Cyclists add to London Tube strike chaos

Government accused of ducking its responsibilities. Louise Jury reports
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The Independent Online
One of Britain's biggest motoring organisations yesterday accused the Government of washing its hands of the chaos caused by the latest Tube strike.

As hundreds of cyclists from anti-car protest group, Reclaim the Streets, added to traffic jams in central London, the RAC said some of the problems could have been avoided through better co-ordination.

Edmund King, the organisation's head of campaigns, said: "We have a crisis in our capital. We've had seven strikes and London is losing so much money, yet efforts aren't being coordinated. We have a token government committee for London, but when it comes to a strategy for keeping the capital moving, there's a wall of silence."

He contrasted government inactivity with the RAC's efforts in providing a hotline for car-sharing, discussing extra buses with bus companies and issuing advice to callers. But a government spokesman rejected the criticism. "At the end of the day, the vast majority of commuters are getting in." Two special coach parks and extra car parking had been provided, he said.

On the seventh strike day of the summer - the fourth involving joint action by the train drivers' union Aslef and the rail union RMT - five trains ran instead of the normal 450 on the Underground yesterday.

As commuters faced the now familiar struggle across the capital by car, bus, foot and bicycle, about 500 cyclists from Reclaim the Streets converged on Trafalgar Square before moving on to Parliament Square. Fifty protesters then stormed London Underground's headquarters, where a dozen reached the offices of Peter Ford, the chairman, who discussed Tube policy with them. There were 13 arrests during the morning, for breach of the peace, theft, criminal damage and assaulting a police officer.

Mr King condemned the cyclists as irresponsible. "When people are doing their utmost to get to work, groups who deliberately block the traffic are shooting themselves in the foot."

But Paul Piper, 31, who was cycling to work at an oil company, said the strike highlighted how much congestion there could be on the roads and the need for a proper public transport system. Philip Southam, 36, who works in government security, said: "Get the cars out of the city and have more walk and cycleways."

A London Underground spokesman said the company wanted to go to arbitration through the wages board because it saw no point in returning to Acas where attempts at conciliation had failed. An RMT spokesman countered that the union had received no details from LU about arbitration and stressed the strength of feeling behind the stoppage. "The message to management is that they have to come back to the negotiating table. We could negotiate our way through this this afternoon."

Following union claims earlier this week of political point-scoring, Tory chairman Brian Mawhinney accused "militant trade unionists" of trying to hold London to ransom. Party vice-chairman Charles Hendry called for information on the whereabouts of Labour's deputy leader, John Prescott, who is sponsored by the RMT: "While people struggled into work this morning, the strike commander is nowhere to be seen."