Boris Johnson’s back-to-work plan risks being derailed by transport unions who are urging staff to refuse if conditions are unsafe.
Mick Cash, boss of the the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) said that government ‘mixed messages’ could trigger a surge in passengers and have ‘lethal consequences’.
The union said it had ‘no confidence’ in ministers to ease the lockdown safely and told members not to work if two-metre social distancing cannot be enforced.
The threat to paralyse the Tube and railway networks came ahead of the Prime Minister’s televised address to the nation where his road map is expected to make announcements for industry.
Rail services are set to be increased from May 18, but the RMT said that has been brought forward to Monday.
In a circular to members issued after a meeting of the union’s executive (NEC) on Sunday, the union said: ‘Your NEC today considered this matter and stated our total opposition to attempts by the rail industry and Government to impose changes in working practices from Monday May 11.
The threat to paralyse the Tube and railway networks came ahead of the Prime Minister’s televised address to the nation where his road map is expected to make announcements for industry
Boris Johnson’s back-to-work plan risks being derailed by transport unions who are urging staff to refuse if conditions are unsafe
‘We had only previously agreed to take part in a process to discuss such changes which had been intended to commence and be implemented from Monday May 18.
‘Given the confusion and mixed messaging generated by the Government in recent days, RMT has no confidence in the ability of the Government to manage lockdown or its easing.
‘To be clear, no agreement has been made to change any working practices or social distancing arrangements from tomorrow.
‘Therefore if two-metre social distancing cannot be maintained we consider it to be unsafe and members have the legal right to use the worksafe process.
‘RMT will fully back any member who uses this process to ensure their safety.’
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: ‘This trade union will not sit back while confused and conflicting messaging from the Government raises the prospect of a surge in passengers on our transport services, making a mockery of the social distancing rules with potentially lethal consequences.’
Mick Cash, boss of the the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) said that government ‘mixed messages’ could trigger a surge in passengers and have ‘lethal consequences’
In his broadcast from Downing Street tonight, the PM is expected to announce the baby steps to coax people back to work.
Throughout the lockdown, Britons have largely shunned public transport in the midst, but new figures reveal the number of people walking or driving is steadily rising.
The data show an 80 per cent drop in public transport usage since the UK government imposed lockdown to slow the spread of Covid-19.
And, according to data from Apple Maps, that trend looks set to continue, with only a small rise in public transport use across the UK since late-March.
But while walking and driving figures are still down by around 50 per cent over the same period, the stats show a week-on-week rise since lockdown began.
The trend is reflected in three of the country’s biggest cities, London, Birmingham, and Manchester.
It comes as Britons were warned to prepare that tubes and train services may remain at just 10 per cent capacity for months due to coronavirus.
The warning was made as government chiefs unveiled a £2billion package of measures to boost cycling and walking to work.
The number of people walking and driving across the UK is on the rise, according to data by Apple Maps
The trend is reflected in London’s figures (pictured), where use of public transport has remained largely the same since lockdown began
In the figures for Birmingham, the drop in the use of public transport is less, but has largely stayed the same
Manchester has seen a steady increase in the number of people walking and driving since lockdown began
The government will publish a national cycling plan in early June but £250 million of the cash will be spent on ‘swift, emergency interventions’ like pop-up bike lanes and wider pavements.
Yesterday, transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the daily Number 10 briefing his aim was to relax the strain on public transport, which will only run at a tenth of pre-lockdown capacity because of social distancing rules.
He said: ‘It is true to say that moving beyond Covid will be a gradual process, not a single leap to freedom.
‘So when we do emerge the world will seem quite different at least for some time.
‘The need to maintain social distancing means that our public transport system cannot go back to where it left off.
‘And here is a very stark fact: Even with public transport reverting to a full service, once you take into account the two metre social distancing rule there would only be effective capacity for one in 10 passengers in many parts of our network. Just a tenth of the old capacity.’
Government chiefs yesterday unveiled a £2billion package of measures to boost cycling and walking to work. Pictured: People walk in Battersea Park in London yesterday
The government will publish a national cycling plan in early June but £250 million of the cash will be spent on ‘swift, emergency interventions’ like pop-up bike lanes and wider pavements. Pictured: Cyclists use a bike lane in Chelsea, London
Tonight, Boris Johnson is expected to sketch out a time-frame for workers to return when he sets out his road map from lockdown in an address to the nation at 7pm.
Much focus has been on the government’s change of message, from the powerful ‘stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives’ slogan to its new ‘stay alert’ message.
Employees ‘could get legal right to work from home’
Ministers are considering enshrining a right to work from home into UK law in order to better prepare the nation for post-lockdown life.
The merits of such a move are being weighed up by officials at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
It is thought the plans are being modelled on existing rules that allow parents to request flexible working.
Ministers believe a legal right to work from home could be beneficial for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it would reduce the number of staff physically present, making it easier for firms to adhere to social distancing.
Secondly, it would stop workers from feeling compelled to go to an office they do not believe is safe.
Third, it would reduce pressure on the UK transport network.
One minister told The Telegraph the move ‘makes complete sense’.
But others have focused on the practicalities of getting Britain back to work, and the issue of public transport.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has come under heavy fire for failing to increase capacity on the Tube ahead of an expected rise in passengers.
But Mr Khan has poured cold water on hopes the Tube network will be brought back to full functioning to accommodate the return of workers.
Transport for London (TfL) will require four weeks to prepare for the easing of lockdown as 7,000 staff have been furloughed and a fifth are self-isolating.
TfL said it is currently ‘running the maximum frequency’ possible, but even during lockdown the Tube has been seen rammed.
Piling on the pressure, Shaun Bailey, Conservative candidate for Mayor, told MailOnline on Friday: ‘The only way London can get back to work safely is if the Tubes are running at full capacity so social distancing is actually possible.’
He added: ‘Londoners are past the point of excuses – what we need is a Mayor who will move heaven and earth to ensure TfL is ready to meet the increased demand.’
To overcome what is predicted to be an 80 per cent reduction of London’s pre-crisis public transport capacity, Mr Khan is urging people to cycle and walk to work.
A graphic of how a London bus could look with 15 passengers spaced out for social distancing
Under a two-metre social distancing rule on carriages and platforms, the Underground will only be able to accommodate 50,000 passengers boarding every 15 minutes – a massive reduction on the 320,000 people every 15 minutes during normal peak times
Yet City Hall assembly members have tore into the plan and rubbished the notion residents of outer boroughs could cycle and walk into central London.
Conservative GLA transport spokesman Keith Prince said: ‘We urgently need the Mayor to produce a realistic plan to get London’s public transport moving safely again.
‘Increasing cycling and walking will certainly be part of the solution, but it is complete madness to think they can replace millions of journeys on London’s Tube and buses.
‘It’s simply not possible for many Londoners who live in the outer boroughs to cycle or walk into work.
‘If the Mayor wants them to avoid using cars, he needs to make a plan to get London’s public transport moving safely now.’
A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: ‘Sadiq is working extremely hard with Transport for London, the Government and other partners to prepare public transport in London for the easing of lockdown.
‘These plans are at an advanced stage – as demonstrated by the unprecedented StreetSpace project launched last week.
They added: ‘We need to be honest with Londoners that life simply will not be returning to how it was before. Everyone who can work from home will have to continue doing so for the foreseeable future.
‘Many more people will have to walk and cycle to work. ‘We will all have to continue to avoid making unnecessary journeys.
TfL said it is currently ‘running the maximum frequency’ possible, but even during lockdown the Tube has been seen rammed
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has come under heavy fire for failing to increase capacity on the Tube ahead of an expected rise in passengers
Government set to tweak lockdown rules today amid warning of 100,000 deaths if policies are wrong
Boris Johnson is facing a moment of truth in the coronavirus crisis today as he prepares to tweak draconian lockdown rules – amid warnings 100,000 Britons could die by the end of the year if he gets it wrong.
In very tentative first steps towards easing the curbs strangling the economy, the PM will use a televised address to the nation at 7pm to drop the blanket ‘stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives’ slogan.
Instead people will be urged to ‘stay alert, control the virus, and save lives’, and a DefCon-style five stage alert system will be introduced to set out the country’s outbreak condition.
With evidence increasingly suggesting the virus spreads far less readily in the open air, the once-a-day limit on outdoor exercise will be dropped.
The focus will shift to getting businesses running, with detailed guidance for firms on how they should operate, and garden centres allowed to open from Wednesday with social distancing measures.
Shoppers could be urged to wear face coverings, as has already happened in Scotland.
Breaches of the more nuanced rules could be enforced with harsher fines.
Plans are being drawn up to use ‘peer pressure’ to get people to self-isolate, as those who test positive will be told to get in touch with anyone they might have infected.
It comes as the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) received warnings that there could be 100,00 deaths by the end of the year if measures are relaxed too far and too fast.
‘London’s planning for the easing of lockdown will be made much easier when the Government is open and transparent about exactly and when restrictions can be lifted – which has a fundamental impact on different transport options.’
Meanwhile, transport unions have threatened to scupper any move to get too many people back onto trains and buses as chiefs have said they ‘will not compromise on the health, safety and livelihoods of our members’.
Among measures under consideration to get London moving are asking commuters to wear face masks, strict queing at stations, asking employees to stagger shifts, increasing the price of rush hour fares.
If two-metre social distancing remains in place, buses will only be able to take 15 passengers, rather than 85.
Outside of the capital, rail bosses are urgently planning to revive national train routes which have been mothballed during the lockdown.
A blueprint to flesh out reduced timetables – which are operating only half of pre-lockdown journeys – is being drawn up in time for Monday, May 18, when swathes of the workforce are expected to troop back to offices.
Social distancing rules will hamstring preparations to beef up train capacity as observing the two-metre rule will in place to enforce the two-metre rule – which could slash carriage space by 90 per cent.
RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: ‘There is a headlong dash to lift the lockdown on our transport services for the 18th May and it is fraught with danger for both passengers and staff alike.
‘To maintain the Governments own social distancing guidance would mean huge logistical and staffing input to manage passenger flows onto trains and it is imperative that all staff involved in this process are properly protected.
‘RMT will not compromise on the health, safety and livelihoods of our members and we will not agree to anything that fails to put the safety of staff and passengers first.
‘If that means advising our members not to work under conditions that are unsafe and in breach of the government’s own guidelines then that is exactly what we will do.’