London Drivers on a London subway line said they will stage one-day strikes Dec. 24 and Jan. 5, their union said last week, disrupting travel over the busy Christmas period. Drivers on the Piccadilly...

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Drivers on a London subway line said they will stage one-day strikes Dec. 24 and Jan. 5, their union said last week, disrupting travel over the busy Christmas period.

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Drivers on the Piccadilly Line, which runs from Heathrow Airport through central London, voted 77-15 to walk out on the two dates in their dispute over the demotion of a driver accused of running red signals, the Aslef union said.

London’s overstretched Tube network often suffers breakdowns and delays and has been beset by labor problems in recent years, particularly as a much-disputed partial privatization goes ahead.

North America

Mickey, Minnie and friends restore crowds to theme parks

Attendance at North America’s 50 most popular theme and amusement parks jumped almost 4 percent in 2004, the first overall annual increase since the 2001 terrorist attacks discouraged travel.

An estimated 169.1 million visitors rode thrill rides and romped with costumed characters at the parks, according to an annual survey released last Monday by a trade publication and a research firm.

The increase was helped by a jump in international visitors at the best-known parks, spurred by a weaker U.S. dollar and a rebound in U.S. travel and tourism, industry observers say.

Overall figures for 2004 still fell short of the pre-Sept. 11 attendance of 175 million visitors in 2000.

United States

Volunteer checks prove popular among travelers

The government wants to expand a program that allows air travelers to avoid extra security inspections at airports by volunteering for background checks.

Transportation Security Administration chief David Stone said last week that the agency is looking to add new airports — domestic and international — to the registered traveler program, now being tested in five cities.

Calling it “one of the most critical programs for TSA,” Stone said he’s keen to find international partners for it.

Under the test program, people who fly at least once a week give the government their biographical and biometric information, which is checked against databases.

Participants who pass muster receive a card that’s checked at an airport kiosk, which then lets them into a special security lane. If they don’t set off an alarm, they’re whisked right through.

The program began in July and was originally scheduled to last 90 days. It was so popular that the TSA extended it indefinitely. About 10,000 frequent fliers are enrolled at airports in Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Washington.


City’s police take to the streets to check increasing violence

Police with rifles and wearing flak jackets manned checkpoints across Rio de Janeiro starting earlier this month to prevent muggings and other violence as tourists flocked to the ocean city for the holidays.

Rio officials expect 2.4 million tourists to visit Rio in the hot season between December and March, spending $1.7 billion that make a major contribution to the city’s economy.

That’s about 6 percent more visitors than a year earlier.

But high levels of violence, from battles between drugs gangs in the slums to almost daily attacks on tourists, have forced the authorities to mount the security operation.

“We have about 2,500 police reinforcements in the streets from today to guarantee a safe Christmas shopping period, protect Rio citizens and tourists from muggings and bus robberies,” a Rio security spokeswoman said.

Famed for its lush mountains and sweeping beaches, “The Marvelous City” also has one of the world’s highest murder rates. Figures released last week showed a 56 percent rise in muggings in October compared to the same month in 2003.

Foreign travel

Americans still traveling despite weakening dollar

So far Americans have not let the sharp decline in the value of their currency stop their trips overseas. But if the greenback continues to slide, travel analysts say U.S. vacationers, especially those on tight budgets, may eventually decide the added costs of leaving the country are more than they are willing to pay.

The U.S. dollar’s long-term decline has accelerated in recent months. In the past year, it has taken a steep 9 percent fall against a basket of major currencies. Most of that drop has happened in last few months.

Nearly 8 in 10 travelers say they take trips for the shopping, dining and nightlife, according to Forrester Research. Because these activities require local currencies, they are where Americans stand to lose the most from a weak dollar.

In London, for example, a dinner for two with an appetizer costs about $73 at current exchange rates, up $6 from a year ago. Meanwhile, the cost of a room at the Hilton in Paris has risen roughly $16, to about $190 a night.

Seattle Times wire services