic” by the London Evening Standard.
The Daily Mail reported that there were more than 1200 miles of traffic jams in Greater London area at 8.30am, with southbound traffic on the A12 in Essex subject to two-hour delays caused by 15-mile tailbacks.
TfL admitted to “significant disruption” caused by the strike, which began at 4am and will continue into the early hours of tomorrow morning.
Members of the bus workers’ union, Unite, which called the strike, reported strong support for the action, with pickets being mounted at 70 depots.
Wayne King, London regional officer for Unite, said: “Strike action is the last resort. We have been forced into this position by the operators’ refusal to even meet with us.”
But Mike Weston, TfL’s director of buses, said: “I am very sorry that the leadership of Unite have chosen to disrupt the journeys of passengers, especially given that only 16 per cent of the bus drivers voted for strike action.”
Unite wants a single London-wide agreement covering bus drivers’ pay, terms and conditions. It says that pay for new drivers can vary from £9.30 to £12.34 an hour, depending on the company.
During the strike, customers with bus and tram pass season tickets can use them on the Underground – good luck! – Docklands Light Railway and overground train services. Passengers can also check the www.tfl.gov.uk website in the hope of helpful updates.