Millions of Londoners travelling on packed Tubes amid coronavirus

What happened to ‘social distancing’, Mr Mayor? Millions of Londoners STILL working are being forced to travel on packed Tubes and trains after TFL scaled BACK services amid coronavirus crisis

  • Passenger numbers have dropped by a fifth and are expected to plunge further 
  • Underground travellers say they are still being packed in on rush hour services 
  • TfL confirms it is now ‘matching service levels to the actual demand for travel’
  • Passengers say this will not help social distancing efforts to stop virus spread
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Workers complained London Underground trains were as busy as ever today as millions of Britons continued to travel in amid concerns over a lack of solid Government advice on commuting during the coronavirus outbreak.

Confusion over Ministers’ position on pubs, cafes and restaurants remaining open – and what its guidance on avoiding ‘non-essential travel’ means – has left many in the workforce continuing to make journeys amid a desperation to maintain an income.

Blue collar and gig economy workers are particularly fearful about their financial future as transport bosses began scaling back services amid lower demand, with many office workers following Boris Johnson’s advice to work from home if possible.

Tube passenger numbers are expected to plunge further after the Government advised against non-essential travel on Monday, having dropped by a fifth last week.

But travellers said today they are still being packed in on rush hour services as TfL confirmed it is now ‘matching service levels to the actual demand for travel’.

Some said they had to wait up to 12 minutes for a train in Central London today – far longer than normal – as people crowded platforms before making it onto trains.

Keith Waller tweeted an image today, saying: ‘So much for social distancing on the District line’

Commuters pack onto a Piccadilly line train today as Underground commuters travel to work

Crowds of passengers wait for a Victoria line train at Seven Sisters station this morning

A busy Circle line train between Edgware Road and Hammersmith today after a 12-minute wait

Some passengers have pointed out this will not help social distancing efforts to stop the spread of the infection, which has now claimed 71 lives in Britain.  

Jonathan Green tweeted: ‘Er, not much social distancing on this morning’s Tube commute. Victoria Line was rammed at 7.30am. Nose to nipple in our carriage. Metropolitan line platform fairly busy too.’

Steph Karis added: ‘This morning the Victoria line is running a reduced service, how is this keeping commuters safe, Transport for London?!’

Another Twitter user posted a picture of a packed platform at Seven Sisters station in North London, saying: ‘Social distancing? This morning’s commute on the Victoria line. Perhaps some clearer guidance from the government would help.’

And Keith Waller tweeted: ‘So much for social distancing on the District line.’

People have been told to avoid all non-essential contact and travel, while the elderly and those with underlying conditions should now stay home much more.

But many workers are still having to go into work to get paid, and there is still confusion over whether pubs and restaurants should stay open, despite Mr Johnson advising people against visiting social spaces.

Commuters told of their frustration at the busy Tubes today, with some saying they had no choice but to work, and others finding the situation scary.

Jo Smith tweeted: ‘On the way back from work on the Tube. My anxiety is so high right now, trying so hard not to panic.’

Michael Harris added: ‘Tubes were packed this morning, hardly anyone wearing masks. People have to travel around London to work. Not many can afford to take time off.’ 

And a third said: ‘Sitting on the Tube surrounded by people who can’t not go into work. Coughing, sneezing, close quarters. 

Refunds for commuters working from home

Commuters told to work from home will be able to get refunds for their season tickets.

The rail industry body also confirmed train operators have waived ‘refund fees’ on most single and return fares. All have removed the ‘change of journey fee’ for advance tickets, which is normally £10.

But some train companies will charge a £10 admin fee to refund a season ticket.

The size of the refund will depend on how long the customer has had their season ticket. Customers should contact their rail company for more information.

‘This country is a joke. Johnson is gambling with our lives to shore up the economy.’

Meanwhile a fourth tweeted: ‘We have no choice but to go to work, even though we really should be in isolation.

‘So I have to take the Tube, serve the rebellious people not isolating and risk getting the virus and bringing it back home to my vulnerable parents.’

The Government has faced calls to do more to support the poorest members of society in the wake of the outbreak amid allegations the Chancellor’s £350billion package did ‘nothing’ to protect home renters and those on low incomes.

Rishi Sunak vowed to do ‘whatever it takes’ to buoy the economy when he set out his ‘unprecedented’ fiscal measures yesterday, but it ran into criticism after it failed to acknowledge financial means of supporting those in rental accommodation, those facing job losses and people on low incomes. 

In the House yesterday, Mr Sunak was challenged on whether statutory sick pay of £94.25 a week was sufficient to support workers forced to self-isolate by the virus.

The Chancellor has also been urged to introduce a ‘coronavirus universal basic income’ which would protect self-employed tradesmen and those on zero-hours contracts.

Measures unveiled by Mr Sunak last night included Government-backed loans worth £330billion – equivalent to 15 per cent of GDP – to help businesses which need access to cash, and a package of tax cuts and grants worth more than £20billion.

The package comes after the public was told to avoid all non-essential contact and travel, while the elderly and those with underlying conditions were told they would have to stay home much more.

Commuters wear masks while travelling on a London Underground Victoria line train today

Passengers hold onto handrails while commuting on a Victoria line train this morning

Passengers sit down and stand on a Central line train through London at 6.30am this morning

Commuters get off or board a Metropolitan train on the London Underground this morning

Passengers on a Northern line Underground train at London Bridge station this morning

Sadiq Khan has already warned London’s public transport network could soon be massively scaled back, with service frequencies slashed in the coming days.

Train firm SWR cancels services as coronavirus causes staff shortages

One of the UK’s biggest train companies is cancelling services ‘at very short notice’ due to staff shortages caused by coronavirus.

South Western Railway (SWR) is preparing to implement an amended timetable.

A spokesman for the firm said: ‘Like most organisations, we’re seeing more staff having to stay at home unwell.

‘That means we’re having to cancel a small number of trains at very short notice. 

‘We are trying to avoid this wherever possible and apologise for any inconvenience it causes and hope you understand.’

By 9am this morning, some 4 per cent of its trains were cancelled, according to the rail data site. 

He has suggested the network may move to a Saturday or Sunday service on weekdays, but a ‘basic public transport service’ is needed for frontline workers.

Transport for London commissioner Mike Brown said: ‘We and our staff are doing everything we can to ensure that people who need to make essential journeys can continue to do so. 

‘Part of that involves matching service levels to the actual demand for travel. That work is underway and will evolve over time. In the meantime, we have upped our cleaning regime on the transport network. 

‘Everyone should follow the advice of Public Health England to ensure they are doing everything they can to stay safe and limit the spread of the virus.’

TfL has said the number of Tube journeys made between Monday and Sunday of last week was down 19 per cent compared with the same period in 2019.

TfL put this down to a ‘significant reduction’ in tourists, more people working from home, and consumers being ‘cautious about their expenditure’.

Bus journeys were down 10 per cent. Meanwhile, South Western Railway said it was cancelling services ‘at very short notice’ this morning due to staff shortages caused by coronavirus.

SWR is preparing to implement an amended timetable. This morning, some 4 per cent of its trains were cancelled.

Passengers pack onto a District line train arriving at Mile End in East London this morning 

A commuter wears a protective face mask on a Northern line train at Clapham North today

Tube passengers hold onto handrails during a busy commute this morning on the District line

Demand for rail travel has collapsed due to the Covid-19 outbreak, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps saying passenger numbers fell by a fifth last week. 

Industry sources said the drop has been much more severe on some services. Passenger figures are unlikely to return to normal for some weeks, possibly months.

Train operators are said to have asked the Government to renegotiate franchise agreements to allow them to run reduced timetables and make smaller payments. 

Mr Shapps has said emergency measures could see airlines, rail operators and bus firms ‘run by the public sector’, after global air travel ground to a near-total halt.    

Victoria line trains are at a depot in London this morning as scaling-back of services begins

A Tube worker walks past a series of Victoria line trains at a depot in London this morning

He also said on Monday that said some empty ‘ghost train’ services could be scrapped entirely because there is no point in running them during the crisis.

Train operators may move into public ownership as passengers numbers slump

Speculation is mounting that a number of train operators are on the verge of being taken under the control of the Government because of a collapse in passenger numbers due to the coronavirus crisis.

Normally packed commuter trains into cities including London have been running with vastly reduced numbers of passengers, especially since the Prime Minister urged people to work from home.

There are rumours in the industry that some train companies will soon come under the control of the Government’s Directly Operated Railways because of huge cashflow problems.

It was set up by the Department for Transport in 2009 to operate rail franchises should it become necessary to bring them into public ownership.

The move would effectively put the companies under public control and would involve a transfer of employment of rail workers.

The Government took control of Northern trains earlier this year after widespread delays, cancellations and strikes since new timetables were introduced by Arriva Rail North in May 2018.

There have also been warnings about the future of South Western Railway, which has been hit by delays and cancellations as well as a long running dispute over the role of guards.

Mr Shapps also met with Aslef, the train driver’s union, on Monday afternoon. Transport for London fears it could take a £500million hit from coronavirus. 

London was put on red alert on Monday after the Government warned that the city is at the epicentre of Britain’s coronavirus crisis.

But that is not stopping millions of people still commuting into the office, despite Boris Johnson asking people to work from home if they can.

Ministers issued new guidance earlier this week urging everyone to wash their hands for 20 seconds before and after using public transport.

The Prime Minister has also urged the capital’s near nine million population to avoid pubs, restaurants and any other confined spaces for weeks to come.

The severity of the restrictions sent panic rippling through London as office workers were told to work from home and businesses braced for a financial hit.

Almost a third of Britain’s confirmed coronavirus cases have been recorded in London, where the outbreak is ‘a few weeks ahead’ of the rest of the country.

He said the acceleration of the virus called for the city’s residents to pay ‘special attention’ to the latest Government advice about avoiding non-essential contact.

Theatres in London’s West End have closed after a final round of performances, while major shopping streets are now suffering a severe reduction in footfall.

The Prime Minister’s decision to single out London for special measures aims to prevent the city from experiencing an alarming spike in cases.

In contrast, the mayor of New York Bill de Blasio has ordered all bars and restaurants in the city to close – limiting them to just takeaways and food delivery. 

Empty motorways across Britain today as drivers stay at home 

Britain’s motorway network was nearly empty this morning as drivers avoided travelling amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On the M25 near the Dartford Crossing – which would usually be bumper to bumper at 8am on a weekday – just a dozen cars could be seen.

Other normally-busy motorways which were like ghost roads this morning included the M1 at Luton in Bedfordshire and M3 at Bracknell in Berkshire.

Only a few lorries were seen on the M6 at Birmingham and at Coventry, while there were barely any cars on the same road near Rugby, Warwickshire.

The photographs taken from Highways England cameras emerged today after Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged people to work from home if possible.

The empty M3 motorway at Bracknell in Berkshire at about 7.30am today

The M4 motorway near London Heathrow Airport at around 7.30am this morning

The M8 motorway near Glasgow Airport shortly after 8am this morning

The M25 is seen near the Dartford Crossing between Essex and Kent at 7.30am today

Lorries on the M6 motorway in Birmingham shortly after 7.30am this morning


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