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Thousands of commuters gear up to return to work on Underground

Transport bosses across Britain are bracing for a surge in passengers on Monday morning if Boris Johnson encourages workers to start returning to work.

Emergency planners have already been warned London’s transport system could be overwhelmed by demand when the coronavirus lockdown is eased in some form.

And there are mounting fears over a sudden rush of commuters if the Prime Minister gives the green light on Sunday evening for some people to get back into the office.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said the Tube capacity will have to fall to between 13 to 20 per cent of pre-crisis levels – even with nearly 100 per cent of trains running.

It comes as data from TomTom showed rush-hour congestion in London was at 16 per cent at 8am this morning, up from 15 per cent at the same time last week.

Meanwhile Apple mobility data based on requests within its Maps app showed driving, walking and usage of public transport in London are all continuing to rise.

And activity across the busiest regions of Britain is now back to 60 per cent of pre-lockdown levels, according to a study by University College London researchers. 

Passengers sit apart on a London Underground Jubilee line train in rush hour this morning

Mr Khan told City AM: ‘Even with Tube ridership standing at just 5 per cent at the moment, there are times when passengers struggle to keep their distance.

‘This means that if the social distancing requirements remain in place, the total carrying capacity of the Tube will have to be reduced to between 13 to 20 per cent of pre-crisis levels – even with close to 100 per cent of trains running. 

‘We will also need to have a fundamentally different approach to operating stations, with strict queuing systems to limit the number of people who can access the network at any one time.’

Public transport faces immense challenges over the coming weeks with ministers keen to avoid a repeat of crammed Tube trains seen at the start of the crisis.

Commuters try to maintain distance on a London Underground Jubilee line train this morning

Commuters try to maintain distance on a London Underground Jubilee line train this morning

The Government is expected to encourage people to wear face coverings on public transport with strict queuing systems for social distancing at train stations.

What are options being considered for the return to commuting on the Underground? 

  • Encouraging people to cycle to work
  • Asking commuters to wear face coverings
  • Strict queuing systems at stations
  • Asking employers to stagger shift stars
  • Increasing the price of rush hour fares
  • Buses carrying only 15 passengers instead of 85
  • Running Tube services at 20% of pre-crisis levels

The Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank has also suggested that peak fares might have to be increased to try to reduce overcrowding in the rush hour. TfL could not tell MailOnline whether or not this is among its plans to managed the crowds.

But a spokesman said: ‘We are running the maximum frequency we can at the moment. 

‘Our intention is to progressively build up service levels but it is clear life simply won’t be returning to what it was before, and everyone who can work from home must continue to do so for the foreseeable future. 

‘We are working with the Government to understand how the restrictions on travel may be lifted – including their expectations on social distancing. 

‘This will dictate how many people can be safely carried alongside extensive mitigating measures such as re-timing journeys to spread demand out of peak times and managing stations differently.

Commuters walk along the platform at Stratford railway station in East London this morning

Commuters walk along the platform at Stratford railway station in East London this morning

‘When workplaces re-open there will be significant challenges in enabling those Londoners who cannot work from home to get to and from work while social distancing rules are still in place. 

‘We expect that there will be an enormous travel demand challenge that we will all need to overcome together, and planning is underway on how to meet that challenge and help London get moving again, safely and sustainably.’

Managing the return to work on public transport in London is shaping up to a huge issue, with more than half of the capital’s workers using it compared to the one in eight average elsewhere.

Transport officials will be keen to avoid packed Tubes during the morning rush hour – with up to 20 per cent of London’s workers normally commuting at 8.30am.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan (pictured in March) has said the Tube capacity will have to fall to between 13 to 20 per cent of pre-crisis levels - even with nearly 100 per cent of trains running

London Mayor Sadiq Khan (pictured in March) has said the Tube capacity will have to fall to between 13 to 20 per cent of pre-crisis levels – even with nearly 100 per cent of trains running

Politicians have suggested shift times could be staggered by employers across the day to reduce train overcrowding and also lower the risk to public health.

The Prime Minister is meeting ministers today to review whether it is safe to ease the measures before he makes an announcement on the next steps this weekend.

He told the Commons that a ‘golden age’ for cycling is on the way and said a ‘huge amount of planning’ is taking place to encourage commuters to avoid packed trains.

Mr Johnson told MPs there will be ‘a bigger and more expansive Tube service so that people can observe social distancing’ once lockdown measures are eased.

A closed Covent Garden station in Central London yesterday as the lockdown continues

A closed Covent Garden station in Central London yesterday as the lockdown continues 

He will issue guidance on face coverings after a poll by Transport Focus found half of commuters would only be happy to use trains and buses if this was mandatory.

Some 83 per cent of respondents to the travel watchdog’s poll also said they wanted hand sanitiser on transport and at railway stations and bus stops.

It came as Mayor Sadiq Khan unveiled drastic plans for London’s streets to accommodate a ten-fold increase in cycling and five-fold increase in walking. 

Writing in City AM yesterday, Mr Khan said the crisis has had a ‘profound impact’ on London’ transport network, and ‘will continue to do so long into the future.’

Cars and vans drive along the road at the Blackwall Tunnel in East London this morning

Cars and vans drive along the road at the Blackwall Tunnel in East London this morning

Cars and lorries queue on the Souith Circular at Hither Green in South East London today

Cars and lorries queue on the Souith Circular at Hither Green in South East London today

He said the Tube capacity will have to fall to between 13 to 20 per cent of pre-crisis levels – even with nearly 100 per cent of trains running, with strict queuing systems.

The Mayor also said double decker buses could be reduced from carrying 85 passengers to just 15.

A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group told MailOnline: ‘Rail companies and our people are doing all we can to support the country throughout this pandemic and we will play our vital role in getting the country moving again.

‘Changes to travel guidance during the next phase of the pandemic will be a decision for government and rail companies are looking at a range of possible future scenarios. 

‘Our priority continues to be the safety of our staff and passengers and we will work closely with government and unions on how services can be returned to normal safely to support the economy and public health.’

Cars travel along the M4 motorway near Bristol today ahead of the bank holiday tomorrow

Cars travel along the M4 motorway near Bristol today ahead of the bank holiday tomorrow

Cars drive along the M25 during rush hour today as motorists take to the roads around London

Cars drive along the M25 during rush hour today as motorists take to the roads around London

Politicians are desperate to get the UK back to work as soon as scientific evidence suggests it is safe to do so, with the economy currently losing £2billion a day.

But the impact of this on the rail network will be major as operators continue to run a skeleton service for key workers which has been in place throughout the lockdown.

It comes after a leaked report claimed Tube passenger numbers will have to be cut by 85 per cent once full services resume to maintain social distancing.

Before the lockdown, some 325,000 passengers boarded a London Underground train every 15 minutes during rush hour.

But a requirement for passengers to keep two metres apart once the lockdown lifts would force Transport for London (TfL) bosses to reduce this to 50,000 passengers. 

Data from TomTom shows rush-hour congestion in London was at 16 per cent at 8am this morning, up from 15 per cent at the same time last week

Data from TomTom shows rush-hour congestion in London was at 16 per cent at 8am this morning, up from 15 per cent at the same time last week

Apple mobility data based on requests within its Maps app showed driving, walking and usage of public transport in London are all continuing to rise

Apple mobility data based on requests within its Maps app showed driving, walking and usage of public transport in London are all continuing to rise

Even with a reduced one metre social distancing and a full service, the Tube could handle only 80,000 passengers boarding every 15 minutes. 

A TfL spokesman said: ‘Whatever happens over the coming weeks and months, everyone who can work from home must continue to do so for some time yet.

‘Our intention is to progressively build up service levels, but it is clear life simply won’t be returning to what it was before.

‘We are working with Government to understand how the restrictions on travel may be lifted – including their expectations on social distancing.

‘This will dictate how many people can be safely carried alongside extensive mitigating measures like re-timing journeys to spread demand out of peak times and managing stations differently.’ 

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

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

A graphic of how a London bus could look with 15 passengers spaced out for social distancing

A graphic of how a London bus could look with 15 passengers spaced out for social distancing

The Prime Minister will today chair a Cabinet meeting for a legal review of the restrictions to see what freedoms the public may now be able to enjoy.

It comes as the Bank of England warned that coronavirus could see the economy plunge 14 per cent this year in the worst annual fall for more than 300 years.

The Government has come under increasing pressure to announce when schools and shops will reopen and whether strict social distancing rules can be relaxed.

The changes could include unlimited exercise, park picnics, and the opening of pub and cafe gardens – but people would still be required to remain two metres apart.

Last week a briefing to emergency planners has warned that London’s transport system could be overwhelmed by demand when the lockdown is eased. 

Public transport usage on different modes has been increasing slightly over the past fortnight

Public transport usage on different modes has been increasing slightly over the past fortnight

TfL data shows the Tube could only carry 15% of rush hour passengers under social distancing

TfL data shows the Tube could only carry 15% of rush hour passengers under social distancing

The London Strategic Co-ordination Group said Underground services would be ‘rapidly overwhelmed’ if social distancing was maintained, according to the BBC.

It said the capacity of Tubes and buses would be cut to 15 and 12 per cent respectively compared with normal levels if two-metre spacing is enforced.

The briefing also warned that lifting measures could put more pressure on the police to manage crowds, enforce restrictions and respond to an increase in crime levels. 

A TfL spokesman said: ‘When workplaces reopen there will be significant challenges in enabling Londoners to get to and from work while social distancing rules are still in place, as is widely expected to be necessary.

‘We expect that there will be an enormous travel demand challenge that we will all need to overcome together, and planning is under way on how to meet that challenge so that – when the time is right – we can help London get safely moving again as quickly as possible.’ 

A spokesman for London Mayor Sadiq Khan said: ‘The easing of lockdown restrictions will undoubtedly pose serious challenges around maintaining social distancing, particularly in London with our high population density and busy public transport network.

‘Life simply won’t be returning to what it was before, and it is vital that the Government now has an open and honest conversation with the public about how we’ll all have to play our part ensuring we maintain appropriate social distancing in all aspects of our daily lives.

‘Whether it’s schools, construction sites or other industries having to stagger their opening hours, or restrictions on the use of the public transport, no options should be off the table.

‘That’s why it is essential we are fully prepared as a country and a city before the lockdown is eased, with a comprehensive package of measures in place to ensure people’s health is protected.’ 

Researchers say activity is now back to 60% of pre-lockdown levels 

Activity across the busiest regions of Britain is now back to 60 per cent of pre-lockdown levels, a study of geographical data revealed today.

The activity during lockdown in London, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands has begun to rebound following successive week-by-week declines.

Researchers at University College London defined activity levels for the study as the number of unique mobile devices used per hour in each study area.

They combined in-app mobile data with demographic indicators and found the level fell in the first five weeks of lockdown, but has risen since April 19.

The research found that traditional high streets and local shopping areas have seen lower relative declines in activity compared to major centres and out of town areas

The research found that traditional high streets and local shopping areas have seen lower relative declines in activity compared to major centres and out of town areas

Professor James Cheshire said: ‘Our analysis suggests that people have been adhering to the lockdown rules and taking them very seriously over the first month or so.

‘But by early May we’ve started to see a shift with more activity in recent days. It may be that people have started to increase their movements in anticipation of the government announcement expected this weekend for easing lockdown.’

Across the busiest UK regions between March 16 and 22 there was a 20 per cent fall in activity compared to the week before lockdown.

By March 23 to 30 there was a 36 per cent decline – and by April 13 almost a 50 per cent decline in activity.

Activity began to increase from April 20 and is now back to roughly 60 per cent of pre-lockdown levels. London had seen the biggest fall in activity.

Levels in the capital fell 70 per cent between April 13 and 19 then rebounded slightly to a smaller reduction of 63 per cent in the week ending May 3.

Today activity levels are highest in areas dominated by routine occupations, construction, domestic workers, manual helpers, and others in healthcare

Today activity levels are highest in areas dominated by routine occupations, construction, domestic workers, manual helpers, and others in healthcare

Regional activity levels have declined the most in areas dominated by workplaces of professionals, the financial sector, leisure and tourism.

Today activity levels are highest in areas dominated by routine occupations, construction, domestic workers, manual helpers, and others in healthcare.

Mr Cheshire said: ‘The findings further highlight a divide between those in jobs that can be done from home and those with jobs that must be carried out on site, with activity levels suggesting that those working in financial services in particular are in a better position to work remotely.

‘This will have important implications for transport planning as operators seek staggered working hours mixed with homeworking where possible to reduce peak demand.’

The research also revealed that traditional high streets and local shopping areas have seen lower relative declines in activity compared to major centres and out of town areas.

PhD researcher Terje Trasberg added: ‘It is interesting that no two retail areas are likely to emerge from lockdown in precisely the same way.

‘For example, the challenges faced by large shopping centres, retail parks and traditional high streets will be very different, and local trading patterns may depend upon behaviours developed during the period in which only shops selling essential goods have remained open.’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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