Talks hope over transport strike

Fresh talks will be held today to try to resolve a bitter dispute over London Underground ticket office closures which has sparked travel chaos because of a strike.

Officials from the RMT and TSSA unions will meet London Underground officials today under the chairmanship of the conciliation service Acas.

Another 48-hour stoppage will be held from 9pm next Tuesday if there is no deal.

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LU said more trains were running to more destinations and more stations than yesterday, but passengers still faced disruption to Tube services, and long queues at bus stations and on roads.

Journeys on the capital’s Barclays bicycle hire scheme were up by 50% for the second day, although wet and windy weather persuaded many people to work from home rather than face a repeat of tortuous journeys they endured yesterday.

LU managing director Mike Brown, who had urged the unions to bring forward the meeting to today, said he was grateful for the “patience” shown by passengers.

The unions have been urging London mayor Boris Johnson to meet them to discuss the closures, which will see the loss of 950 jobs.

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The mayor refused to meet the unions unless they called off the industrial action.

RMT leader Bob Crow said: “Our negotiators are geared up and ready to enter the exploratory talks.”

TSSA leader Manuel Cortes said it was time for the mayor to “get serious”, claiming that 70% of the network was at a standstill today.

“We want no more stunts or PR baloney from Boris. No more talk of a secret army of volunteers marching to London’s rescue.

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“We want serious and detailed talks on our genuine fears for the safety and security of passengers and staff under these far-reaching plans. If that happens, I believe we can reach a settlement that will avoid next week’s 48-hour walkout.”

TfL said almost three out of four Tube stations were open, with services running on nine out of 11 lines, although trains were not stopping at some stations.

There were no services on the Circle or Waterloo & City lines, and nothing through the central area of the Piccadilly line

Mr Johnson said: “I understand how frustrating this has been for many Londoners and I’d like to thank them for their patience and stoicism during this completely unnecessary strike. I am grateful to the London Underground staff who rejected this pointless action and worked, and to the hundreds of volunteers who are helping passengers through the day.

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“This morning, despite the efforts of a small unionised minority, we are running services on nine out of 11 Tube lines, and nine out of 10 regular Oyster customers travelled this morning on the Tube, trains, the DLR, the Overground, buses and bikes.

“I’m pleased that having failed repeatedly to engage in constructive talks around TfL’s modernisation plans the unions have agreed to sit down with TfL at Acas.

“Rather than hurting hard-working Londoners and hard-pressed small businesses they should have been talking to TfL this week. That the unions won’t negotiate until after the strike is over tomorrow says a lot about their failure to engage.

“If as they claimed yesterday Mr Crow and Mr Cortes are happy to embrace modernisation, new technology and change, then what on earth are they doing on strike when these changes do just that and involve no compulsory redundancies?”

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:: Thousands of Metropolitan Police civilian staff plan to strike for two days next week, coinciding with the next Tube walkout, in a separate row over pay.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services union will stop work on Wednesday and Thursday in protest at the imposition of a 1% wage rise.

General secretary Mark Serwotka said: “It ought to bring shame on the Met Police that staff who help to keep London safe are being driven into the arms of loan sharks because of low pay.

“The Met Police is not short of money and does not have to ape the Government’s politically motivated pay policies that have fuelled the longest decline in wages on record.”