Following advice yesterday that people who can’t work from home should go back to work, Transport for London (TfL) has outlined how it will cope with the commute in the era of the virus.
TfL says that it has been able to operate up to 60% of tube services, and with tube passenger numbers down by 95% that means a more space on the tube trains, although they are hardly empty in rush hours. Meanwhile, buses are running around 80% of services, with passenger numbers down by 85%.
As people are being asked to return back to work if they are unable to work from home – TfL says that this will require significant changes to the way in which people travel in London.
TfL said that it is working with staff and the unions with the intention of, by 18th May, increasing service levels to around 85% on the bus network, at least 70% on the Tube and London Overground (in line with national rail services), 80% on the DLR and a full service on TfL Rail.
London Underground is also aiming to restore the Circle line and to re-open some of the 37 stations that have been closed for several weeks. However, some stations will stay closed so that staff can be deployed to manage congestion at busier stations. Some stations with lift-only access may need to remain closed as social distancing is not possible.
However, this does not mean a return to the transport network that existed before the crisis.
Even with only 5% of journeys currently being made on the tube, there are certain times and locations where social distancing is already very difficult. The requirement to maintain 2m social distancing wherever possible means that TfL will only be able to carry around 13-15% of the normal number of passengers on the Tube and bus networks even when services are operating fully again.
In the current situation, TfL is asking as many people as can, to avoid travel, to work from home if possible and shop locally.
Mike Brown MVO, London’s Transport Commissioner, said “Our intention is to progressively build up service levels to as close to pre-pandemic levels as possible, but it is clear life simply won’t be swiftly returning to what it was before. The travel demand challenge facing us outstrips that faced during the 2012 games due to the national requirement to maintain 2 metres distance between passengers wherever possible. That may not always be possible of course given the design of London’s transport network.”
Although it’s not yet mandatory, TfL is asking people to wear a face mask or covering when travelling on public transport, especially where social distancing is hard to achieve – such as on rush hour tube trains. Hand sanitizer points will also start to be introduced across the transport network over the coming weeks.
However, with 80% of TfL’s income coming from fares and commercial revenue, the lockdown has had a devastating impact on the organisation’s finances. It’s being reported that TfL is seeking a £2 billion bailout from the government as the organisation is already dipping deep into its cash reserves and is almost maxed out on its debt capabilities.
The government has previously cut its central taxpayer funding for TfL, which could be reversed, and the cut in fares income can be laid at official government advice not to travel. However, it’s also likely that the government will expect to see the fares freeze cancelled, or even reversed, and a number of capital projects such as the Bakerloo line extension, replacement tube trains, and Crossrail 2 could be put on hold.