The London tube strikes this week have spelt chaos throughout the capital, amid growing tensions between Transport for London (TfL) and the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT), surrounding the planned closure of ticket offices. Given that the strikes in February 2013 cost London small business approximately £600 million in lost working hours, business and productivity alone, how can the RMT possibly justify this? And how can we allow industrial action to go ahead this easily and so frequently?
Let's think back to the strikes in 1989, for one day London was virtually halted to a standstill. Parking restrictions were lifted, causing mayhem on roads. Hyde Park was even used as a temporary car park. Not to mention the bedlam within stations and the financial damage caused to the economy. We are now more prepared for strikes; after all, RMT have given us many opportunities over the past few years to be fully prepared. However, that does not mean that industrial action from RMT can be justified, after all - it is a vital public service.
It is a fatal flaw of the current system. Unions are allowed to strike almost whenever they so wish, with just a small proportion of the members needing to vote in favour of such action. Indeed, in this case, only 30% of members voted in favour of strike action. The further three days of planned tube strikes over the next two weeks are obviously going to cause anger and frustration amongst nearly all commuters. Even if you support the strike, we all need to get to work to pay our bills, rates and mortgages.
What I have written reflects my beliefs with regard to industrial action from trade unions, which you may or may not agree with. However, even if one looks at it from a purely factual basis, the industrial action seems absurd: The strike is a result of the uproar caused by the planned closure of all ticket offices, one of the most radical changes to the service - it's up there with electrification. However, only 3% of the 1.23 billion annual tube journeys involve purchasing from a ticket office, a luxury costing £150 million per year. Furthermore, Boris Johnson has promised no forced redundancies, and no pay cuts.
Moreover, you simply cannot argue that we need ticket offices. Travellers will now be able to purchase tickets by phone, online or at train stations. The introduction of contactless payments will mean that you will be able to simply touch your bankcard on the card reader at the gate line in the same way as you can use an Oyster card. And if you don't wish to do that, TfL are putting over 150 new ticket machines into stations and improving the existing machines so that they are faster, and easier to use. So, as a user of the service - the ticket office closures aren't really an issue that you ought to be concerned about.
Indeed, if anything it will notably improve the service provided. Savings from these cuts to ticket offices will be used in funding innovation within the 151 year old underground service. For example, there will be more visible staff in ticket halls and on gate lines - helping customers with services and ticketing; more, and better ticket machines; better technology in stations - customer service staff will be equipped with the latest in mobile technology; a new 24-hour tube service at weekends from 2015; a more frequent and reliable service with better, more accessible stations; stations staffed and managed while services are operating; simpler ticketing and the best value for the fare you pay. The list truly does go on.
In a survey, 74% of people said that it was too easy for the RMT to strike, and it's clear that the Tories are leaning this way. David Cameron has condemned the strikes, and challenged Labour leader Ed Miliband to do the same.
When asked if a London Underground strike ban would be included in the Conservative manifesto in 2015, the Prime Minister refused to comment - it certainly wouldn't be a surprise, and it certainly would be welcome.
By J Huckle