Reports of some packed buses and Tube trains has led a union boss to criticise the government’s attempt to get workers back to their jobs as “fraught with danger”.
Footage showing commuters disembarking a packed bus in London emerged on Wednesday morning as England relaxed some coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps has warned the government would “take steps” if too many people used buses and trains, but the RMT union’s Mick Cash said social distancing appeared to have been “impossible”.
Twitter user @Jay_Bits_ tweeted the prime minister and London mayor Sadiq Khan to say “not one person is social distancing because there’s too many people on buses”.
@TfL @SadiqKhan @BorisJohnson you lot claim to care about the public I just watched and 86 bus at Stratford bus station pull in and not one person Is social distancing because there’s to many people on buses either put out more buses @ peak times or just go back to lockdown pic.twitter.com/eylN6q4TqV— ᒍᗩY_ᗷITᔕ_ Risky Roadz X BOTBOT x Grime Gran (@Jay_Bits_) May 13, 2020
Tubes were reported to be packed and there was “complete shambles” during the suspension of part of the Tube’s Victoria line, London Underground workers said following reports a passenger had collapsed.
“Social distancing during the peak was a joke. During the suspension our carriages were heaving – it will get worse,” said one worker.
Cash, general secretary of the RMT, said: “This incident shows just how fraught with danger the government’s return to work call is for our transport services in the midst of this pandemic.
“One incident and we are reduced to crisis management with reports that social distancing is impossible with Tube carriages rammed.
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“RMT warned this would happen and we were ignored. We are monitoring the situation across services this morning and will discuss any appropriate action with our local reps.”
Speaking about the coronavirus’s R number – how many people an infected person goes on to infect, a measure of how fast the virus is spreading – Grant Shapps told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If we see the R number go up again, particularly above one, we will have to take steps. We all know what that means – it means going back to staying at home.
“We have got a big team of marshallers going out through Network Rail, Transport for London, we have got the British Transport Police out there, and we are even bringing in volunteers to remind people that we don’t want to see platforms crowded.”
Earlier this week, Boris Johnson said commuters should avoid public transport “if at all possible”.
Khan tweeted to ask commuters to wear face coverings and to travel only for an essential reason.
Lockdown has not been lifted.— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) May 13, 2020
⚠️ Please keep social distancing and stay at home as much as possible.
⚠️ If you have to make an essential journey by public transport, wear a non-medical face covering to protect others. pic.twitter.com/eEJVy389ut
The scene across the capital was not quite the typical morning crush as seen before the lockdown, however.
Waterloo station was quiet during rush-hour on Wednesday morning, with about 20 people on the main concourse at any given time.
Transport for London said in a statement that Tube ridership is still about 94% less than the same time last year, and up 7.3% from Wednesday, 6 May.
Data from location technology firm TomTom showed that the level of road congestion in London at 8am on Wednesday was 19%, up from 17% a week earlier.
Over the same period, Newcastle’s congestion rose from 11% to 13%, while Manchester saw a slight rise, from 12% to 13%, Leeds 13% to 14% and Birmingham was stable at 11%.
The figures show the proportion of additional time required for journeys compared to when traffic is flowing freely.